Proactive Vessel Management: discussion paper

As part of the Oceans Protection Plan, we are developing a new initiative to work with Indigenous peoples, coastal communities, waterway users and marine stakeholders to better manage local marine traffic issues. The Proactive Vessel Management Initiative will create opportunities for dialogue and collaboration to reduce conflicts and improve environmental and cultural protection of local waterways. Learn how the Proactive Vessel Management Initiative will contribute to a world-leading marine safety system and strengthened partnerships. You can contribute to the discussion by responding to various questions.

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This discussion paper provides an initial vision for Proactive Vessel Management (PVM). The intent is to generate discussion and seek advice about:

  • using a PVM approach to manage vessel traffic issues
  • identifying those issues that could be addressed using a PVM approach
  • putting in place a PVM approach in local waterways

Join the discussion

Read the questions throughout the document and visit the Let’s Talk – Oceans Protection Plan site to provide your thoughts, or upload a submission. You can respond to as many questions as you wish.


In November 2016, we announced Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan. This Plan is designed to keep Canadian waters and coasts safe and clean for today’s use and for future generations.

The Oceans Protection Plan has four main priority areas:

  • creating a world-leading marine safety system
  • restoring and protecting the marine ecosystem
  • strengthening partnerships with Indigenous communities
  • using stronger evidence-based decision-making

As part of this plan, the Proactive Vessel Management Initiative will allow for a more integrated, collaborative approach between the Government of Canada, Indigenous peoples and coastal communities to manage local marine traffic issues.

Through Proactive Vessel Management, we will:

  • develop and implement measures to educate, improve safety, protect the environment and respect traditional uses
  • contribute to a world-leading marine safety system and strengthened partnerships with Indigenous peoples and coastal communities

Managing marine vessel traffic in Canada

To better understand Proactive Vessel Management as an initiative under the Oceans Protection Plan, we are providing background on managing marine vessel traffic in Canada.

Responsible authorities

The Constitution of Canada makes the federal government responsible for regulating and managing commercial shipping and navigation. The main federal authorities responsible for managing vessel traffic in Canada include:

Transport Canada

Transport Canada is the lead federal department responsible for marine safety in Canada. It:

  • promotes efficient marine transportation
  • promotes safe, secure and sustainable marine practices
  • oversees marine infrastructure
  • helps protect the marine environment

Its key responsibilities include:

  • ensuring safe operations, inspections and certification of foreign and domestic vessels
  • training and certification of seafarers
  • setting requirements for preventing pollution from ships

Canadian Coast Guard

The Canadian Coast Guard:

  • ensures the safety of all mariners on Canadian waters
  • protects Canada’s marine environment
  • supports economic growth through the safe and efficient movement of maritime trade in and out of Canada’s waters

Its key responsibilities include:

  • conducting marine search and rescue
  • maintaining federal oversight for oil spill response
  • icebreaking
  • installing and maintaining aids to navigation and Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS)

Pilotage authorities


  • means using qualified experienced mariners aboard-ship who use their knowledge of local waters to safely guide vessels to their destination
  • is mandatory in a number coastal waterways across the country, especially in busier waterways or where vessels navigate close to shore

Pilotage authorities are responsible for providing safe pilotage in Canadian waters.

There are four pilotage authorities in Canada:

  • Atlantic
  • Laurentian
  • Great Lakes
  • Pacific

Canada Port Authorities

Canada Port Authorities operate key ports across the country. They:

  • provide marine infrastructure
  • ensure that marine traffic and cargo move safely and efficiently
  • set various traffic control measures such as:
    • speed, wind and visibility restrictions
    • minimum clearances between the bottom of the keel and the seabed
    • time and tide windows for vessel transits
    • anchoring controls and restrictions for different types and sizes of vessels

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

Most commercial, deep-sea trading vessels in Canadian waters are flagged (registered) in foreign countries. Because shipping is a global activity, marine safety and vessel traffic management need to be consistent. This is why the International Maritime Organization (IMO) plays the most important role in how vessel traffic is managed worldwide.

The IMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations. It sets global standards for safe, secure and environmentally sound international shipping and creates a fair, effective and worldwide regulatory framework for the shipping industry.

Currently, over 50 IMO conventions apply to all vessels operating in Canadian waters, and Canadian vessels operating worldwide. Domestic laws and regulations enforce these conventions.

Key components of the system

Vessel traffic is managed through a comprehensive system of international and Canadian laws, regulations, programs and services. This system regulates and manages all aspects of safe shipping and navigation, including:

  • vessel operation (such as speed, routeing, “rules of the road” and watch keeping)
  • aids to navigation
  • discharges (such as ballast, bilge and sewage)
  • air emissions
  • communications equipment and procedures
  • standards for crew training and certification
  • vessel design and construction
  • safety equipment

Regulatory framework

Transport Canada is the main authority responsible for implementing regulatory measures under the authority of the Minister of Transport through the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. The department has the authority to regulate Canadian and foreign vessels operating in Canadian waters extending 12 nautical miles offshore, an area of water referred to as the territorial sea.

