Kickin’ Back

As Canadians, we love our time at the cottage or cabin. Whether at the lake or deep in the woods, getting out into the great outdoors is a popular summer tradition. With family, friends, kids, pets and boats – there’s a lot to consider if you want to stay safe and the make the most out of your leisure time.

Of course no one really wants to think too hard about potential risks while you’re away. You want to relax, have fun and let the experience be memorable. You have to be aware though that communing with nature does present some hazards, and your distance from civilization can sometimes make even simple accidents that much more severe.

Fire & Carbon Monoxide Safety

Fire and carbon monoxide safety are as important at the cottage as they are at home, if not more. In some cases, your fire prevention measures are that much more critical due to the potential of longer response times from local fire departments.

  • Fire and carbon monoxide detectors are a must. They should be on every level of the building and especially outside of all sleeping areas. Be sure to test the detector units and change batteries regularly, keep them clean and replace when prescribed.
  • Keep fire extinguishers available on all levels of your cottage. The ABC multi-purpose type is best. Keep them fully charged and replace by any units that have expired.
  • Create a fire exit strategy and make sure that everyone, including visitors, knows what it is
  • Keep local emergency numbers available and make sure that you have clear directions to your location. Don’t assume that 911 will work in the area.
  • When opening up the cottage at the beginning of the season, check all wiring for wear and damage. Replace and repair using qualified professionals only.
  • Know what your local open-air burn policies are and follow them exactly. Keep campfires and other controlled burns well away from buildings, decks and trees. Having water or sand and a shovel nearby is a good idea to help if things start to get out of hand.
  • Be sure to clean-up all dried leaves, tree needles and branches from the building areas. Also watch for trees that are growing too close to power lines.
  • Have all fireplaces, wood stoves and chimneys inspected and cleaned annually
  • Never leave open flame sources including fireplaces, stoves, BBQ’s or even candles unattended at any time
  • Always store fuel, firewood and other combustibles outdoors and well away from the cottage
  • Never use fuel-powered heaters in enclosed spaces to reduce the risk of accidental fire and carbon monoxide poisoning

Here’s To Your Health

There are any number of ways for you to get yourself into trouble while vacationing. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Always have a well-stocked first aid kit available to take care of minor medical issues. This is especially important for more remote locations.
  • Make sure that you know the location of the nearest hospital or medical clinic, and their hours of operation. Access may be limited in smaller communities.
  • Whether you get your drinking water from a lake, river or well, have water quality tested at least once per year. If in doubt, boil first to sterilize or use bottled.
  • Be sure to transport, store and prep food properly to avoid contamination and possible food poisoning. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
  • Keep a good stock of over-the-counter medications available for a variety of common ailments. From sunburn relief and antihistamines to pain relievers and anti-itch creams, you’ll be glad to have them when the need arises. Also be sure to check expiry dates regularly.
  • Prescription medications should be kept in their original containers for easy identification
  • Be sure to keep spares of items like eyeglasses and hearing aid batteries handy. If you run out, the local general store may not have what you need.
  • Know about any potential health issues with your guests so that you can be fully prepared. It’s always a good idea to inquire about allergies and epi-pen use as well.
  • Having a working knowledge of what poison ivy and poison oak look like, and what berries or mushrooms to avoid, is always a good plan
  • Cottaging and cocktails often go hand-in-hand, but watch the intake, especially when doing activities that require your complete attention. There is also a zero tolerance when it comes to drinking and boating.
  • Bugs like mosquitos and black flies can ruin your time outdoors. Be sure to have repellent sprays on-hand and use other devices like traps and electric zappers for when it gets really bad.
  • Be aware of how much time you and the family are spending in the sun to avoid burns and other heat-related conditions. Use sunscreen, wear a hat and get covered-up once you’ve had enough.


Another thing to consider is the safety of your cottage and your belongings when you’re not around (and even when you are). Thieves can easily target those properties that aren’t well protected.

  • Install good quality locks on all doors and windows.
  • Depending on your location, installing an alarm and security camera system can be a powerful deterrent for thieves. This technology is very affordable these days, and remote monitoring makes it even more convenient.
  • Install motion-sensor lighting on building exteriors and random timer lights inside to give the appearance of someone being there.
  • Keep bushes and trees trimmed so the views of your windows and doors aren’t obstructed. It’s harder for thieves to hide that way.
  • Don’t hide keys in obvious places or under items like ‘fake rocks’. Everyone knows the same tricks.
  • Keep up with maintenance. Ask a neighbor or hire a lawn service to mow, rake and shovel, etc. You’ll want your place to always look lived in.
  • Strategically draw the blinds to make sure valuables like TVs, stereos, jewelry, guns, liquor, artwork, etc. aren’t visible. Don’t make your place look too much like it’s closed for the season though.
  • Don’t forget to secure outdoor valuables like outboard motors, kayaks, riding lawn mowers and patio furniture
  • Coordinate a ‘cottage watch’ with neighbours to help keep an eye on each others properties while away

General Hints & Tips

We’ve covered most of the major potential issues, but here are few more to keep in-mind:

  • Always keep flashlights, spare batteries or lanterns available for emergency situations
  • Maintain current contact info for your cottage neighbours in case of emergencies or issues with their properties while they’re away
  • Be extra careful driving on rural roads and in forested areas. The roads can be treacherous and a collision with something large like a deer or moose can be deadly.
  • Keep pets close to you or on a leash at all times and try to avoid having them run free. They can get lost in unfamiliar territory, and run-ins with wild animals or fast running water can lead to disaster. Also be sure to check them for fleas and ticks after being out in the woods.
  • Remember that boats and other motorized watercraft can be just as dangerous as cars. Don’t take chances with young or inexperienced family or guests when it comes to their use.
  • Never leave young children unattended near water. The unthinkable can happen within seconds.
  • Communicate with someone else if you’re going off on your own for swimming, boating, hikes or chores. Let them know where you’ll be and for how long.
  • Close off or block any potential openings in and around cottage buildings to help keep critters like mice, bats, raccoons, squirrels etc. from getting inside and setting-up shop.
  • If you’re not 100% comfortable with the seasonal opening and closing routine, hire a professional. That last thing you need is to arrive and find burst pipes or a fried major appliance.

To avoid any issues with wild animals (especially bears) being attracted by the smell of something tasty, be sure to follow these steps:

  • Use animal-proof containers only for garbage, recycling and composting. Also avoid putting meat, fish or any sweet food (including fruit) in your composter.
  • Don’t stockpile your garbage. Take frequent trips to the dump to avoid any potential issues.
  • Only fill bird feeders through the winter months
  • Never purposely feed bears (or other wildlife) or try to approach them
  • Remove grease and food residue from barbecue grills, including the grease cup underneath, after each use
  • Do not leave pet food outdoors or within screened-in porches
  • If you have any fruit trees on your property, be sure to pick all ripe fruit and collect any that has fallen to the ground. This is a major attraction for wildlife.

Getting away from the city and into the wilderness is a great way to relax and spend time with family and friends. Just be sure to plan properly and apply a little common sense to help keep your outdoor adventures healthy and safe.

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