Backgrounder: New measures for pleasure craft operators to limit the spread of COVID-19


Transport Canada announced that it would defer the start of the cruise ship season in Canada from April 2 to July 1, 2020, at the earliest. This deferral applies to cruise ships capable of carrying more than 500 passengers and crew members. Given the limited public health capacity in Canada's northern communities, that announcement also signalled the Government of Canada's intent to defer the cruise ship season for vessels in the Canadian Arctic for the entire season in 2020.

Effective April 5, 2020, Transport Canada announced safety measures for ferries and commercial vessels certified to carry more than 12 passengers to protect both passengers and crew.

As part of continued efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 throughout the marine sector and to coastal communities, Transport Canada is implementing additional measures to limit the use of pleasure craft within Canadian Arctic waters.

Transport Canada defines a pleasure craft as a boat, a ship, or any other water craft that is used exclusively for pleasure and does not carry passengers or goods for payment. Canoes, kayaks, sailboats and motorboats used for non-commercial purposes are all included in this definition.

COVID-19 safety measures for pleasure craft use within Canadian waters

Transport Canada is calling on Canadian recreational boaters to stay home to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and to follow provincial or territorial guidelines, as well as direction provided by local or regional health authorities.

In addition to the existing measures implemented for ferries and passenger vessels, the Minister of Transport will issue the Interim Order Respecting Pleasure Craft Restrictions due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) with the following additional measures that will be in effect as of June 1, 2020:

  • To better protect Arctic communities, pleasure craft are prohibited from operating in Canada's Arctic coastal waters north of the 60th parallel until October 31, 2020, at the earliest:
    • to limit any potential interaction with remote and vulnerable coastal communities in consideration of minimal health care infrastructure in these waterways that notably comprise the Northwest Passage as well as the territorial sea of Canada surrounding Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and the Labrador Coast).
    • to allow the Canadian Coast Guard to focus efforts on essential operations including community resupply ice-breaking, environmental response, and search and rescue.
  • Pleasure craft operating in Canada's non-Arctic coastal waters, as well as the inland lakes and rivers of the territories, should follow guidance of their local authorities. Where boating is allowed, they must continue to maintain safe practices to limit the spread of COVID-19.

In the Canadian Arctic coastal waters, the following measures will not apply to:

  • Foreign pleasure craft exercising their right of innocent passage within the territorial sea. However, any such transits will be subject to receipt of a 60-day written notice in advance of arrival in Canadian Arctic coastal waters to Transport Canada, and be subject to any conditions the Minister determines necessary to ensure the protection of marine personnel and of local communities (for example, additional insurance, rescue strategy).
  • Canadian pleasure craft being used:
    • by local communities (including, but not limited to, fishing, harvesting and hunting and other activities);
    • as essential transportation, such as:
      • accessing one's dwelling-house or place of employment that is not easily accessible by road, or
      • accessing essential goods and services;
    • for subsistence fishing, harvesting and hunting; and
    • for exercising Treaty Rights.

COVID-19 travel restrictions between Canada and the United States

The Government of Canada is also emphasizing the travel restrictions already in place between Canada and the United States:

  • There is a temporary restriction on all non-essential travel, including tourism and recreation, at the Canada-United States border, including via international waters.
  • You may only travel between Canada and the United States on your boat for essential purposes.
  • You will be denied entry if you are travelling for non-essential purposes, like tourism, recreation, or entertainment.
  • If you must travel between Canada and the United States on your boat, all normal customs reporting procedures remain in place and you may be subject to additional requirements of the Quarantine Act.

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