However, Canada also has obligations to foreign vessels under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The most important of these is the right of foreign vessels to “innocent passage.” Innocent passage means that foreign vessels may transit through our waters as long as they do not interfere with the peace, good order or security of Canada.

Waters extending 200 nautical miles beyond the territorial sea form Canada’s exclusive economic zone. While Canada maintains certain powers with respect to fishing and natural resource development within the zone, any traffic management measures we consider for these waters must be consistent with the Law of the Sea convention.

Also, Canada manages some waters, such as the straits of Haro and Juan de Fuca in British Columbia’s Salish Sea, cooperatively with the United States. The two countries would have to take a joint, bilateral approach when considering any measures to manage vessel traffic for these waters.

The new Proactive Vessel Management approach

Shipping is a highly regulated industry with strict safety and environmental controls. Indigenous peoples and coastal communities are raising concerns about how waterways are used, and the potential impacts of vessels on ecologically and culturally sensitive marine and coastal areas. They have expressed strong interest in working with governments and other interested parties towards solutions.

In response to these concerns and the desire of Indigenous peoples and coastal communities to be more engaged, the Proactive Vessel Management Initiative is a new approach to address vessel traffic issues in local waterways and to reduce the impacts of shipping in the short and long term. This approach reflects greater collaboration between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples and coastal communities, and other key stakeholders such as the marine industry and non-government organizations. The initiative helps identify issues and develop solutions that showcase knowledge and experience held by all. Solutions could include, for example:

  • raising user awareness and knowledge
  • improving communications on the water
  • applying more vessel controls such as speed and routes

Discussion question 1

Does this approach make sense to you? Is there anything we should add or change?

Marine shipping issues or conflicts that could apply a Proactive Vessel Management approach

We‘ve heard concerns about a number of issues related to how vessel traffic is managed in local waterways. These concerns fall mainly into the following categories and could be addressed using a Proactive Vessel Management approach:

Safety and security
Include small vessel operators’ concerns about navigating near and around commercial deep-sea vessels because of their speed and the wake they create.
Include the types of impacts vessels can have on local environments, such as marine pollution, air emissions, illegal dumping, and noise disturbances to marine and terrestrial wildlife.
Include noise disturbance to humans above the water, impacts to aesthetic values for local industries such as eco-tourism and concerns about access to fishing.
Include Indigenous peoples’ concerns about their ability to access marine areas in their traditional territories to practice their fishing rights. This can negatively affect their ability to pass on traditional cultural practices to the next generation.

Discussion question 2

What vessel traffic issues or conflicts are you aware of in your local waterway that the Proactive Vessel Management Initiative should consider? What and where is this waterway? What is your relationship to, or use of, this waterway?

A framework for Proactive Vessel Management

Proactive Vessel Management recognizes that no single sector or jurisdiction can address vessel traffic issues alone. It requires an approach that includes anyone who has a role in addressing vessel traffic issues. Under the initiative, we are building a framework to guide how to:

  • engage participants
  • determine roles and responsibilities
  • gather and exchange information
  • identify issues
  • decide which issues to include and not include
  • share and use information, technical expertise and traditional knowledge
  • make decisions

The framework:

  • will help guide all the participants in the forum to identify issues, assess and implement potential measures to address vessel traffic issues that arise in their local waterways
  • will supports ongoing conversations with First Nations, key stakeholders and jurisdictional partners to enhance collaboration and build partnerships
  • will depend on making the most of relationships with and among all partners and stakeholders to be successfully put in place

Framework principles

The framework will require a set of principles that represent a shared vision for addressing vessel traffic issues. The following principles are examples from discussions that emerged during regional engagement sessions across Canada:

  • The need to balance responsible economic development opportunities with protecting community resources and livelihoods is integral, and will be supported by including diverse perspectives
  • Effective communication, education, and knowledge exchange amongst all partners can enhance transparency, increase awareness of concerns, and boost overall confidence in the marine safety system
  • A consensus-based approach to decisions facilitates trust and cooperation among diverse partners and stakeholders
  • Implementing voluntary measures to address vessel traffic issues provides a degree of flexibility that does not exist within regulations
  • The decision-making process will be based on evidence supported by traditional and local knowledge, and science

Discussion question 3

Do you agree with these principles? What other principles should we consider in the development of the proactive vessel management framework?

