Canada moves to bar most pleasure craft from Arctic waters

Restrictions don’t apply to local or foreign pleasure craft

A privately owned yacht and a sailboat dock in Cambridge Bay, a gateway to the Northwest Passage. New restrictions on who can travel in Canadian Arctic waters, announced on May 14 by Transport Canada, are intended to keep these waters for local traffic. Foreign-owned pleasure craft will be allowed to sail through, although individuals travelling aboard these vessels must notify the minister of transport and may be “subject to conditions.” (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

First cruise ships were banned from Canadian Arctic waters in 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Now most pleasure craft have also been banned from operating within Canada’s Arctic coastal waters (north of the 60th parallel), as well as in the coastal areas of northern Quebec and Labrador.

Transport Canada defines pleasure craft as a boat, ship or any other watercraft that is used exclusively for pleasure and does not carry passengers or goods for payment.

Canoes, kayaks, sailboats and motorboats are included in this definition.

Marc Garneau, Canada’s minister of transport, said on May 14 that he introduced these measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in remote and vulnerable Arctic communities.

“Our government is committed to protecting the health and safety of our Arctic communities, particularly during these challenging times. These new measures add to our efforts to fight COVID-19 and will help limit its transmission,” he said in a news release.

“I thank boaters for refraining from operating within Canada’s Arctic coastal waters and doing their part to help protect our remote and vulnerable communities. We are all in this together.”

These measures will remain in place until “at least” Oct. 31.

These restrictions do not apply to pleasure craft used by local communities, or used for purposes such as essential transportation or subsistence fishing, harvesting and hunting.

As well, the restrictions do not apply to foreign pleasure craft exercising their “right of innocent passage” through Canada’s Arctic territorial waters: that is, as defined by the United Nations, their right to enter and pass through another’s territory so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the other state.

However, individuals travelling aboard these vessels will be required to notify the minister of transport 60 days before arriving in Arctic waters and “may be subject to conditions,” Transport Canada said.

The new measures are intended to allow the Canadian Coast Guard to focus efforts on essential operations including community resupply, icebreaking, environmental response efforts, and search and rescue.

Where boating is allowed, people must continue to take steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, including practising good hygiene and frequent hand washing and respecting physical-distancing advice, Transport Canada said.

Recreational boaters can also wear a non-medical mask or face covering as an additional measure when physical distancing is not possible in public settings, it said.

Those who do not comply with the prohibitions could be subject to a penalty of $5,000 per day for an individual and $25,000 per day for a corporation.

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(2) Comments:

  1. Posted by Victor on

    well, “the restrictions do not apply to foreign pleasure craft exercising their “right of innocent passage” through Canada’s Arctic territorial waters” is very cloudy. Locals can not and foreign do ? something is missing. We should protect Canadian Arctic by all means, no exceptions.
    Wonder what “innocent passage” would mean. It can be accidental or on purpose ?. To cross the Canadian Arctic small crafts need to stop at any Arctic community to refuel and get water, its a 3000 nautical miles stretch and ice and weather may force to winter.

  2. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    I think that you are looking at the federal government attempting to ban foreign pleasure craft from transiting the Northwest Passage without violating the various treaties which Canada has signed. This would be in response to Covid-19, but may well be a good way to control traffic in the future as well.
    The minister will know that most motor yachts will be required to refuel, and therefore they would not be able to transit as Canada will not allow foreigners into the country at this time. Sailboats on the other hand could be a problem as they may well be able to make a transit without refueling.
    It’s not a bad way to keep foreigners out without making new and complicated laws which may be challenged on legal (treaty) grounds.

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