Works on navigable waters in Canada

The public right to travel on navigable waters is protected by law in Canada. This applies to all waters that the public may use for travel or transport, whether or not the water is on the list of scheduled waters of the Canadian Navigable Waters Act (CNWA).

If you’re planning a work (project) that affects navigation, you may need to submit an application for an approval to the Navigation Protection Program (NPP). The exception is when your project is considered a “minor work” and meets criteria set in the Minor Works Order. Although you don't need to apply, some specific minor works require proponents to publish a public notice and deposit information. For additional information on minor works, please view the Minor Works Order.

You can also search for ongoing projects by looking at the public registry.

On this page

About navigable waters

A navigable water is one that the public has a right to use for travel or transport. It can include a canal or any other body of water created or altered by construction. In deciding whether to call a water “navigable”, proponents can use the Project Review Tool available on the External Submission Site. This tool asks questions such as:

  • Is it used for transport or travel for commercial or recreational purposes?
  • Is it used as a means of transport or travel by Indigenous peoples using their constitutional rights?
  • Is it likely to be used in the future for transport or travel?
  • Was it used in the past for transport or travel?
  • Is there public access by land or water?
  • Are there 2 or more waterfront owners?
  • Is the Crown (federal, provincial or territorial government) the only waterfront owner?

A scheduled navigable water is one that’s on the schedule under the Act. You may also submit a request to NPP to add a waterway to the schedule.

A non-scheduled water isn’t listed on the Act’s schedule but may be considered navigable. Navigable waters that are not listed on the schedule continue to be protected under the Act.

About works

A work is anything, temporary or permanent, made by humans, that:

  • is in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water in Canada; and/or
  • includes the dumping of fill into, dredging or removing of materials from the bed of a navigable water.

Minor works

The Minor Works Order allows for the following works to be built if they meet the criteria for the applicable class of works, as well as specific terms and conditions for construction:

  • Temporary Works
  • Docks and Boathouses
  • Slipways and Boat-Launching Ramps
  • Pipelines and Cables used for Power or Telecommunication Purposes Attached to an Existing Work
  • Works Within an Area Bounded by a Boom
  • Mooring Systems
  • Swim Areas
  • Scientific Equipment

The works mentioned above that meet the assessment criteria of the Minor Works Order are considered minor works under the Canadian Navigable Waters Act (CNWA) and may proceed without an application for approval as long as they comply with the legal requirements.

The following classes of works established in the Minor Works Order require that an owner deposits information describing the proposed activity and its location on the registry. The owner is also required to publish a public notice on the NPP external submission site, unless the said work has gone through federal or provincial review process.

  • Erosion-Protection Works
  • Aerial Cables
  • Submarine Cables
  • Buried Pipelines
  • Outfalls and Water Intakes
  • Dredging
  • Watercourse Crossings

Prior to the beginning of the project, owners of any of the 15 classes of works must notify the Canadian Coast Guard of the day on which the project is expected to begin.

For specific guidance on each classes, visit the External Submission Site under the tab: Awareness documents and templates.

Major works

An owner must always apply for an approval for a major work constructed, placed, altered, rebuilt, removed or decommissioned in any navigable water if the work interferes with navigation. The application for approval is required whether or not the water is on the Act’s scheduled waters.

The classes of major works likely to interfere with navigation are:

  • Aquaculture Facilities
  • Bridges
  • Causeways
  • Water Control Structures
  • Ferry Cables

The Minister may attach any term or condition to an approval of a work including one that requires the owner to:

  • maintain the water level or water flow necessary for navigation purposes in a navigable water; or
  • give security in the form of a letter of credit, guarantee, suretyship or indemnity bond or insurance or in any other form that is satisfactory to the Minister.

Consult the Major Works Order for the criteria for major works.

Prohibited works and Order in Council exemptions

The law prohibits some activities on navigable waters including:

  • throwing or depositing of material, such as mine tailings, in a navigable water or water that flows into a navigable water; and
  • activities that lower the water level of a waterway so that navigation is impossible.

If you can prove that a prohibited work is in the public interest, you may request an Order in Council exemption. The order removes the usual restrictions. The process requires extensive public consultation, government and agency input, and an environmental assessment as well as Indigenous peoples of Canada consultations.

For more information on an Order in Council exemption, please refer to the "Apply for an exemption under the CNWA" page or the "What might be the outcome" section of the Guide to the Navigation Protection Program’s Application and Review Requirements.

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