New Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations to Take Effect July 13, 2017


The OHS laws and regulations are generally written to apply to almost any type of workplace. But some industry sectors have unique safety hazards or involve unique equipment. So those industries often have their own sections in the OHS regulations—or even their own safety regulations. Commercial fishing is an example of one such industry. For example, new Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations will take effect in July 2017. Here’s a look at the key new requirements in these regulations.


Key Dates: The changes to the previous Small Fishing Vessel Inspection Regulations were published in the Canada Gazette Part II in July 2016, and will take effect on July 13, 2017.

Who’s Impacted: These amendments apply to “small” fishing vessels, that is, those that aren’t more than 24.4 metres in length and aren’t more than 150 gross tonnage. (Small fishing vessels constitute approximately 99% of the fishing fleet in Canada.)

New Requirements: The new regulations repeal or modify certain sections of the prior regulations and set out new requirements for:

Safety equipment. The updated safety equipment provisions require small fishing vessels to have firefighting equipment (such as different types of portable fire extinguishers) and modernized life-saving equipment (such as a life raft, immersion suits and lifebuoys) on board. Personal life-saving appliances are required for all small fishing vessels; the specific requirements vary according to hull length.

Safe operating procedures. The new provisions on safe operating procedures require all small fishing vessels to develop safe operating procedures in writing (in English, in French or in both, according to the needs of the crew). To implement those procedures, the persons on board the fishing vessel much be familiarized with the following:

  • The location and use of all safety equipment;
  • All of the measures that must be taken to protect persons on board, in particular measures to prevent persons from falling overboard; to retrieve persons who have fallen overboard; to protect limbs from rotating equipment; and to avoid ropes, docking lines, nets, and other fishing equipment that may pose a safety hazard to persons on board;
  • In the case of beam trawling and purse seining operations, the quick release of loads that can be activated in an emergency;
  • All of the measures that must be taken to prevent fires and explosions on the vessel;
  • If the vessel has a deck or deck structure, all of the measures that must be taken to maintain water-tightness and weather-tightness and to prevent flooding of the interior spaces of the hull or, if the vessel has no deck or deck structure, all the measures that must be taken to prevent swamping of the vessel;
  • All of the measures that must be taken to ensure safe loading, stowage and unloading of fish catches, baits and consumables; and
  • The operation of towing and lifting equipment and the measures that must be taken to prevent overloading of the vessel.

Drills on the safety procedures must be held to ensure that the crew is, at all times, proficient in carrying out those procedures. And a record must be kept of every drill.

Vessel stability. Small fishing vessels that are new and not more than 9 metres in hull length aren’t required to have a formal stability assessment, while small fishing vessels that are new and have a hull length from 9 to 24.4 metres are required to have one. The stability and, if applicable, the buoyancy and flotation of small existing fishing vessels that have a hull length of not more than 24.4 metres and not more than 150 gross tonnage that aren’t required to undergo a stability assessment must be adequate for the vessels to safely carry out their intended operations.

Small new fishing vessels that have a hull length of not more than 6 metres are required to be compliant with the standards for buoyancy, flotation and stability set out in Sec. 4 of TP 1332 (Construction Standards for Small Vessels, published by the Department of Transport). Small new vessels that have a hull length of more than 6 metres but not more than 9 metres are required to be compliant with recommended practices and standards according to their vessel type and their intended operations.

A full stability assessment consists of inclining the vessel and developing a stability booklet, which is an essential tool for operators to understand the operational limits of their vessels and load them in a safe manner to avoid the risks associated with swamping, capsizing, foundering and sinking. In a simplified stability assessment, the testing process and documentation produced are simpler and less involved from an engineering perspective, and so the cost is reduced.

Stability assessments, full or simplified, are required for:

  • Small new fishing vessels that have a hull length of more than 9 metres;
  • Small existing fishing vessels that have a hull length of more than 9 metres that undergo a major modification or a change in activity that’s likely to affect their stability;
  • Existing fishing vessels more than 15 gross tonnage that are used for catching herring or capelin and that meet other conditions; and
  • Fishing vessels that are fitted with an anti-roll tank.

Small fishing vessels are required to undergo a full stability assessment if they carry fish in bulk that exhibit free surface effects (among other technical requirements), if they’re fitted with an anti-roll tank, or if they’re new and have a hull length of more than 18 metres.


According to Transport Canada, commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in Canada due to the conditions in which fishing vessels are operated (type of voyage, weather, etc.). Between 1999 and 2012, an average of 13 fishing vessel fatalities were reported—and 16 were reported in 2013. But the regulations that govern fishing vessels are more than 40 years old and haven’t kept pace with industry best practices and technological developments. So the primary goal of the new fishing vessel regulations is to help lower the two primary causes of fatalities on commercial fishing vessels as reported by the Transportation Safety Board: stability-related accidents (58% of fatalities) and falling overboard (27% of fatalities). The second objective is to address the majority of the TSB recommendations for improving maritime safety. The final goal is to ensure Transport Canada’s regulatory regime can adapt to technological changes.

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