Snowmobile Safety Tips

Snowmobile Safety Tips

Snowmobile Safety

Ontarians love snowmobiling! We have over 30,000 km (18,641 mi.) of interconnected trails, one of the longest networks of recreational trails in the world, through some of the most beautiful landscape anywhere. These trails are maintained by the very active umbrella association for snowmobile enthusiasts, the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC). Snowmobiles are crucial modes of transport for farmers and ranchers, those in remote areas, and for workers at locations such as ski resorts. They’re also a lot of fun, and many Ontarians look forward to weekends of getting out in the snow.


However, there is a down side. Snowmobiles can travel at relatively high speeds and operating them can be risky. During the years between 2009 and 2019, the OPP investigated 175 fatalities caused by snowmobile accidents. What they found when analyzing the data from these accidents was a shocking indictment of operator behaviour. According to OFSC, the police found that excessive speeds, travelling at speeds too fast for the conditions, and alcohol were the top contributing factors to these fatal accidents. Alcohol was involved in almost half of the deaths. In addition, a large percentage of deaths happened when snowmobilers were travelling on frozen lakes or rivers.


Staying Safe

A snowmobile must be respected as a vehicle and operating one should be taken seriously. Before operating one, learn the laws regarding the operation of snowmobiles, and make sure that your insurance and registration are in order.


Here are some tips for a safe ride:


  • Dress appropriately. Wear insulating underlayers (top and bottom), wool socks, down outerwear with a windproof outer layer. Be sure to wear windproof mitts or gloves, sturdy waterproof boots, and a snowmobile helmet over a warm toque and balaclava. (Passengers must also wear helmets.) If you plan to be out in darkness, place reflective tape on outerwear.


  • Inspect your snowmobile before leaving. Check the engine, the oil, the battery, the headlights, and always fill the gas tank. Snowmobilers are frequently in remote areas, and sometimes encounter bad weather. You’ll want to ensure that the machine is in good working order, and that you have enough gas to make it where you’re going.


  • Check the weather reports for your area. If a storm is predicted, or if the temperature is extremely low, call off your trip. At temperatures of -35°C, skin freezes within ten minutes or less. Check trail conditions with your local snowmobile club.


  • Tell someone where you’re going, what route you’ll take to get there, and when you expect to return. Tell that person you’ll check in when you get home, and to alert authorities if they don’t hear from you in a timely fashion. If at all possible, don’t travel alone.


  • Carry an emergency kit. Take supplies for repairs, as well as supplies to sustain you if you get caught in a bad situation. A snowmobile survival kit should include the following, plus additional items such as medication:
    • First aid kit.
    • Cellphone or satellite phone, fully charged, in a waterproof and shockproof container.
    • GPS unit, a trail map, and a compass.
    • Matches and/or a lighter in a waterproof container.
    • Candle
    • Knife, saw, and axe.
    • Shovel.
    • Flashlight and headlamp.
    • Whistle.
    • Emergency flares.
    • An extra set of clothing in plastic bags.
    • High-energy foods like nuts, granola bars or beef jerky.
    • Toilet paper.
    • Repair kit with items such as: spark plugs, drive belt, screwdriver, wrenches, hammer, tow rope, and the owner’s manual.

Operating a Snowmobile


If you’ve never operated a snowmobile before, or if you haven’t driven one in recent years, consider taking a lesson and limiting trips to short excursions at first. Plan your route carefully and stay off ice if possible. If you must ride over frozen lakes or rivers, check ice conditions with government agencies or your local snowmobile club before leaving. Don’t ride on private property unless you have the permission of the landowner.


Ride safely! Drive within your ability and obey speed limits. Lower your speed at night and whenever conditions warrant it. Stay on the right-hand side of the trail and take care in places where visibility may be poor, such as on corners and hills. Use appropriate hand signals to alert other drivers to your intentions. Stop and look before crossing a road or railway tracks. Cross only at designated crossings. Keep your eyes on the trail and concentrate – a second’s inattention can be enough to cause an accident.


And finally, never use alcohol or drugs when operating a snowmobile. Alcohol can affect reaction time and decision-making skills, which can have dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences. Don’t operate a snowmobile drunk and don’t ride with a driver who’s been drinking.


If you want to know more about the laws governing snowmobiling, visit the Ontario Ministry of Transport page about this activity. Stay safe on the trails this winter!