Canadian Coast Guard helicopter service information

Learn about our responsibilities, stations, why we operate, and the challenges we face in the field.

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A helicopter pilot in the cockpit, from behind.

A helicopter pilot in the cockpit, from behind.

Helicopter services

Our specific activities depend on the needs of the program or department we support.

Aids to Navigation

Aids to Navigation use helicopters to transport cargo and personnel to remote sites not accessible by any other means, such as lightstations. They use helicopters to:

  • maintain equipment
  • transport material and equipment
  • support work teams with their duties, such as:
    • carrying out environmental assessments
    • servicing and maintaining marine aids to navigation
    • installing and testing new equipment at remote automated stations
    • inspecting sites to determine which structures and facilities need removal

Marine aids to navigation are often in out-of-the-way places, and sending a crew in by helicopter lets them work during regular hours. It also lets them return to base in time to finish other jobs in the same day.

Marine Communications and Traffic Services

Marine Communications and Traffic Services use helicopters to transport personnel and equipment to remote communication facilities. These towers contain complex technical equipment including radio beacon repeaters and global positioning systems. These need regular service, and when a piece of equipment fails a technical crew must repair it as quickly as possible.

Even if a tower is accessible by road, it may take a crew several days to get there and carry out repairs. Helicopters let them work quickly, ensuring they have time to complete other tasks.

Icebreaking

Helicopters support Canadian Coast Guard icebreaking activities in the:

They provide ice reconnaissance to vessel masters by launching directly from their icebreakers. This assists the flood control program by providing up-to-date information on ice conditions within 5 kilometres of the vessel in all directions. They also provide reports for up to 160 kilometres ahead of the icebreaker and the vessel or convoy that it may be escorting.

Helicopters also support economic use of icebreakers. They can quickly determine if unscheduled requests for ice escort services or additional harbour breakouts are necessary before the icebreaker is deployed.

Helicopters help keep Canadian ports open for business during the winter icebreaking program. The ice reconnaissance data that they gather provides timely and accurate ice information to the shipping industry in Canada. This information is used to update ice charts and assist in ice routing to commercial ships. This reduces demand for direct icebreaker support, saving money and reducing shipping delays.

As well as supporting tactical ice reconnaissance, icebreaker-based helicopters:

Environmental Response

The Environmental Response program uses helicopters to transport personnel and equipment to remote or inaccessible areas during disasters or emergencies.

Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft play an essential role in detecting spills and patrolling high risk and sensitive areas for marine pollution. When a spill occurs due a vessel grounding or sinking, helicopters can quickly respond to:

Environmental Response benefits from helicopters’ availability to support its operations, and their ability to transport personnel, supplies, and equipment across difficult terrain.

Search and Rescue

Helicopters can be dispatched for search and rescue duties if they are available and in the area of an incident. Their ability to travel long distances in any direction at high speeds makes it easy to respond to emergencies as quickly as possible.

Science

Various science branches throughout Fisheries and Oceans Canada use helicopters to support ongoing research projects.

Helicopters have the ability to travel to places where Canadian Coast Guard science vessels may not be able to reach. This allows the science program to conduct:

For example, in the summer, helicopters transport crews and instruments to hydrographic stations in the Arctic.

Conservation and Protection

Fisheries officers regularly use the Canadian Coast Guard helicopter fleet to patrol designated areas on each coast.

They also use them in the late winter and spring for monitoring activities, like the seal census and the management of the seal hunt.

Stations

Helicopters support our aviation service with a fleet of 22 rotary wing (15 light lift and 7 medium lift) aircraft, strategically located at 9 bases across Canada.

Helicopters support
Base Helicopters
Victoria, BC
  • 3 Bell 429s
  • 1 Bell 412
St. John’s, NL
  • 2 Bell 429s
  • 1 Bell 412
Saint John, NB
  • 1 Bell 429
Shearwater, NS
  • 2 Bell 429s
  • 1 Bell 412
Stephenville, NL
  • 1 Bell 429
Quebec City, QC
  • 4 Bell 429
  • 1 Bell 412
Parry Sound, ON
  • 1 Bell 429
  • 1 Bell 412
Prince Rupert, BC
  • 2 Bell 429s
Charlottetown, PE
  • 1 Bell 429

Canada has also acquired a helicopter simulator which will be operational from 2019.

Goals

Our operational goals include:

We also aim to support our staff in their duties by:

Our staff is responsible for bringing technicians in to work on equipment in helicopter bases. These bases are often only accessible by helicopters or ships as they’re located in unwatched towers and light stations on points, promontories or mountain tops. Our helicopter pilots stay with the technicians until the work is done to ensure weather or wildlife don’t interfere with their safe exit.

Challenges

Helicopters allow us to carry out our responsibilities in some of the most demanding, challenging and severe operational and environmental conditions known, including:

Helicopters are more practical than surface vehicles when accessing towers and light stations along rugged coastlines. In these situations, sea access is difficult and potentially dangerous, whereas helicopters burn less fuel and cover many more knots.

Unpredictable weather conditions also present challenges, as they can cause:

We respond to these challenges by:

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