Protecting Canada’s Oceans and Waterways: Voyage of the Vessel (Pacific South Coast)


[ 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 –  Pacific South Coast

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, Pilotage and Port Authorities, Response Organizations, 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.

Text on screen:

  • Canada Shipping Act 2001
  • Canada Marine Act
  • Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act
  • Collision Regulations

Let’s take a look at vessel traffic on the south coast of British Columbia.

[ Bob Gowe, Manager of Marine Projects, Transport Canada: ]

Hi, I’m Bob Gowe with Transport Canada, I’ve spent most of my life working in this extraordinary environment and I’m dedicated to the protection and enhancement of the marine safety system.

The south coast of British Columbia receives ships from all over the world. Let’s track the voyage of an inbound commercial 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 – its 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.

24-Hour Report

Before entering Canadian waters, ships contact the Canadian Coast Guard for what is known as the 24-hour report. As part of this report, the ship’s master must submit a sail plan and report any mechanical deficiencies or operational requirements the ship may have.  

As the ship gets closer to Canadian waters, it must also switch to 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 southern pacific coast and in our ports, NASP aircraft monitor vessel traffic, identify oil spills and other marine pollutants, and may track the movement of endangered whales.  

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

Spill Response

Large ships entering Canadian waters must have a contract in place with a certified Canadian response organization to ensure they are well-prepared and can respond quickly should an oil spill occur.

The “polluter pays” system ensures that vessels arriving in BC 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.

In southern British Columbia, many of our waterways are shared with the USA therefore both US and Canadian Coast Guard officers  provide vessel traffic services in what is known as the co-operative vessel traffic system.

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.

Marine Pilots

As ships enter Canadian waters, local knowledge is crucial. This is where experienced marine pilots come into play.

Transported by small boat or helicopter, pilots are required to be on board to guide large ships when they enter our local waters.

Protecting Whales and Marine Mammals

Pilots and mariners also carefully follow the different protection measures in place to protect the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, and other marine mammals when transiting the shipping zones.

Ships can help track and monitor endangered whale populations, by reporting their presence and can take measures like reducing speed or altering course, while ensuring the safe operation of the ship.  

This is part of our broader commitment to advance marine safety and for the protection of the unique ecosystem of the southern coast of British Columbia.

Port State Control Program

Foreign 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 while in Port to make sure that it meets international and domestic rules and regulations before it can sail to its next destination.

At the berth, the ship unloads and re-loads cargo before continuing its journey. There are multiple safeguards for departing vessels at this stage as well.

For example, the Port of Vancouver has strict protocols to support laden outbound oil tankers.

Due to strong tidal currents at 2nd Narrows, the pilots and the Port of Vancouver have determined that oil tankers must transit through the two bridges only during daytime hours and only at slack water when there is no tidal current.

To ensure the tankers avoid the bridge piers, they are accompanied by powerful tugboats which remain with the tanker until it is clear of Vancouver Harbor.

The tanker picks up escort tugs again in the confined waters of Boundary Pass and Haro Strait before reaching Victoria, where the pilots then depart the ship and it heads out to the open ocean.

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.

Marine Training Program

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