Vessel Traffic Services

One of the most important functions of Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) is to provide Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) to vessels operating in Canadian waters. In order to make voyages safer and to protect the environment, VTS provides a means of exchanging information between ships and a shore-based Centre. This information is communicated to all vessels greater than twenty metres and others that comply with the VTS regulations. Canada's VTS system are operated by highly trained, certified Marine Communication and Traffic Officers (MCTSOs), who monitor the movement of vessels using VHF radio and direction finding equipment, tracking computers, and, in areas of high traffic density, surveillance radar.

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How Vessel Traffic Services Operates

Prior to beginning a voyage within Canadian waters or entering from seaward, ships are required to obtain a VTS clearance. This clearance is issued by an Marine Communiation Officer (MCO) after screening information about identity, condition, cargo and intentions of the vessel. As it proceeds on its voyage the ship is required to maintain a listening watch on designated marine VHF radio channels and report at specific positions, Calling-In-Points (CIPs). In turn, the vessel is provided with information, advice, and sometimes directions pertaining to other marine traffic, as was as navigational safety and weather information.In many places traffic routing systems have been established to further enhance vessel movement safety. These consist of "one way" lanes and separation zones and are shown on nautical charts. A "Tanker Exclusion Zone" (TEZ) off the West Coast also exists which applies to tankers carrying crude oil from Alaska in the Juan de Fuca Strait. "Movement Restriction Areas" (MRAs) wherein local safety regulations apply have also been established by legislated authority. The MCTSOs monitor and enforce compliance within these systems.

Participating Vessels

Required to participate:

  • every ship twenty metres or more in length
  • every ship engaged in towing or pushing any vessel or object, other than fishing gear, where;
  • the combined length of the ship and any vessel or object towed or pushed by the ship is forty five metres or more in length; or
  • the length of the vessel or object being towed or pushed by the ship is twenty metres or more in length.

Exceptions:

  • a ship towing or pushing inside a log booming ground.
  • a pleasure yacht less than 30 metres in length.
  • a fishing vessel that is less than 24 metres in length and not more than 150 tons gross.

Vessel Traffic Services Zones

The Canadian Coast Guard, Pacific Region, operates three Vessel Traffic Services Zones; Vancouver, Tofino and Prince Rupert.

The Vancouver zone includes waters from the northern tip of Vancouver Island, down the inside passage and the Gulf of Georgia to Victoria. The Vancouver Zone is divided up into four sectors.

Sector 1 & 2 are the responsibility of Victoria MCTS Centre, Sector 3 is handled by Vancouver MCTSC and Sector 4 is handled by Comox MCTSC.

The northern Sector is operated out of the Comox MCTS Centre located at Cape Lazo on Vancouver Island. Ships transiting the Vancouver Zone use nine remote VHF radio sites. Vessels in the heavily traveled Gulf Islands and Georgia Strait areas are tracked by shore based radar installations located at Mount Helmken near Victoria, Mount Newton in Saanich, Bowen Island, Mt Parke on Mayne Island microwaved to the centre in Vancouver, as well as radar located in West Vancouver and Berry Point above the Second Narrows in Vancouver Harbour.

Vessels approaching the West Coast on a North Pacific great circle route, approaching from the south along the United States coastline, or tankers traveling south from Alaska will first enter an area of responsibility of the Tofino Traffic Zone. The Tofino MCTS Centre, located at Amphitrite Point near Ucluelet, has radar coverage from atop nearby Mount Ozard extending seaward for more than 90 kilometres.

Vessels approaching the West Coast bound for ports of Prince Rupert and Kitimat will enter an area of responsibility of the Prince Rupert Traffic Zone. The Prince Rupert MCTS Centre operates twelve remote VHF radio sites. The Prince Rupert Zone is the largest VTS Zone in Canada, extending from Cape Caution to the Alaskan border and encompass more than 77,000 square kilometres (30,000 square miles).

