Vessels and schedules

Managing ship movement at the Port of Vancouver

Each year, thousands of commercial ships carrying containers, automobiles, bulk goods (such as grain and canola oil), breakbulk (such as lumber and machinery), and cruise passengers move in and out of the Port of the Vancouver from all over the world. As the local port authority, our role is to authorize the movement of all ships and to assign anchorages within the port, an area that is made up of more than 16,000 hectares of water and hundreds of kilometres of shoreline.

Working together to keep shipping safe and efficient

Moving ships safely and efficiently in and out of the port is a big job. It’s a complex system involving the collaboration of multiple organizations, and it begins well before a ship arrives in Canadian waters. Some of the partner organizations that help keep goods moving safely and efficiently through the Port of Vancouver include:

  • Transport Canada
  • Canadian Coast Guard
  • Canada Border Services Agency
  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Vancouver Police Department
  • Shipping lines, terminal operators, railways and trucking companies

Promoting efficient shipping performance at the Port of Vancouver

As volumes of Canadian trade moving through the Port of Vancouver grow, it becomes more critical for ships to be able to move smoothly and safely through our waters. We’re always working to improve transparency and operational planning support for port users. Some of the ways we’re doing this is by evaluating our supply chain for bottlenecks—things that slow goods down as they move to and from the port, like traffic congestion or inefficient rail systems—and providing incentives for shipping lines that arrive to the port on time. A safe and efficient supply chain allows us to fulfil our mandate of enabling Canada’s trade objectives, while also keeping the waterways safe for all users.

A ship’s voyage into the Port of Vancouver

One of the first things a ship must do before arriving in Canada is obtain clearance to enter Canadian waters. Typically, this contact takes place about 96 hours before a ship is due to reach Canadian waters. The ship’s captain will provide the Coast Guard with their ship’s identity, where they’re coming from, where they’ve been, where they’re going, condition of the ship and health of the crew, what cargo is onboard, and the intention for the ship while in port. They would also be required to disclose if they are or may be carrying a communicable disease that would warrant quarantine as per Canada’s Quarantine Act. The pre-arrival notification is reviewed by agencies that includes Canada Border Services Agency, Transport Canada, and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Next, because the Port of Vancouver is a compulsory pilotage area, which means, any commercial ship over 350 gross tonnes, and pleasure craft over 500 gross tonnes, must have a certified B.C. Coast pilot or Fraser River ship’s pilot on board before navigating through port waters. These pilots are professional and highly experienced mariners with detailed local knowledge about traffic, weather, tides, currents, and berth arrangements to ensure large ships make it to their destinations safely. When a pilot boards the ship, they take over all communication between the ship and the shore, other ships, tugboats, facilities, marine traffic, and the Coast Guard.

Once a ship enters the Port of Vancouver’s jurisdiction, our operations centre steps in. Before a ship can moor or drop anchor in port waters, our harbour master on duty must approve it. Once assigned a mooring or anchorage, tug boats may be dispatched to help the ship maneuver through the busy waterways to their final destination.