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Canadian Coast Guard vessel traffic services

Learn about our communication systems, operations, participation requirements, regional traffic services zones and Cooperative Vessel Traffic Services.

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Communications systems

Marine Communications and Traffic Services provides vessel traffic services by exchanging information between ships and a shore-based centres. This makes voyages safer and helps to protect the marine environment.

We communicate traffic information to all vessels that comply with our regulations. Marine Communications and Traffic Services officers operate the system and monitor vessel movement using:

Our systems are examples to the world in utilizing and developing new technology and our officers are trained to the highest possible standards.


Ships must obtain clearance from Vessel Traffic Services prior to beginning a voyage in or passing through Canadian waters. Marine Communications and Traffic Services officers issue clearances after screening information including a vessel’s:

  • identity
  • condition
  • intentions
  • pollutants
  • destination

Journeying ships must maintain a listening watch on designated marine very high frequency (VHF) radio channels and report at specific calling-in-points. In turn, vessel traffic services will provide:

  • assistance
  • information
  • navigational safety
  • weather information
  • details pertaining to other marine traffic

We’ve established traffic routing systems in many places to ensure that vessels move safely. These consist of one-way lanes and separation zones which are shown on nautical charts. There is also a tanker exclusion zone in the Pacific Ocean that applies to tankers carrying crude oil from Alaska.

Legislated local authorities have also established movement restriction areas with their own safety regulations. These systems are monitored by our officers, who ensure vessel compliance.

Participation requirements

You must participate in our vessel traffic services program, depending on location (please consult RAMN), if your ship:

  • is of 300 gross tonnage or more (NORDREG zone)
  • is of 500 gross tonnage or more (ECAREG and Western Canada)
  • measures 20 metres or more in length
  • engaged in towing or pushing another vessel, if the combined gross tonnage of the vessel and the vessel being towed or pushed is 500 gross tonnage or more
  • carrying as cargo a pollutant or dangerous goods, or that are engaged in towing or pushing a vessel that is carrying as cargo a pollutant or dangerous goods

You don’t need to participate in the program if your vessel is a:

  • pleasure yacht less than 30 metres in length
  • ship towing or pushing inside a log booming ground
  • fishing vessel that is less than 24 metres in length and weighs no more than 150 tons gross

Regional traffic services zones

Vessel traffic services zones are divided between 3 regions.

The Atlantic region

The Atlantic region regulates 7 vessel traffic services zones, which are:

  1. Placentia Bay
  2. St. John’s
  3. Port aux Basques
  4. Halifax Harbour and approaches
  5. Strait of Canso and eastern approaches
  6. Northumberland Strait
  7. Bay of Fundy

The Central region

The Central region regulates 1 vessel traffic services zone which covers the St. Lawrence Waterway.

The Western region

The Western region regulates 2 vessel traffic services zones, which are:

  1. Victoria
  2. Prince Rupert

Cooperative vessel traffic services

The Cooperative Vessel Traffic Services Agreement is a shared effort between Canada and the U.S.

Victoria Traffic and Prince Rupert Traffic provide vessel traffic services as part of this agreement. Their service area includes Canadian and U.S. waters of the:

  • Haro Strait
  • Boundary Passage
  • lower Georgia Straits
  • the offshore approaches to the Juan de Fuca Strait
  • the Washington state coastline from 48 degrees north

Seattle Traffic, the Puget Sound vessel traffic system in Seattle, Washington, offers services from the U.S. Coast Guard. Seattle Traffic provides services for both the Canadian and U.S. waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Sarnia Traffic shares the St. Clair and Detroit rivers with the U.S., as per the Navigation Safety Regulations, 2020.

Fundy Traffic has an American port within their traffic zone, so there are international agreements in place for directing traffic through this area.

A typical voyage from northern Europe to Montreal

Multiple centres monitor a vessel’s typical voyage from northern Europe to Montreal, such as:

  • Halifax MCTS Centre, who provide offshore vessel traffic clearance to enter into Canadian waters (an ECAREG)
  • Belle Isle Traffic (a voluntary vessel traffic services zone), if the vessel passes through the Strait of Belle Isle
  • Sydney or Port aux Basques MCTS Centres if they pass through Cabot Strait
  • Les Escoumins Traffic at the mouth of the St Lawrence river
  • Quebec Traffic for their arrival in Montreal

The entire trip takes up to 2 days and the vessel is monitored by multiple radar and VHF sites from Labrador to Montreal.

A typical voyage from Japan to Vancouver

On a typical voyage from Japan to Vancouver, multiple officers provide a vessel with different vessel traffic services. This includes:

  • VTS Offshore, which provides vessel clearance
  • Victoria Traffic, which provides:
    • communication when it arrives within 50 nautical miles of Vancouver Island
    • remote VHF radar tracking into the Juan de Fuca Strait
  • Seattle Traffic, which monitors the ship's movement from 4 remote radars as it passes through the Juan de Fuca Strait

The last 6 hours of its trip are monitored by Victoria Traffic using 5 remote radar/VHF sites.

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