Safe routing, reporting and restrictions for vessels

From Transport Canada

All vessels, including tankers, must follow routing and reporting procedures on Canada’s coasts. Tankers must also observe any voluntary exclusion zones, bans and other navigation restrictions. These requirements help to keep our coasts clean and safe.

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Reporting requirements for vessels

The Canadian Coast Guard monitors shipping in Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) zones through its Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS).

Any vessel of 500 gross tonnes or more must report to an MCTS officer 24 hours before entering a VTS zone. It must also report its route, and any other required information such as its cargo and its defects.

Vessels subject to the VTS zone regulations may not enter Canadian waters until they receive clearance from an MCTS officer. This allows MCTS officers to address any safety or environmental concerns before the vessel approaches Canadian shores.

Vessel routing measures

MCTS officers monitor vessel traffic entering, departing and operating within a VTS zone. They also provide information services that assist with on-board navigational decision making.

Vessels required to participate in VTS must report to MCTS to obtain clearance before entering a VTS zone.

Most large vessels are required to fit an automatic identification system (AIS). The AIS is a vessel tracking system that automatically provides updates on a vessel’s position, identity, type, course, speed, navigational status and more. This information is shared with shore stations and between other ships and aircraft fitted with AIS. MCTS centres make use of both AIS and shore-based surveillance radar to monitor marine traffic.

To reduce the risk of accident, MCTS centres may use vessel routing measures where marine traffic density is high. Routing measures can also organize or direct traffic to avoid a hazard or an environmentally sensitive area. Examples of routing measures include traffic separation schemes, two-way routes and areas to be avoided (ATBAs).

Voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone

In 1985, a voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone was created along the British Columbia coast to help avoid potential oil spills. The zone extends from the shores of British Columbia westward. The size of the area was based on calculating the worst possible drift of a disabled tanker with a cargo, versus the time required for help to arrive.

Loaded oil tankers servicing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System between Valdez, Alaska and Puget Sound, Washington must travel west of the zone.

The exclusion zone does not apply to tankers travelling to or from Canadian ports. It also only applies to tankers with cargo, not tankers in ballast.

Oil tanker moratorium

On May 12, 2017, the Government of Canada introduced the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act (Bill C-48) in Parliament. If passed, this Act would restrict oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of crude oil or persistent oil products from stopping, loading or unloading at ports or marine installations in northern British Columbia.

The proposed Act complements the existing voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone, which has been in place since 1985.

Learn about the oil tanker moratorium on British Columbia’s north coast.

Restrictions on tankers in the Inside Passage

Tankers of over 40,000 tonnes deadweight cannot use the Inside Passage. Deadweight is the mass a ship can carry, such as cargo, fuel, water and everything required for its operation. The Inside Passage is a  shipping route that passes between the islands and coastline of North America’s northwestern Pacific Coast. It extends from the Alaska panhandle to B.C. and Washington State.

Marine authorities direct excluded tankers to the outside route for north/south transits. 

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