Marine Safety and Security – Oversight Program Description and Delivery Fiscal Year 2021-22

Table of contents

  1. 1. Overview of the program, operating context and environment
  2. 2. Considerations and drivers for oversight activities priorities
  3. 3. Oversight delivery in 2021-22
  4. 4. Organizational contact information
  5. Annex A: Definitions

1. Overview of the program, operating context and environment

Many different factors affect the work of Transport Canada's Marine Safety and Security branch:

  • as a trading nation, Canada relies on a safe, secure and environmentally responsible marine transportation system to grow our economy
  • remote northern communities, that can only be reached by water or air, depend on supply vessels
  • ferries carry millions of passengers across lakes, rivers and coastal waters every year
  • thousands of fishing vessels provide jobs for whole communities
  • millions of Canadians enjoy recreational boating 

The Marine Safety and Security Oversight Program has a broad scope. Transport Canada defines oversight as: "How Transport Canada promotes, monitors or enforces compliance with our safety and security requirements."

We oversee 5 key areas:

  • Vessels: the safety of foreign and domestic vessels
  • Personnel: qualification and protection
  • Infrastructure: ports and facilities
  • Environment: clean air and water
  • Operational systems: surveillance, incident management and enforcement

These areas help meet 2 of Transport Canada's core responsibilities: a safe and secure transportation system, and a green and innovative transportation system.

The foundation for the oversight program are the laws and regulations that set minimum requirements for safety, security and protecting the environment.

All vessels and crew in Canadian waters must comply with these laws and any related regulations:

Other laws, like the Coasting Trade Act, can also apply in some circumstances.

The Marine Safety and Security Branch has overseen and enforced the Pilotage Act and its regulations since March 2020.

Inspectors have been monitoring and inspecting vessels to make sure that any vessels that are transiting mandatory pilotage areas have a licenced pilot or pilotage certificate holder, or are operating under a waiver. In early 2022, we will publish new marine pilotage regulations.

Canadian ports, other marine facilities, and the people and vessels using them, must comply with the Marine Transportation Security Act and its regulations.

The Marine Safety and Security branch also represents Canada at the International Maritime Organization – a UN agency.

The marine industry is always changing due to:

  • changing technology, shipping routes, vessel size and customization
  • new trade agreements
  • more international traffic through the Arctic
  • increasing cyber risks due to more use and dependence on technology in the sector
  • increasing safety and security risks due to higher demand for travel and supply to remote locations
  • growing environmental issues

In total, the program has about 750 full-time employees. About half of the employees are inspectors who do inspections and audits. Employees also manage and conduct quality control, act as technical experts, offer training, and undertake policy development, guidance and research.

2. Considerations and drivers for oversight activities priorities

The Marine Safety and Security Branch's work mainly consists of regulatory authorizations, but we also do planned, risk-based inspections, reactive inspections, and enforcement activities.

Our oversight priorities include:

Pleasure craft

We work with our safety partners to teach recreational boaters and make them aware of requirements using the Safe Boating Guide and other material. We also train enforcement partners to check compliance on our behalf.

Small vessels

Small vessels, also called uncertificated non-pleasure craft, are:

  • used for anything other than pleasure, and
  • 15 gross tonnage or less, or
  • carry 12 passengers or less

These vessels do not need to have a valid certificate from Transport Canada in order to operate, but must meet any requirements that apply.

To help owners understand what those requirements are, we have developed the voluntary Small Vessel Compliance Program. This program gives owners an easy-to-use tool that brings together all requirements for small non-pleasure vessels.

Large vessels

Large vessels, also called certificated non-pleasure craft:

  • are more than 15 gross tonnage, or
  • carry more than 12 passengers

They require a certificate from Transport Canada in order to operate. Certificates are valid for 1 year for passenger vessels, and 4 or 5 years for non-passenger vessels, and are issued after an inspection confirms that the vessel and its crew meet the requirements.

Recognized organizations

Recognized organizations inspect some large vessels on behalf of the Minister of Transport. 7 recognized organizations do inspections in Canada. They are all members of the International Association of Classification Societies and have at least one office in Canada.

Transport Canada audits the performance of the recognized organizations to make sure that they meet the requirements of their agreements with the Minister.


Marine Safety and Security issues certificates of competency to seafarers which they need to work on Canadian vessels. We do written, oral, practical and medical exams to make sure that all regulatory requirements are met before we issue a certificate. We also accredit and audit marine training institutions.

Marine facility and vessel security

The branch assess marine facilities, ports and vessels, and we review security plans.


When we find non-compliances (issues), there are different ways we can encourage vessel owners or operators to fix the issues. These enforcement tools also act as a deterrent (something that makes it less appealing to let issues slide). They include:

  • verbal warnings
  • written warnings
  • assurances of compliance
  • administrative monetary penalties (fines)
  • detentions
  • prosecutions

COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic the branch has continued to oversee the marine sector. We have done activities virtually where possible (for example, oral seafarer exams are now done online) and activities are done while respecting guidelines issued by health authorities (for example, the Public Health Agency of Canada, provincial and/or local officials).

3. Oversight delivery in 2021-22

The delivery of oversight activities, such as planned risk-based inspections and reactive inspections, will be reported through the Canadian Center on Transportation Data (CCDT).

4. Organizational contact information

Transport Canada welcomes your comments on this report.


Annex A: Definitions

Required Field Description
Oversight How Transport Canada promotes, monitors or enforces compliance with our safety and security requirements.
Regulatory authorizations Given when a regulated party (for example, a railway company or vehicle manufacturer) applies for permission to do a regulated activity, or be exempt from it. We may give permission in various forms, including a permit, licence or certification. Transport Canada does not control the number of regulatory authorizations per planning cycle.   

A documented, formal examination of industry compliance with Canadian transportation safety and security rules, regulations and requirements. Authorized Transport Canada officials record the results of each inspection. For the purposes of this document, audits are a type of inspection.

*Includes pre-site, onsite, and post-site inspection and oversight activities. Is complete when the inspector submits an approved inspection or oversight activities report. Does not include follow-up action, quality control checks or outreach activities.

Planned, risk-based inspections

All inspections Transport Canada initially commits to doing in a given planning cycle. The SO3 Management Board may authorize updates as needed.

*Include inspections that are announced (and expected), and those that are unannounced. Does not include:

  • estimated numbers of demand-driven activities, such as regulatory authorizations
  • "reactive" or "opportunity" inspections that happen because of a change in oversight
Follow-up activities

Arise from findings of an initial inspection. May include an on-site inspection, requests for more information, or enhanced monitoring.

*Do not include enforcement.

Other activities Oversight activities that Transport Canada did not initially commit to in a planning cycle, and are not a follow-up to an inspection or audit. 

Measures we use to enforce requirements and compel compliance. For example:

  • letters of non-compliance
  • directions or orders
  • ticketing
  • notices of violation
  • administrative monetary penalties
  • prosecutions
  • suspensions or cancellations of certificates or authorizations
Education, outreach and awareness How we educate the public, and encourage people and companies to comply with the law (for example: industry conferences, air shows, training, web portal)
Quality control

How we ensure inspectors follow policies and procedures, and complete required documentation. Applies to an entire oversight activity, from inspection, to follow-up, to resolving non-compliance. Supervisors and managers are responsible for quality control.

Each program must have:

  • a documented, nationally consistent way of doing quality control
  • a procedure or set of procedures to ensure inspections follow approved standard operating procedures