Buying Tip: Water Level Risks

23 April 2017 Around The Property

rising water level
Water levels can change significantly in cottage country. Here are some important points to consider when you are thinking about buying a cottage.

Water Level Tips for Cottage Buyers

Lake and river levels can change considerably on some bodies of water, and new owners of a cottage might not be aware of how this can impact the property.

When water levels are high, properties take on an entirely different look than when the lake or river is at a low point, so it is important for cottage buyers to see a property at different times of the season.

Ask for shoreline photos

Ideally, you would be able to visit the property right after the spring thaw and during the point in the season when the water level has bottomed out, which is often in late summer. This might not be possible, depending on the sale process, so potential buyers should ask the existing owners to provide photos of the property at different times of the year.

Another good idea is to talk to the neighbours to find out how much the water level changes and what impact it has on the surrounding area.

Consider weeds, rocks, and swimming conditions

When water levels are high, a property’s shoreline tends to look quite attractive, as all the rocks, weeds, and old tree stumps are often submerged. Visiting a cottage at this point in the season can lead one to believe the place is great for swimming off the dock.

That might be the case all year, but some shorelines become very weedy by late summer, especially when the water reaches its low point, and this can have an impact on how you use the property. Swimming might be difficult, or uncomfortable, and boats could be at risk of hitting rocks when approaching the dock.

In some cases, where a cottage is located in a bay, the water can become stagnant or covered with algae late in the season.

Measure the dock incline

Dock systems that accommodate the water at all heights are convenient, but they also have drawbacks.

In areas when water levels change by several feet, the incline of the ramp can be significant at times of low water. If the cottage is located on a water-access property, this situation can make life difficult for owners or visitors who might have trouble walking up the steep slope.

It also makes the task of carrying supplies from the boat to the cabin rather arduous.

In addition, big docks tend to become eyesores when the water level is at its low point because the entire support structure is out of the water.

If that’s something that would bother you, it’s good to know up front.

Canoes, chairs, boats, and toys left on shore

Cottagers often leave their canoes and fishing boats pulled up on the edge of the shoreline to make it convenient to head out onto the lake. This is fine when you are at the cabin, but it is worth the trouble to move items to higher ground before leaving the property.


Sometimes life gets in the way of the cottage schedule, and it isn’t uncommon to plan to be away for just a week, but end up not returning for a month.

If the water level changes significantly during the absence, cottagers can show up four weeks later to find the canoe missing, or the fishing boat submerged under two feet of water.

The bottom line on cottage water level risk

When going through the cottage buying checklist, remember to ask about the water level. It might not be an issue, but at least there won’t be any surprises after you take possession.

Go to the Cottage Buying Guide page to see more tips on how to buy a cabin.

Go to the Cottage Insurance Tips page.