• Joel K. Adair

Muskoka Ice, The Boathouse & Dock

The Muskoka boathouse and dock. Winters on the lake can be devastating, learn how you can not only protect your investment but also potentially avoid accidents and save lives.

Bubbler Buddy


Cayman Marshall International Realty Inc. Brokerage


Virtual Tour Visions


Adair Real Estate


This episode is about the Muskoka boathouse. For those who aren’t familiar with Muskoka it’s about two hours north of Toronto, Canada, located in the heart of Cottage Country. The tradition of building boathouses in Muskoka goes back to the 1800’s. What started out as a garage built on the water for storing and repairing boats has evolved over the past 100 years into something that now helps to complete and compliment the more special luxury style cottage. It can be used as a guest house, as a place to entertain and is ideal for sun tanning and swimming, or my favorite… to just admire and stare at the boats. As much fun and as exciting as these Muskoka boathouses are in the summer months they also have this kind of enchanting and rarely seen beauty that exists in the winter. But the winter landscape on the Muskoka Lakes can be harsh and brutally unforgiving. Out on the frozen lakes there is danger everywhere. Conditions are constantly changing and can go from very wet to a heavy snowfall and even to dry baron almost desert like conditions. Getting lost at night on these frozen lakes can be fatal. This constantly changing winter environment can be extremely destructive and it’s a well known fact that ice can destroy the best dock or boathouse. 

Earlier this winter I made the trip up to Bala, Ontario to meet with the owner of East Portage Dock Company. His name is Kurt Muntz. He’s been working and playing on these lakes most of his life and over the past 20 years he has built over 250 docks, many of which have provided the foundation for some incredible boathouses.  These days Kurt has become an absolute authority in his field when it comes to anything related to docks, from their construction to maintenance and safety. So I asked Kurt to explain exactly how ice forming on the lake can actually destroy a dock or a boathouse. 

Kurt explained the best way to avoid damage to docks and boathouses in the winter is to use a bubbler. For those who don’t know, a bubbler is a little electric engine that’s packed in antifreeze which uses a small propeller to keep the water around the boathouse and dock moving all winter long. That moving water is enough to prevent the water from freezing. The problem is, if these little engines are left running all winter long, they can open up entire sections of the lake that otherwise should remain frozen. 

This can create all kinds of hazards for humans and for animals alike. Every winter there are new stories about snowmobilers, pets, wildlife and children, falling victim to the open water and the thin ice that is created by these bubbler systems.

Kurt recognized this safety issue and finally decided it was time to create a solution that would offer better protection for these boathouses, and also help to create a safer environment for everyone who uses the lakes during the winter. 

By controlling the flow of the water created by the bubbler you can make the bubbler work more efficiently and control exactly how much open water you want surrounding the boathouse. To contain the flow of the water, Kurt created a durable floating skirt that goes in the water and surrounds the boathouse. Once installed, it creates a border where the ice ends and where the water begins which avoids opening up large sections of the lake and creating unnecessary hazards.

Fast forward to late March 2019. Once again I’m meeting up with Kurt Muntz and his friend Curtis Wouters who is also a well known local builder on Lake Joe and Lake Rosseau. The plan was to head out on Lake Rosseau and track down some of Kurt’s Bubbler Buddy systems and find out how they’ve been performing over the course of the winter. But It was such a gorgeous Spring day that these two locals decided we should first do a little bit of sightseeing along the way. Here are a few highlights from our trip across the lake, which included an unforgettable stop at a secret ice cave on Lake Rosseau, and of course, Kurt showing off his Bubbler Buddy Systems.

The Bubbler Buddy was performing exactly the way it was intended too. But we had one final stop. We were going to visit Dave Bemmann. Dave is a local volunteer firefighter and a well seasoned real estate specialist who works with Cayman Marshal International Real Estate in Port Carling. Dave also lives on Lake Rosseau year round and is all too familiar with the dangers of open water and the potential for rapidly changing conditions in the ice. Just one week prior to filming this video, Dave assisted in a rescue attempt of a white-tailed deer who had fallen into a bubbler system near his home on Lake Rosseau. Dave was eventually able pull the deer out of the water, but unfortunately, it was too late. It was so sad. The deer had a massive laceration on its neck that was caused by the sharp ice and by the time the deer was pulled from the freezing water it was already severely suffering from hypothermia. The police and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry where also on the scene, but ultimate it was too late. 

It’s tragic enough to have your dock or boathouse destroyed by ice, but it’s an entirely different level of tragedy to lose a life. That made me wonder if the Bubbler Buddy system can actually prevent an accident and if there was an accident would the Bubbler Buddy help to save a life? To find out, I decided that I would actually get into the freezing water and attempt to crawl out to safety.  Please don’t try this at home!! This was done under strictly controlled supervision with rescue equipment on hand and local experts on the scene.

But before I got into the water the idea of prevention really hit me. The Bubbler Buddy had a really small footprint in the ice so right away it seemed less likely that something would fall into Kurt’s system because it doesn’t create that much open water. The second thing I noticed before getting into the water was that the Bubbler Buddy Dock was really clearly marked. I could see the bright orange plastic and its reflectors sticking out above the ice from way across the lake. With the traditional bubbler system it’s almost impossible to spot the open water from a distance. So it would seem obvious that you are less likely to fall into a hole that’s really well marked and that you can see from miles away. 

I started with the traditional system. Once I got into the water, it was cold and a little stressful. My head was wet and it was so cold that it made me realize if I fell in with a wetsuit on, I would be in total panic mode. I couldn’t imagine falling in at night or trying to swim with heavy boots or a snowmobile suit with helmet on. Trying to claw my way out was difficult. The ice around the edge of the traditional bubbler system was exceptionally unpredictable and took a lot of energy. I had to keep breaking through the sharp icy edges until I finally reached some ice that was solid enough to hold my body weight. 

After physically getting in the water and testing both systems the biggest difference I noticed was that the Bubbler Buddy system gave me something to grab onto. Sitting in the water and holding a floating object that’s easy to grab onto helps make a very stressful situation a little bit more calming compared to trying to cling to the edge of some weak jagged ice. The ice around the Bubbler Buddy system seemed a little more solid, but I didn’t find the Bubbler Buddy that much more helpfully when trying to climb directly back onto the ice. But the bubbler buddy became my life saver when I realized I could use it to pull myself to shore rather than struggling to climb directly back onto the ice. 

Ok, so hopefully I can offer a few takeaways here. Number one, it’s spring time in Ontario and there are a lot of frozen lakes and waterways that are thawing out. It’s a dangerous time of year be doing anything near the water. So its best to completely stay away from open water and frozen lakes this time of year.  By late May or early June the conditions should be much more favourable and safe. Number two, if you are out shopping for a cottage this spring or summer remember there are four very different seasons here in Ontario and Winters can be brutal in cottage country. There are a lot of little details that you should be discussing with a local real estate expert who completely understands the changing conditions throughout the year and who can provide you with the best possible information before purchasing waterfront in cottage country. Finally, if you want any additional info on the Bubbler Buddy system or anything else you saw in this video, then go check out my vlog at OverAsking.TV. I’ll leave some links at the bottom so you can access info on everything in this video. If you liked this video please hit the like button or leave me a comment. Thank you so much. See you next time.