Requirement for passengers onboard ferries to exit enclosed vehicle decks

Remaining in a vehicle on an enclosed vehicle deck while a ferry is operating is not safe for passengers. This practice is prohibited under international maritime law and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

What are the safety concerns?

On enclosed vehicle decks, fueled vehicles, bulk and dangerous goods are often parked tightly together. Fire, flooding or collision creates an extremely difficult situation to evacuate everyone safely: Fire or smoke-related incidents aboard ships with enclosed car decks are happening on average more than twice a year in Canada. In an emergency evacuation where a ferry takes  on water, passengers on a closed car deck are at a much higher risk  for loss of life.

While these incidents are usually contained with minor consequences, the experience of tragic accidents around the world has shown us that passengers who stay on a closed ferry deck are subject to a significantly higher safety risk from fire, smoke, or drowning.

A vehicle deck is considered a special category of space, with additional requirements to contain and combat a fire due to the higher risk. However, none of these requirements are designed to protect passengers within the space. Rather, they are designed to protect the vessel and passengers in other spaces.

Why did things change under COVID?

The Government of Canada temporarily relaxed the enforcement of this prohibition during the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, we have learned more about the virus and how to protect ourselves. With physical distancing, mask wearing, sanitary and health practices now well established, Canadians can now minimize their risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread.

Transport Canada has removed the temporary flexibility that allows passengers to stay in their vehicles on enclosed car decks.

How will the fines work?

Administrative monetary penalties for a passenger in case of violations of the Closed Vehicle Deck Section 152(1) of the Cargo, Fumigation and Tackle Regulations could range from $600 to $12,000.

The ferry operator and the vessel master have the obligation and authority to ensure passengers’ safety. When a passenger does not follow the master’s (or their crew’s) direction, Transport Canada may take enforcement action with administrative monetary penalties.

Are there any exceptions?

Passengers can remain in their vehicles on open (or partially enclosed) vehicle decks, where the safety risk is lower than on a completely closed deck.