Chapter 3 - Do the paperwork

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Vessel Registration

In Canada, you must register commercial vessels of all sizes. This includes human powered craft such as kayaks and white-water rafts used by guides for guided trips, but not lifeboats or other survival craft on board a larger ship, which are inspected as a part of the ship’s equipment. A pleasure craft licence is not acceptable for a commercial vessel.

Change to Registration requirements: As of March 2011, registration is not required for human-powered vessels (such as canoes or kayaks), small sailing vessels and small vessels fitted with propulsion motors less than 10  hp (7.5 kW ).  Registration will continue to be required for commercial river rafts, government vessels, or other vessels in future which require registration for safety reasons.

Should the owners of such a vessel wish to register their vessel, they are free to do so voluntarily.  A new simplified registration process has been created for human-powered vessels for those who wish to register voluntarily.

Vessel owners or operators must still comply with construction, safety, and pollution requirements set out in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

For more information, see Ship Safety Bulletin 01/2011: Interim Registration Guidance for Human-powered Vessels, Small Sailing Vessels, and Small Vessels Fitted with Propulsion Motors Less Than 10  hp kW .

You should have your registration documents on board at all times. The penalty for operating an unregistered vessel is from $250 to $10,000 – per day!

If your vessel is no more than 15 gross tonnage, you may register it in either the Small Vessel Register or the Canadian Register of Vessels. If your vessel is more than 15 gross tonnage, or if you want to register a mortgage, you must register it in the Canadian Register of Vessels. Table 3-1 below compares the two registers.

Tonnage is determined by a tonnage measurer, who will charge a fee. For some vessels that are no longer than 15 metres, the tonnage can be calculated without a tonnage measurer by using a simple formula. Check the Tonnage Measurements section of the Small Vessel Register website to see if your vessel is one of these.

 Table 3-1: Comparison of Small Vessel Register and Canadian Register of Vessels
  Small Vessel Register Canadian Register of Vessels
Eligible vessels

Commercial vessel of 15 gross tonnage or less owned by a qualified person*

Not registered in another country

Any vessel owned by a qualified person*

Not registered in another country

How your vessel will be known Official number Official number and unique name
Registration fee $50 per five-year term** $250 – one-time only
Mortgage registration allowed No Yes

* A Canadian citizen or permanent resident (within the meaning of subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act) or a corporation incorporated under Canadian federal or provincial laws.
** The Vessels Registry Fees Tariff allows for the registration of a "fleet of vessels," which means two or more vessels of less than 5 gross tonnage that are owned by the same person, other than a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal government, for a flat fee of $50 if the owner applies for all registrations/renewals at the same time.

Licensed Vessels

If you licensed your vessel in the Small Vessel Licensing System (your licence begins with "C") before July 1, 2007, it will be treated as if it were registered until:

  • it is sold to someone else; or, if it is not sold
  • the licence expires.

If you licensed your vessel with Canada Customs (your licence number doesn't begin with "C"), it will be treated as if it were registered until:

  • it is sold to someone else; or, if it is not sold
  • July 1, 2012.

For more information on how to register your vessel, see the More Information section at the end of this chapter.

Vessel Markings

Vessels registered in the Small Vessel Register must display their Official Number in block characters not less than 75 mm high and in a colour that contrasts with their background. The number must be displayed on each side of the bow of the vessel or on a board permanently attached to the vessel as close to the bow as practicable so that the number is clearly visible from each side of the vessel.

If your vessel is registered in the Canadian Register of Vessels, the requirements for vessel markings are shown on the reverse side of the Certificate of Registry.

Notice of Changes

The vessel owner must notify the Vessel Registrar within 30 days of any change to the information shown on the Certificate of Registry, including:

  • change of address;
  • vessel alteration or modification;
  • company name change; or
  • transfer of ownership.

If you fail to give notification, your registration will be invalid and you may be fined from $250 to $10,000.


It is a good idea for any business to purchase insurance. Some types of coverage are required by law, and others simply make good sense. It is up to you to make sure you have the right kind and right amount of protection.

Liability insurance covers losses if you cause property damage or bodily injury to a passenger. The Marine Liability Act (MLA) sets the liability of marine operators for passengers, cargo, pollution, and property damage. It applies to commercial vessels and sets a maximum liability for operators of approximately $350,000 per passenger. It also prohibits the use of waivers of liability. The MLA also provides for linking liability to the degree of fault or neglect. Consult Transport Canada Marine Policy or email to learn more.

Many cities and provincial governments require proof of appropriate insurance coverage before issuing permits. Contact your local authorities for details.

More Information

To consult your local Transport Canada Centre, see Appendix 2.

To register your vessel, follow the steps on the Vessel Registration Office website.

For the Small Vessel Register:

For the Canadian Register of Vessels:

You may also contact the Vessel Registration Office during business hours from anywhere in North America by using a toll-free help line (1-877-242-8770) or by email ( ).

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