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Accidents don't just happen. Unsafe water conditions, crew error, equipment failure – any one or a combination of these can turn random events into accidents... sometimes with tragic results.

Laws can't eliminate human error and equipment failure. However, you can increase the safety of your vessel if you:

  • comply with regulations;
  • apply best practices;
  • increase crew knowledge; and
  • improve vessel condition and emergency preparedness.

This guide can help you do that. It doesn't cover every marine regulation or standard, but if you own, operate or crew a commercial vessel that is not more than 15 gross tonnage and does not carry more than 12 passengers, it can help you make sure that your vessel is ready to operate safely and is properly equipped for emergencies. Practical tools such as the sample maintenance schedule and compliance checklist at the end of this guide can help you check that you meet minimum safety requirements, as well as keep your vessel in top running order and prevent dangerous situations and costly breakdowns.

This guide and the operations and training manual templates available on the Transport Canada Marine Safety website ( are part of the program to promote safety. Read and use them to help you understand and comply with the law, and, most importantly, operate safely. Remember that this is a guide only. To know all the requirements that apply to your operation and the legal wording, you must refer directly to the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and its associated regulations.

Don't accept safety hazards as the cost of doing business. You have a duty to understand and comply with the laws and regulations that apply to your vessel. Your responsibilities under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 are summarized in Appendix 1. If you understand and comply with the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and its regulations and standards, as well as follow prudent marine practices, you will improve your operation's safety. You will find website URLs for the regulations referred to at the end of each chapter so that you can check the legal wording online if you have a question about a topic.

We suggest that you download the checklists, sample maintenance schedule, emergency procedures and other files and change them to reflect your vessel and operation. You can use them to make your own operations and training manual to help you run your business and meet your responsibilities for safety.


Definitions for certain words used in this guide follow because they are used frequently and are either not defined in legislation, or are defined in legislation but another, more common, word has been used in their place.

"Authorized Representative"* – the person who is responsible under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 for acting with respect to all matters relating to the vessel that are not otherwise assigned by this Act to any other person. The authorized representative of a Canadian vessel is the owner of the vessel. Where a foreign vessel is brought into Canadian registry under a bare-boat charter, the authorized representative is the bare-boat charterer. If more than one person owns a vessel, the owners must appoint one of themselves as the authorized representative. If the owner is a corporation, the authorized representative is the corporation. In this guide, owner means authorized representative.

"Construction requirements" – requirements for vessel design and construction as set out in the Small Vessel Regulations and the Construction Standards for Small Vessels ( TP 1332).

"Commercial vessel" – a vessel that is not a pleasure craft or used for commercial fishing. The Small Vessel Regulations do not define "commercial" but refer instead to "vessels other than a pleasure craft." Both "commercial vessel" and "non-pleasure vessel" are used in this guide to mean "vessel other than a pleasure craft." Vessels of all types, including human-powered vessels and vessels that are owned by any level of government and government entities like fire and police departments, are commercial vessels unless used only for pleasure.

A small commercial vessel is a vessel that is no larger than 15 gross tonnage and, if it is used to carry passengers, carries no more than 12 passengers.

"Fishing vessel"– a vessel used for commercially catching, harvesting or transporting fish or other living resources. Includes vessels that are less than 24 metres in length whose sole activity relates to the catch or harvest of another vessel or aquaculture facility (defined in the Marine Personnel Regulations). Vessels used for hire with a guide or crew for sport fishing charter operations are small commercial vessels, not fishing vessels. Vessels engaged in fishing for pleasure by their owner or renter are still pleasure craft.

"Gross tonnage"* – the measure of the overall size of a vessel as determined by a tonnage measurer or calculated according to the Standard for the Tonnage Measurement of Ships ( TP 13430) Part 3. Calculation of gross tonnage is required when you register your vessel (see Chapter 3).




"Guest"* – a person on board a vessel that is used exclusively for pleasure that is carried without remuneration or any object of profit (from the definition of "passenger").




"Pleasure craft"* – a vessel that is used for pleasure and does not carry passengers. If the vessel is used for the daily living needs of the operator, e.g., transportation or subsistence fishing/hunting, it is still considered a pleasure craft.

"Passenger"* – anyone on a vessel except for the master, a member of the crew or a person employed or engaged in any capacity on board the vessel on the business of that vessel, or a guest on board a pleasure craft. A fare does not have to be paid for a person to be considered a passenger.

A person employed or engaged in any capacity on board the vessel on the business of that vessel is a person who works on the vessel as part of the service provided by the vessel or to service the vessel, but is not part of the crew. Examples include waiters and tour guides. Persons employed by the person or company that operates the vessel who are being transported to their place of work are considered passengers.

The following are not passengers:

  • people who are on board because the law says that the master must carry them, such as shipwrecked or distressed persons;
  • people who are on board due to circumstances that neither the master nor the owner could have prevented; and
  • people who are designated not to be passengers in regulations (described in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 as "persons of a prescribed class").

"Owner" – in this guide means the "authorized representative" as defined in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. See "authorized representative," above.

"Operator" – means the person in command and charge of a vessel. This guide uses the terms "operator," the more common term for the person in charge of a small vessel, and "master," the term used in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and regulations, interchangeably.

"Workboat" – a vessel that is not a passenger-carrying vessel, a fishing vessel, a human-powered vessel nor a pleasure craft (defined in the Small Vessel Regulations).

* defined in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

Note: The definitions may have been changed slightly for clarity. Refer to the relevant legislation for the legal wording.

Safety Is a Shared Responsibility


As a vessel owner and/or operator, your role in running a safe operation is crucial. When you take on a commercial marine operation, the law holds you responsible for the safety of everyone involved.

But you are not alone. Others have a supporting role to play in promoting safety.

Vessel Suppliers

Designers, builders, importers, resellers and repairers are responsible for providing safe vessels. They must make sure that every vessel they design, build, sell or repair meets the minimum safety requirements set out in regulation.


Transport Canada is responsible for promoting the safe operation of vessels and protecting the marine environment from ship source pollution and damage due to navigation.

To do this, Transport Canada manages programs to help owners and operators understand how to operate safely. As well, Transport Canada puts laws, regulations and standards in place that establish minimum safety requirements for vessels and crew, and that set the rules for vessel operation.

To promote compliance with the law, Transport Canada Marine Safety and its enforcement partners – police forces, conservation officers and other agencies – work to raise the safety awareness and the understanding of safety requirements of everyone involved in the marine industry. They also monitor vessels on the water and at dockside to verify that all is in order.

This guide, as well as templates you can use to produce an operations and training manual containing the more common of the procedures required by the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 are available on the Transport Canada Marine Safety website. They are all part of the program to promote small vessel safety. Read and use them to help you understand and comply with the law, and, above all, operate safely.

More Information

Transport Canada Centres (TCCs) are located throughout Canada. There you can get answers to questions you may have on the requirements and how they affect you. To find the TCC nearest you, please contact your regional office (see Appendix 2).

Visit the Transport Canada Marine Safety website at

Operations and training manual templates are available at

To research regulations that apply to your vessel, please consult the references provided throughout this guide.

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