Red, Blue or Amber – The Great Bubbler Debate

If you use a bubbling system on your waterfront to protect your dock or boathouse you may be aware of the great bubbler debate. It revolves around the colour bulb that it best suited to warn snowmobilers of the risk of open water. The MRA and MLA have researched this bubbler quandary at length and their findings are as follows. Three colours are in play. Red, Blue and Amber. Unfortunately, there are no federal, provincial, district or township standards to direct us. Nor has the Ontario Snowmobile Association declared a standard.


Let’s deal with red first as it is the easiest to dismiss. A red warning light can be easily confused with a snowmobile brake light and unwittingly lead a rider into open water. Therefore, RED IS NOT RECOMMENDED.

Amber vs Blue- this is more complicated.

Amber is typically the colour of “caution” (like a caution light to identify a pothole in a road) and in this situation one needs to emphasize that the hazard (open water) is more than caution, it is an element of significant and very real risk. Amber has a couple of weaknesses. It can get lost in low visibility, including fog and snowy conditions and it can confuse riders should a cottage interior or exterior lights be turned on. At night, the distinction is nearly impossible to differentiate between the two.

Blue is a warning / emergency colour used by snowplows and the OPP to warn people of danger and caution. Blue is also the most penetrating colour in the dark and performs best in low visibility situations (as a technical aspect, Blue lighting is what is used on taxiways at all airports)

So, what’s a cottager to do?

Well given the MLA/MRA joint discussions with snowmobilers and local snowmobile clubs and in the absence of regulatory standards, we are siding with their request for blue warning lights. A case in point: Our past president spoke with the Mayor of the Township of Muskoka Lakes, an avid sledder, who agreed that Blue Bubbler lights are the most visible for snowmobilers. At the end of the day, it is the snowmobilers we are trying to protect so we have listened to them.


You may want to also be mindful of a couple other bubbler considerations that we have highlighted in the past.

  1. A ‘Danger Open Water’ sign should be prominently placed on your property
  2. Monitor your bubbling and do not overbubble.
  3. You will find that purchasing a LED bulb and a thermostat or timer on your bubbler will be easier on your hydro bill.

Stay safe on the lake.

James Boyd Lawton Osler
Director – Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association Past President – Muskoka Lakes Association