Marine Transportation

Marine transport has been a part of Atlantic Canada’s identity since its very beginnings and is woven into the heritage of many Atlantic coastal communities. Today marine transport takes on many forms from fisheries, to tourism to shipping and tradeTransport Canada is the federal department responsible for marine transport in Canada. Canadian Marine Transportation Infrastructure reaches across the country and north into the Arctic Ocean. National Resources Canada produced a national map available for download.

On July 1, 2007, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 (CSA 2001) replaced the old Canada Shipping Act (CSA) as the principal legislation that governs safety in marine transportation, recreational boating and the protection of the marine environment. It applies to Canadian vessels operating in all waters and to all vessels operating in Canadian waters (all vessels from canoes and kayaks to cruise ships and tankers).

Source: Transport Canada

Canadian Coast Guard

In 2011 the Canadian Coast Guard released the latest edition of Canadian Aids to Navigation System booklet. The booklet is a comprehensive guide to the latest standards in navigation aids for Canadian waters. 

The Canadian Coast Guard owns and operates the federal government’s civilian fleet, and provides key maritime services to Canadians. As a Special Operating Agency of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard helps DFO meet its responsibility to ensure safe and accessible waterways for Canadians. The Canadian Coast Guard also plays a key role in ensuring the sustainable use and development of Canada’s oceans and waterways.

Source: Canadian Coast Guard

Marine Traffic

A significant amount of international and domestic commercial shipping traffic occurs over the Scotian Shelf. Commercial shipping in this area is generally in the form of tankers and general, bulk and containerized cargo carriers. The area is also transited by a range of fishing vessels, cruise ships and various government vessels. The primary commodities being moved in the region include crude oil and gas, minerals and chemicals, paper and forest products, coal and coke, and various containerized goods.

Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Real time locations and speeds of vessels around the world can be seen in the Marine Traffic Map though the collection of long range identification and tracking (LRIT) data. The report “Development and Applications of Vessel Traffic Maps Based on Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) Data in Atlantic Canada” describes geographic information system (GIS) techniques used for a retrospective vessel traffic analysis to produce 13 monthly maps and one 12-month composite map of shipping activity in Atlantic Canada. The application and limitations of LRIT data for marine conservation, environmental protection and response, and integrated coastal and oceans management are also discussed.

Marine traffic can have dangerous consequences if not managed correctly, even more so when involving large vessels. The practice of following predetermined routes for shipping originated in 1898 and was adopted, for reasons of safety, by shipping companies operating passenger ships across the North Atlantic. Today ship routeing systems and traffic separation schemes exist to manage marine traffic in most major ports and congested shipping areas. For more information, see the International Maritime Organization’s page about Ships’ Routeing

Marine traffic can have ecological impacts and risks as well. In the early 1990s, several endangered right whales were killed when they were struck by vessels in a high traffic area within the Bay of Fundy. Shipping lanes had to be altered in order to reduce their impact on the whale population.


The industry of marine transport contributes significantly to the Canadian economy and allows us to continue to perform as a trading nation. Marine transport accounts for 90 percent of worldwide trade and “over 95 percent of the approximately 180 million tonnes of commodities and processed goods Canada exports to other countries annually.”  It is estimated that Canadian Port Authorities provide approximately 250,000 direct and indirect jobs across the country. Click here for more information about Working Waterfronts.

Source: Canadian Port Authorities

 In terms of CO2 emissions per tonne of cargo transported one mile, shipping is recognized as the most efficient form of commercial transport.  However, the enormous scale of the industry means that it is nevertheless a significant contributor to the world's total greenhouse gas emissions.  According to a recent report of an International Maritime Organization expert working group, shipping probably accounts for around 4% of global CO2 emissions.

Source: Mi-Net International Shipping Page

Recently, Irving Ship Building Company in Halifax, Nova Scotia was awarded a $25 billion contract from the Department of National Defence as part of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to build 21 ships over 30 years. This will create jobs in the region and provide a significant boost to the Nova Scotian economy. Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd. (SeaSpan) was selected to build the non-combat vessel work package.

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