Preventing spills from vessels

Transport Canada works with other key federal departments and private industry to prevent spills of oil or hazardous and noxious substances in Canadian waters.

Four key activities for Transport Canada for tanker spill prevention are:

  • creating regulations for navigation, adequate equipment, and use of marine pilots
  • boarding and inspecting vessels
  • aerial surveillance
  • the TERMPOL review process for safety of tanker movements at marine terminals

On this page

Safe navigation in Canadian waters

Several regulations under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 help make sure vessels navigate safely in Canadian waters. For example, vessels must:

  • follow international rules for preventing collisions at sea
  • have up-to-date nautical charts
  • have a passage plan, for each trip, that respects safe navigation and the environment
  • be equipped with technology that allows Canada to monitor the ship's progress
  • report their information and follow vessel routing measures

All operators of large commercial vessels must also take on board a marine pilot with local knowledge before entering a harbour or busy waterway. Pilots guide vessels through busy or more complex waterways, and bring large vessels safely in and out of ports. Watch our short video about ship pilots.

Required equipment for navigation and radio communications

All cargo vessels are subject to regular inspections to prove that their navigation and radio communications equipment meets the standards under international agreements.

Requirements for double hulled tankers

All tankers built after July 6, 1993 must be double hulled to operate in Canadian waters, according to regulations on pollution and dangerous chemicals under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. A double hull has two complete layers of watertight hull surface on the bottom and sides.

For more information, see the Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals Regulations.

Illustration of a double hull

Inspection of vessels

Transport Canada authorizes inspectors to board and inspect tankers annually to ensure they are meeting Canadian and international maritime regulations.

Inspectors target high-risk vessels with an expanded inspection of their overall condition, and the working conditions of the crew. Vessels more than 12 years old are considered higher risk, including:

  • chemical tankers
  • gas carriers
  • oil tankers
  • bulk carriers

Some things inspectors look at:

  • documents for ships and personnel
  • structural condition
  • emergency systems
  • navigation and radio communications equipment
  • living and working conditions
  • lifesaving equipment and fire safety
  • handling of dangerous goods
  • pollution prevention measures

The National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP)

The National Aerial Surveillance Program carries out frequent patrols over Canadian waters. Air surveillance is very effective in preventing polluters from spilling oil on purpose. Air crews can spot oil spills as small as 1 litre.

TERMPOL review process

Transport Canada chairs the TERMPOL review process. TERMPOL is the Technical Review of Marine Terminal Systems and Transshipment Sites.

The review process assesses the risks associated with tanker movements to, from, and around Canada's marine terminals. A review is requested by the parties involved in building and operating a marine or gas terminal.

A review considers:

  • the navigational risks associated with placing and operating marine terminals for large oil tankers
  • the safety of tankers entering Canadian waters, navigating through channels, approaching berthing, and loading or unloading oil or gas