Keeping British Columbia's natural beauty while supporting Canada's economy

Safety of Navigation

The coastline of British Columbia does not pose challenges to navigation any greater than those commonly found elsewhere in the world despite having over 15,000 miles of coastline and more than 30 diverse marine ports.   Safe passage of international vessels in these waters is regulated by Canada’s Pilotage Act and administered on the west coast by the Pacific Pilotage Authority.   British Columbia has the largest single compulsory pilotage area in the world.  The area shaded red in the chart below indicates the extent of compulsory pilotage.


Pilotage itself is conducted by BC Coast Pilots Ltd., a group of around 100 experienced and highly trained Canadian pilots. The rules governing the employment conditions of pilots are detailed, however, there are important standards to be maintained related to permissible hours of work, rest periods and training.


The Fraser River has its own set of around seven dedicated pilots, directly contracted to the Pacific Pilotage Authority. For over a hundred years, the Fraser River Pilots Association has been successfully conducting ships on the Fraser River.

Each pilot is also equipped with a Personal Pilotage Unit (PPU) which essentially replicates a ship’s navigational data and also accepts external data feeds to provide a pilot with comprehensive safety information quite independent of that provided by ship’s equipment.

Since 2000, all vessels over 300 GRT (which means all large vessels) are also required to transmit an Automatic Identification Signal (AIS). A graphical display of AIS data is shown above. This also greatly enhances vessel traffic and management as a key element in e-navigation (the development of electronic navigation) in which Canada is an acknowledged world leader.

All modern vessels are also required to carry an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), another 21st century aid to navigational efficiency and safety.

For hands on training in the maneuvering of large vessels, Canadian pilots travel to overseas centers of expertise in manned model training. Accurately scaled models (below left) costing hundreds of thousands of dollars are built to replicate all respects of the handling of vessels of all sizes. Pilots will exercise continuously for several days at a time to enhance their awareness of the specific maneuvering characteristics of a wide variety of vessels.


Similarly, pilots and ships’ officers undertake regular in depth training in vessel bridge simulators which can be programmed to many different types of vessel. State of the art simulators, such as those in which industry has invested at the BCIT marine Campus in North Vancouver, also allow tug masters to conduct common exercises with marine pilots greatly enhancing communication and maneuvering skills.

Pacific Pilotage Authority Mission Statement (

The Pacific Pilotage Authority is dedicated to providing safe, efficient pilotage by working in partnership with pilots and the shipping industry to protect the interests of Canada.

BC Coast Pilots Mission Statement (

The BC Coast Pilots are committed to maintaining the highest level of professionalism and expertise in their duties and this is evidenced by the Company’s remarkable 99.98% incident free record. Nevertheless, the company is continually exploring new ways to enhance the level of service provided to the marine industry and the level of safety on the coast through advanced training and the use of new technology.

Although the size of ships have greatly increased over the years and with them the complexity of navigating through the narrow passages on the BC Coast, the Pilots remain committed to ensuring that these transits are completed safely, without harm to the marine environment, or the ships that pass through it.