Cooperative Vessel Traffic Services (CVTS)

The United States Coast Guard operates the Puget Sound VTS system, Seattle Traffic, from Seattle, Washington. A cooperative Vessel Traffic Services Agreement (CVTS) exists between Canada and the US. As part of the Agreement, Tofino Traffic provides VTS for the offshore approaches to the Juan de Fuca Strait and along the Washington State coastline from 48 degrees north. Seattle Traffic provides VTS for both the Canadian and US waters of Juan de Fuca Strait and Victoria Traffic provides VTS for both Canadian and US waters of Haro Strat, Boundary Passage, and the lower Georgia Straits.

On a typical voyage from Japan to Vancouver, a freighter will be provided with many VTS services. It will obtain a clearance from "CVTS Offshore". When the freighter arrives within 50 nautical miles from Vancouver Island, Tofino Traffic will communicate with the ship using one of several remote VHF sites and track the vessel on radar into the Juan de Fuca Strait. Seattle Traffic will monitor the ship's movement from four remote radar's as it passes through the Juan de Fuca Strait. The last six hours of its trip will be monitored by Victoria and Vancouver Traffic using five remote radar/VHF sites.

For more information, please visit the Co-operative Vessel Traffic Service website.

What is the RMIC?

RMIC stands for Regional Marine Information Centre and is the information clearing house for the Pacific Region. Information handled ranges from pollution reports to shipping information to after hours call outs for other government agencies and Notices to Shipping.

The RMIC (like MCTS in general) is a 24 hour a day operation that is unique in Western Canada as the job incorporates portions of a dispatcher, data entry person, office administrator, telephone operator, first line Public Affairs duties and a message answering service to list just a few amongst many, many others.

An average day in the RMIC involves fielding calls from the general and maritime public for shipping information for the West Coast and the Port of Vancouver in particular, to report pollution and navigational hazards and also occasionally calls requesting tide and weather information. Some of the government agencies that the RMIC liaises with are the Port of Vancouver, Transport Canada Marine Branch, the Fisheries and Oceans Radio room, Environment Canada - Environmental Protection Branch and the Provincial emergency Program, Canada Customs and Agriculture Canada, the US Coast Guard, VTS and various Canadian and US naval groups.

Typically, most of the government agencies we work with have 'requests to be alerted'. Some agencies need to know in advance when a ship will be coming into Canadian waters, others need to be alerted both during office and after hours in response to calls from ships agents, other government agencies and the general public.

When the RMIC was first started, it was specifically established to support the Marine Traffic Regulators in the radar operations room, but as time has passed the RMIC has developed and become a government agency with information for both government and the Maritime business community.

The RMIC is the collector and disseminator of Marine pollutant spills reports, or land/air based spills that affect the coast. Spill reports are normally received via phone (pollution line 1-800-889-8852 or via 666-6011, 12, 13 or 14) or in the case of PEP and EPS, via fax. The reports are entered into the pollution database and the relevant authorities are called/paged and faxed. A few examples:

  • RSER - Regional Safety and Environmental Response
  • EPS - Environmental Protection Service (Federal),
  • PEP - Provincial Emergency Program
  • Transport Canada Marine (formerly known as Ship Safety)
  • Fisheries and Oceans Radio Room (for further distribution)
  • Port and Harbour Authorities
  • Transportation Safety Board
  • Other Coast Guard departments.

Updates are logged into the same database and each authority is advised.

Marine Communications and Traffic Services Officer

Marine Communications and Traffic Services Officers (MCTSO's) are skilled in a variety of disciplines that includes transportation systems, marine safety and public communications, and shore-based radar surveillance traffic regulating. MCTSO's are designated Marine Traffic Regulators (MTRs) by the Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard through a Certification Training Program that can take upwards of fourteen month to complete. This training is given at the Canadian Coast Guard College in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and at the MCTS Centre. In the final phase of training, after an extensive period of On-Job-Training, a "Centre Designation Checkout" procedure must be successfully completed.

The valuable role played by MCTS in providing VTS in conjunction with the professional mariner has long been acknowledged by experts on marine safety in reducing incidents. The Canadian Coast Guard's VTS systems have been examples to the world in utilizing and developing new VTS technology and by training its staff to the highest possible standards.