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General FAQ



What is a small commercial vessel?

A small commercial vessel is regarded as any commercial vessel up to 150 gross tonnage, in operation, carrying a maximum of 100 passengers (100 unberthed, 25 berthed). Excluding commercial fishing vessels, other commercial vessels include workboats, tugboats, boom boats and other non-passenger vessels, and special purpose vessels/non-conventional vessels such as white water rafting, air cushion vehicles, amphibious and sail training vessels.

What does the term commercial mean?

Small vessels fall under two categories; pleasure craft for pleasure use and; non-pleasure craft used for commercial purposes. Commercial relates to vessels that are primarily operating for profit, normally with paying passengers.

A commercial vessel is also considered a non-pleasure craft. Commercial vessels are business operated and include vessels managed by federal, provincial and municipal departments and agencies.

How do I know what requirements apply to my vessel?

There are a few things that determine the safety requirements a vessel needs to meet. Size (length or gross tonnage) and purpose, such as passenger or fishing vessel, are the two key criteria that place you in one category or another. If, after reading the information on this Web site, you are still unsure of what applies to your operation contact your nearest Transport Canada Centre.

What are gross tons?

A gross ton isn’t, as some would expect, a unit of weight. Rather it is a marine term equal to 100 cubic feet (approximately 10 cubic meters) used to describe the size of vessel. Gross tonnage indicates the internal volume of a vessel, including cargo holds and other areas, while net tonnage is the commercially useful internal capacity of the ship, that is, gross tonnage less the crew quarters, engine rooms, and so on.

Gross tonnage or size of your vessel will determine in part which regulation and standards apply to your vessel - Tonnage Measurements.

What's the definition of a passenger?

The definition of "passenger", as found in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, is as follows: “passenger” means a person carried on a ship by the owner or operator, other than

  1. A person carried on a Safety Convention ship who is
    • the master, a member of the crew or a person employed or engaged in any capacity on board the ship on the business of that ship, or (ii) under one year of age,
  2. A person carried on a ship that is not a Safety Convention ship who is
    • the master, a member of the crew or a person employed or engaged in any capacity on board the ship on the business of that ship, or (ii) a guest on board the ship, if the ship is used exclusively for pleasure and the guest is carried on it without remuneration or any object of profit,
  3. A person carried on a ship in pursuance of the obligation on the master to carry shipwrecked, distressed or other persons or by reason of any circumstances that neither the master nor the owner could have prevented, or special purpose personnel

How do I determine if I'm carrying passengers or guests?

The basic consideration when deciding which category a vessel should fit is whether the person(s) carried on board are passengers or not.

The situation is clearer where the vessel owner also operates it and there is no form of charter party in existence. In this situation, you have to examine the relationship between the owner and the people on board. If any of them are paying money for their carriage on the vessel, then they will be deemed to be passengers and the vessel will come within Transport Canada’s regime. If the owner is receiving any form of remuneration for the use of the vessel, even if not directly from the persons carried, then they will be passengers. If the persons are guests, there is no form of remuneration and the vessel is being used exclusively for pleasure they will not be passengers and the vessel will be under pleasure craft regime. This would include the situation where an owner invites some friends for a trip on his pleasure craft. If the sole purpose of the trip is pleasure and there is no commercial element or intent then they will not be passengers.

What is the Marine Liability Act?

The Marine Liability Act (MLA) came into force on August 8, 2001. It combines existing and new marine liability regulations into a single framework for claims related to personal injuries, fatalities, property damage and pollution. The intent is to provide a uniform method for establishing liability, which in turn, balances the interests of operators and passengers.

Part 4 of the Act establishes a liability regime for all commercial or public purpose vessels used for the carriage of passengers within Canada. The maximum liability for operators is $350,000 per passenger. The Act also invalidates waivers of liability. The MLA also provides for the introduction of compulsory insurance requirements for operators of commercial or public purpose vessels.

How are changes made?

Safety requirements changes arrive through amendments to regulations/standards or adoption of policy.

Policy changes agreed to by Transport Canada Marine Safety are communicated through the Marine Safety field inspectors. They are responsible for providing an overall assessment of safety requirements for all small commercial vessels in operation. The Inspector will provide the owner/operator with the appropriate standards to meet compliance and will also advise him or her of current changes to regulations.

Remember that failure to comply with requirements may be considered a factor if your vessel is in an incident.

Standards and regulations are introduced and changed following consultation with industry representatives. Standards may be voluntary or, if referenced by regulation, mandatory. Changes to standards take effect when they are published. Proposals for changes in regulations must be supported by an assessment of the impact they will have. Before becoming law, the proposed changes and the Regulatory Impact Assessment Statement are published in Canada Gazette Part I. Comments on the proposal may be submitted during consultation period or for a limited time following publication in Canada Gazette Part I. The final step in establishing regulations is publication in Canada Gazette Part II.

How long before changes come into effect?

Changes can be introduced by policy in a relatively short time. Changes to standards and regulations take longer, years in some cases, due to the need to obtain and consider input from stakeholders.