Protecting Canada’s Oceans and Waterways: Voyage of the Vessel (Arctic)


[ Narrator: ]

From an ultra-modern bulk carrier ship, carrying a cargo bound for Vancouver… to a crab or lobster fisher, tending traps off our Atlantic coast… to fishers, bringing in their catch off Kujjuarapiq as their community has done for thousands of years… our relationship with Canada’s oceans, lakes, and rivers is essential.

The movement of people and goods by water has propelled our economy and has shown us the importance of respecting and protecting our natural environment.

Text on screen: Voyage of a vessel: Understanding Canada’s Marine Safety and Security System – Arctic

Responsibility for Canada’s oceans and waterways is one of Transport Canada’s most important roles.

Our focus is to prevent, prepare, and respond with several partners, including Indigenous communities and the Canadian Coast Guard. We’re proud of the work we do and our record of success.

International Marine Safety Regulations

Canada is signatory to many international conventions and agreements that govern how shipping is carried out worldwide.

While international laws set the broad worldwide framework, Canada keeps a keen eye on every ship that is bound for – or departing from - our shores.

When ships reach Canadian waters, Canadian rules and regulations set a tight safety framework for all vessels in the 16 designated Shipping Control Zones, including the Canada Shipping Act 2001, the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act and the Arctic Shipping Safety and Pollution Prevention Regulations.

Text on screen:

  • Canada Shipping Act 2001
  • Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act
  • Collision Regulations
  • Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act
  • Arctic Shipping Safety and Pollution Prevention Regulations
  • Marine Liability Act
  • Marine Transportation Security Act

Polar Code

In addition to these Canadian regulations and acts, the international Polar Code provides a mandatory framework for all ships operating in the north. The Polar Code and Canada’s regulatory framework work together for safe navigation and environmental protection in the Arctic by reducing the risk of accidental spills and ensuring ships navigate safely with trained shipboard personnel.

Let’s take a look at vessel traffic in Canada’s Arctic region.

[ Jaideep Johar, Strategic Projects Officer, Transport Canada: ]

Hi, I’m Jaideep Johar, Manager with Transport Canada’s  Marine Safety and Security Prairie and Northern region. I’ve spent most of my life working in marine safety and I’m dedicated to the protection of this pristine environment.   

Our Arctic waters receive ships from all over the world.  Let’s track the voyage of an inbound ship loaded with cargo.

Inbound 96-Hour Report

Four days, or about 1,500 nautical miles out from Canadian waters, all ships inbound to Canada make initial contact with Transport Canada at the Marine Security Operations Centre to provide pre-arrival information about the ship – it’s destination, tonnage, cargo, crew, and more.

Security Threat Assessment

This information is shared with the Department of National Defence, the RCMP, and the Canada Border Services Agency as part of a comprehensive security threat assessment.

Ships are also required to exchange or treat their ballast water. This prevents foreign organisms from coming in with the ship as it sails into Canadian waters.

Entering Canadian Waters

Before entering Canadian Arctic waters, ships report to the Canadian Coast Guard in Iqaluit. As part of this report, the ship’s master must submit a sail plan and identify any mechanical deficiencies or operational requirements the ship may have.

All vessels operating in Canadian Arctic waters, must use low-sulfur fuel to reduce emissions, which improves air quality for everyone.

National Aerial Surveillance Program

Transport Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program is an essential part of Canada’s efforts to protect the maritime environment and marine life, while ensuring a safer shipping industry. As ships navigate along the Arctic waters, NASP aircraft monitor vessel traffic, identify oil spills and other marine pollutants.  

Because ships know they could be seen at any time, NASP is a powerful deterrent for ships discharging oil at sea.

Spill Response

In Canadian Arctic waters, there is a complete prohibition of pollution or oil discharge from ships, except in special circumstances where it is strictly regulated.

In the event of a spill, the “polluter pays” system ensures that vessels arriving in the Arctic region share responsibility for oil spills in Canadian waters.

Coast Guard Monitoring Systems

Much like air traffic control systems, each ship of a certain size is tracked and monitored by the Canadian Coast Guard communications systems and Transport Canada’s Regional Duty Officer.

The information about the ship, its previous ports of call, itinerary, and any issues or problems the ship may have is continually updated and is critical for the safety and security of all vessels and ports in Canada.

Supplying the North

90% of consumer goods destined for the Arctic arrive by marine ships and smaller community re-supply vessels, mostly during the summer sailing months of July to October.

Icebreaker vessels are essential to navigation in the Arctic as they provide a clear passage through ice at sea. This allows for the continued safe and sustainable marine shipping in the region.

However, when ice breakers push through the thickened ice, this potentially creates a dangerous situation for wildlife or Inuit and northern hunters who may become stranded on ice floes.

To reduce this risk, Inuit community members, Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard recently co-developed the first seasonal Notice to Mariners for the Kitikmeot Region.

Vessels must provide one week’s notice of their passage to  communities to minimize risks to people and migrating caribou and wildlife travelling across sea ice.

This is part of our broader commitment to work in partnership with Inuit communities to advance marine safety and for the protection of the unique ecosystem of the Arctic region.

Port State Control Program

Ships may also undergo a Port State Control Inspection carried out by a Transport Canada Marine Safety Inspector.  In keeping with international commitments, Transport Canada inspectors will board the ship to make sure that it meets international and domestic rules and regulations before it can sail to its next destination.

Once community re-supply vessels have unloaded their cargo, they will head off to their next port of call.

Marine Training Program

Beyond our world leading marine safety and security system, our partnerships with Indigenous communities are helping to strengthen Canada’s marine economy and environment, especially in the development of a skilled work force.

To create jobs and further increase marine safety in Indigenous and coastal communities, we have developed a Marine Training Program across three regions to help underrepresented groups, such as women, Indigenous Peoples, Northerners and Inuit access marine training and job opportunities within the marine industry.

[ Narrator: ]

We’re proud to say that our marine safety and security system works. Despite increases in marine traffic, spills and incidents have declined dramatically in the last 20 years, and we’ll continue to improve as technology evolves and we strengthen our partnerships with Indigenous and coastal communities.

Text on screen:

  • Arctic
  • Atlantic
  • Great Lakes and the Gulf/St-Lawrence River
  • Pacific North Coast
  • Pacific South Coast

This is one in a series of five videos about Canada’s marine safety management system. Find out more at