Implementing a Proactive Vessel Management approach

The following steps have been identified for consideration in a PVM approach to collaboration on vessel traffic issues in local waterways.

Step 1: Engagement and dialogue

To put a PVM approach in place, we’ll need strong engagement from partners, stakeholders and other responsible authorities to establish a forum for area-specific vessel traffic issue(s) related to the local waterway. As noted above, the framework will provide guidance on how we can achieve this. However, the most important thing will be to establish a forum of people representing diverse perspectives who can contribute to productive dialogue.

Step 2: Identifying and prioritizing issues

Once partners and stakeholders are engaged in the forum, it will be important to identify and prioritize any vessel traffic issues impacting their waterway. These issues will likely fall into the four categories under Issues or conflicts linked to marine shipping that could apply a Proactive Vessel Management approach. Participants will need to clearly define the scope of each issue so that they can contribute to the process.

Step 3: Gathering and analyzing information

It is important that participants thoroughly analyze each issue, taking into consideration traditional knowledge, technical information and science. This will ensure that all relevant information is considered. After this step, participants may determine that a PVM approach is not the best way to address the issues. If this is the case, the framework will provide guidance on what to do.

Step 4: Exploring and assessing options

Participants will be able to use a “toolbox” of options so they can choose how to minimize safety risks and reduce the impacts of the vessel traffic issue impacting the local waterway. They will need to analyze and assess potential measures for safety and risk as well as for economic impacts.

Measures could include:

  • setting speed and routing restrictions for certain sizes and classes of ships
  • requiring additional pilots
  • using escort tugs
  • creating areas that deep-sea vessels must avoid, and other restrictions near ecologically or culturally sensitive sites

Measures may be voluntary or regulatory, but with a strong focus on education and sharing information. We will encourage the use of voluntary measures over regulatory ones. Researchers have examined similar forums to address vessel traffic issues, and have noted that voluntary measures allow for rapid readjustment and adaptation in response to monitoring and evaluation. In addition, voluntary measures provide an opportunity for compliance through cooperation and understanding rather than through enforcement.

Voluntary measures are established by developing guidelines in collaboration with industry and would be supported with a targeted program of education and communication. Because the marine industry has a solid track record of respecting voluntary guidelines, compliance would likely be high.

Through the PVM process, participants may also identify opportunities to amend existing regulations or to propose new ones. Other federal departments, such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada, administer legislation and regulations in the marine environment that may also apply.

Step 5. Decision-making

Once participants review all options and identify the potential measures, they will need to determine which one(s) is/are most suitable to address the vessel traffic issue at hand. Although the framework will serve as guidance, participants will make decisions with the aim of reaching consensus.

Step 6. Implementation

This is where it is time to try out the measure to see if it works. The framework will provide guidance on how to implement the measure and how to delegate roles and responsibilities based on specific areas of expertise to ensure successful implementation.

Step 7. Monitoring

Participants will need to regularly monitor the measure to ensure it has the intended results. The framework will provide the parameters for monitoring the measure, including how data is collected, so that participants can get timely and relevant information. They will need to monitor in a systematic way to make ongoing adjustments.

Step 8. Evaluation and adaptation

Participants will need to evaluate over the short and long term to inform any corrective actions that are required. Information on evaluation and adaptation will contribute to the evidence base for further policy development and provide justification for ongoing implementation.

Some notes about these steps

  • Depending on the complexity of the vessel traffic issue, these steps may be done quickly or slowly
  • Collaboration and education underpin these steps, including bringing knowledge from different participants into the conversation to deepen understanding of each issue
  • The forum must determine what a successful outcome will look like from the onset and what evidence will be needed to demonstrate success

Discussion question 4

Do you agree with the steps identified for a PVM approach? Is there anything missing that should be added?

Next steps

Between now and 2019, we will:

  • Put the PVM Initiative into practice by carrying out two pilot projects with Indigenous peoples and coastal communities in the Arctic and British Columbia
  • Establish a forum to support the pilots where participants are engaged and come together to address any area-specific vessel traffic issues related to their impacted waterway
  • Any issues to be addressed will:
    • be determined by the forum’s membership
    • reflect community priorities that are informed by traditional knowledge, scientific and technical information, and navigation safety


The intent of the Proactive Vessel Management Initiative is to establish a proactive and collaborative process to identify issues and potential measures to:

  • improve marine safety
  • improve environmental protection
  • reduce conflicts between waterway users

This will require the sustained collaboration of:

  • Indigenous peoples and coastal communities
  • other levels of government
  • industry
  • pilotage and port authorities
  • non-governmental organizations

The information gathered from this initiative will give us information to develop policy and regulations that support collaborative decision-making and are adaptable to the changing needs of Indigenous peoples and coastal communities.