Educating Your Guests in the Etiquette of Cottage Living

I recently read a forum post from a non-renting cottage owner blaming cottage renters on his lake for all manner of poor behaviour. Late night noise, operating watercraft in an unsafe and irresponsible manner, and general rowdiness were a few of the complaints levelled at the rental groups.

This is not the first time I have heard this viewpoint. Long time owners are at a loss to understand the erosion of respect for our lakes from newer residents or casual visitors, and to relate this to a general shift in the culture of responsibility would require more room than this blog allows. It is easy to lay the blame on the transient rental population but this generalisation seems grossly unfair. I have been renting out cottages for many years and with careful screening have rarely had an issue, or complaint from a neighbour about a rental group. The opposite has been the case in one property, where the drunken behaviour and loud profanity from neighbouring owners has caused rental guests to abandon their vacation early.

We may not be able to change the views our fellow cottage owners have about renters in general. However, we can help educate those who stay in our properties in the values of cottage life and cottage living. Teaching them the etiquette of life of the lake may be the key and this can be done sensitively in pre-arrival information as well as the cottage manual.

Don't expect your guests to know anything. Let them know everything they should about this very unique way of living, because it is very different from their day-to-day routines. As owners, we become so familiar with the differences it's as simple as exchanging winter clothes for shorts and sandals on the first day of spring weather. For newcomers to cottage country, it can be a complete culture change

Over the years, we have refined our Guest Guide and it now includes a section called Life on the Lake  – a Primer. This covers the etiquette of cottage living and includes sections on:

  • noise levels and restrictions on outdoor music;
  • safe and responsible operation of boats;
  • pet management – not allowing straying or barking;
  • respect for neighbours and their property and a description of the property boundaries;
  • campfire instructions, including the use of fireworks;
  • driving responsibly in cottage country – particularly on narrow cottage roads;
  • the mysteries of cottage plumbing;
  • garbage management and disposal.

Here's an example:

Noise levels:  Sound travels across water in ways it never does in the city. On a quiet morning or sultry dusk, normal voices can be heard a kilometre or more away. Take a moment after you are settled in to sit quietly on the dock, and hear the sounds of lakefront living. The call of a loon, slap of a beaver tail, hum of a water pump and laughter of children. The thrum of a motor as the sunset fisherman brings his boat into a dock. As you listen, bear in mind that the noises you make will be equally well heard across the water.

Shouting, dogs barking, loud arguments and loud music will all be shared with neighbours. Please respect they are all on vacation too and have a right to a peaceful time.

Please keep noise levels down particularly when playing music outside. Outdoor noise must cease or be kept to an absolute minimum after 11pm.

I'll be publishing the complete primer for my newsletter subscribers, so if you wish to see the full text, simply sign up in the box on the right.

Let me know anything else you think your renters should know.

Jennifer Jilks

I have found that it is not so much the renters as the owners who disrespect neighbours. We have neighours who entertain regularly and when they do they get out of control: drinking, bonfires, kids screaming endlessly around our 3 km lake dragged by adults who go out on 4-wheelers in the wee hours of the morning.

Joy Beatty

We have neighbours who just don’t respect the rights of others on the lake. From very late parties, bonfires, and fireworks to letting their children wander freely through our property. I am at a loss as to how to approach them.

Heather Bayer

This is a tough one and it’s difficult to offer suggestions on how to deal with neighbouring owners who behave in ways we would never want our rental guests to do. It might be interesting to start up a thread on the Cottage Life Forum and see what the contributors there say. I welcome comments from any of my readers here too.

Jennifer Jilks

Joy Beatty said, “I am at a loss as to how to approach them.”
You must be firm and set up boundaries!
We had canoeists paddle by and then let their less-that-calm 3-year old out on our raft. They asked if I minded. I was dumb and said no. I was sitting by the lake writing. I should have set up that boundary right away. They let the kid in and out of the water, he jumped into our 10′ deep water, while he screamed and had a temper tantrum.

Noise by-laws in Muskoka apply all day. If you gently speak to them, citing safety issues, and insurance or liability concerns, and demanding they stay off your property, you are free to then call the OPP. I might print out the noise by-laws, or burning by-laws.

I think you just have to draw the property line and the noise boundaries. There are strong marine laws about boating and fines are huge. The OPP will give one warning and then it is up to you to get back to them. They appreciate that unsafe boating conditions prove a risk to all. I did some marine law research on this! I have yet to find a solution for 11 p.m. fireworks, though! /yawn

Roger Lake

Is there a list for cottage owner partnership do’s and don’t among the partners? I.E. don’t leave your dogs for your co-owner to care for etc.

Pamela Letourneau

Food disposal – As a dog owner it is my worst nightmare when neighboring cottage owner & renters leave behind ( clean out fridge/freezer by dumping in bush any excess unwanted food) – I strive to keep my retriever & lab busy at lakeside with balls & stick fetching in the lake…..They only wander off when the smell of wonderful garbage and leftover meals have been thrown in the bush for “The Wildlife”. Not only is this poor from an environmental point of view, but very poor etiquette in general. We do not dump out left over food in our city backyard. We have compost bins which should also be part of cottage life. Dogs, bears, wolves, coyotes,racoons etc will go where there is food. This is not rocket science. If you do not want dogs visiting your property on a regular basis please dispose of unwanted food in a proper compost bin with a lid. Your fellow cottage dog owners will thank you. Why not reduce your foot print and leave that beautiful piece of paradise you so treasure as you found it, garbage free!

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