Large commercial vessels and smaller pleasure craft share the use of Toronto Harbour. For the captain of a large commercial vessel negotiating through the East Gap and into the Inner Harbour when busy with small boats, it is as severe a test for all boat operators. Such situations need not wrack the nerves of either skipper, but there is a real potential for danger when small boats and large ships meet in confined areas. Only when each understands these dangers and acts predictably for the other, can safe passage be assured.

Prior to approaching a narrow channel or berth, operators of small vessels should proceed under power if they cannot comply with the appropriate steering and sailing rules when navigating in such areas.

At all times maintain a proper look-out in all directions around the vessel or craft, both by sight and hearing as well as by all other means available such as radar and radio to make a full appraisal of the situation.

In narrow channels where a ship’s ability to manoeuvre is severely restricted, the Canadian Coast Guard Collision Regulations (COLREGS) state that smaller vessels and sailing vessels shall not impede the less manoeuvrable vessel. It is the skipper of the small craft who must, by law, take the lead in avoiding a dangerous situation or collision; understanding these dangers is a must. To that end, the following procedures have been prepared for boaters who share the Toronto Inner Harbour and Outer Harbour with commercial ships, tugs, barges and tows:

Avoiding a Close Quarters Situation in Narrow Channels and Around Berths

  1. The main areas of focus within the Port of Toronto are the Eastern and Western Gaps, the Toronto Islands ferry lanes, and around the commercial berths in the east end of the Port of Toronto. These areas are shipping lanes and as such, large commercial vessels will be using these lanes transiting Toronto Harbour.
  2. Always keep out of the way of large commercial vessels. When these ships are transiting the harbour their deep drafts require them to remain within a specific area. This severely limits their ability to manoeuvre. Failure to keep clear of such vessels puts the small pleasure boat in serious danger. It is also a violation of the COLREGS which give the less-manoeuvrable vessel the clear right of way in such situations.
  3. Avoiding in a short distance meeting or passing a large commercial vessel when it is in a manoeuvring situation (turning, rounding a bend, docking, etc.). Most modern commercial ships are now equipped with bow and/or stern thrusters which are extensively used for all manoeuvring. The power of these thrusters creates severe current and turbulence and has been known to capsize a small boat and wash even larger ones to the side. The current from these thrusters can rapidly set a small craft upon other boats, dockwalls and bulkheads, or drive a small boat into the ship’s side. A boater should anticipate the wash coming from the ship’s bow and stern thruster and stay clear.
  4. Do not cross in front of a commercial vessel. Due to size and momentum, a ship’s forward motion simply cannot be stopped even at a slow transit speed or even in an emergency. In addition, because of the commercial vessel’s configuration, the captain is unable to actually see small boats that are too close. Even when a ship has posted lookouts fore and aft, the captain must rely on lookout reports without actually being able to view the situation. You do not want to be where you cannot be seen by the captain operating the vessel.
  5. Always avoid meeting or passing a commercial vessel on a narrow stretch. There is virtually no safe place for small craft in such a situation. This is particularly true in the case of City ferries, which may have to turn around a bend. Keep clear of the vessel until an open stretch is available to make safe passage.
  6. Mooring in Toronto Harbour alongside dockwalls is prohibited unless you have permission from the property owner and the Harbour Master’s Office. No craft has the right to obstruct other traffic by mooring in a channel, nor does anyone have the right to moor off private property without permission.

Harbour Master of the Port of Toronto

Boaters Notice

PortsToronto is responsible for keeping the Toronto Harbour safe and navigable. See Boater’s Notices about everything from swimming in the harbour to obtaining permission for a marine event.

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A Power Vessel Operator’s Permit is required to operate a powered vessel in the Port and Harbour of Toronto.

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