Maritime Pilotage

AuthorEdgar Gold; Aldo Chircop; Hugh M. Kindred; William Moreira
When a ship comes from the high seas, or is engaged in coastal trade,
or approaches port and enters harbour, or moves port-to-port, or even
berth-to-berth, local knowledge of the area is essential to avoid accidents.
Harbour authorities have the power to make local rules for maritime
traff‌ic1 within their jurisdiction and these local rules take precedence
over the international rules for preventing collisions, discussed in Chap-
ter 19.2 Naturally, masters and off‌icers of commercial and large recrea-
tional vessels cannot be expected to know the navigation rules of every
harbour at which they may call on their voyage. Their ships must, there-
fore, engage the services of local pilots to guide them when entering or
leaving a port, or navigating therein, or through other conf‌ined waters
such as inland waterways.
The pilotage system in Canada dates from 1873 when the Govern-
ment of Canada enacted the Pilotage Act.3 This legislation was based on
pilotage provisions as set out in the United Kingdom’s Merchant Shipping
1 See, for example, Transport Canada, “Victoria Harbour Traff‌ic Scheme” (1 April
2004), online:‌ic/marine-1521.html.
2 Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972,
20 October 1972, 1050 UNTS 16, r 1; see also the Canadian equivalent Collision
Regulations, CRC, c 1416, s 3.
3 1873, 35-36-37 Vict, c 54.
Act.4 The Pilotage Act established the pilotage districts of Montreal,
Quebec, Halifax, and Saint John and allowed for the creation of further
pilotage districts in other parts of Canada as the need arose. Compul-
sory pilotage was not established through the provisions of the Act. The
Act was subsequently incorporated into the Canada Shipping Act.5
In the 1960s the issue of pilotage was examined by a Royal Commis-
sion on Pilotage.6 The result of the Commission’s f‌indings was ultimately
the enactment of a new and separate piece of legislation, the Pilotage
Act.7 The new Pilotage Act was enacted because the pilotage legislation
in the Canada Shipping Act was considered to be “seriously out-of-date,
unnecessarily complicated, obscure and ambiguous and, in some re-
spects, incomprehensible to those who must implement it.”8 Thus the
Act modernized pilotage law and empowered pilotage authorities to en-
act regulations for their regions. The Act also served to create a system of
compulsory pilotage in various areas.
There are certain ports and harbours where pilotage is not compul-
sory, and in those ports where pilotage is compulsory, certain vessels
are exempted, such as warships, small crafts, and ferries.9 The decision
to employ a pilot or not may be a question of due care in the circum-
stances. In a case where pilotage is not compulsory, a ship’s master can
be held negligent if his failure to do so contributed to the accident.10
Where pilotage is compulsory, any movement of the ship within the
pilotage area necessitates the utilization of a pilot.11
It should be noted that pilotage is not regulated internationally. The
principal organization representing most national pilotage groups is the
International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA), located in London,
4 An Act to Amend Various Laws Relating to Merchant Shipping, 1853 (UK), 16 & 17
Vict, c 131.
5 Canada Shipping Act, RSC 1906, c 113.
6 Royal Commission on Pilotage, Report of the Royal Commission on Pilotage (Ot-
tawa: Queen’s Printer, 1968) [Commission on Pilotage].
7 SC 1970-71-72, c 52. The current version is RSC 1985, c P-14. All subsequent
references to the Pilotage Act, unless otherwise noted, are to the current version.
8 Commission on Pilotage, above note 6, Part 1 at 458.
9 The listing of ships to make them subject to compulsory pilotage or waiver of
pilotage is provided in a pilotage authority’s regulations. See, for instance, Atlantic
Pilotage Authority Regulations, CRC, c 1264, ss 4 & 5 [APAR]. See also Navigation
Madeleine Inc v Canada (AG), 2005 FCA 10, where a ship was determined to be a
“ferry” and as such exempt from the provisions of compulsory pilotage.
10 Alletta (The), [1965] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 479.
11 R v Fernandez (1980), 29 Nf‌ld & PEIR 361 (Nf‌ld SCTD) and see offences under
the Pilotage Act, above note 7, s 47.

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