Anchorages: A vital part of Canada's supply chain

Anchorages are a vital component of the Canadian transportation framework. Ships use them as safe haven for required pre-loading inspections, to wait for the arrival of specific commodities to coastal terminals, and to progress preparations for voyages to global markets. Despite the goal of shippers to manage cargoes responsibly with “just in time delivery,” ships may make multiple visits to terminals from anchorages until they are fully and safely loaded for a trans-Pacific voyage. Of the over 12,000 movements of vessels on the B.C. coast last year, 44 per cent of these were to or from anchorages.

In British Columbia, ships anchor within recognized ports under the Canada Marine Act and in coastal waters outside of ports. While the right to anchor a vessel is part of the common law pertaining to safe navigation, in reality large commercial ships adhere to protocols for anchoring vessels that have been developed and amended over decades to reflect changes in ship design, and an increased understanding of social, cultural, and environmental impacts. Transport Canada regulates all ships in Canadian waters, including those at anchor, under the Canada Shipping Act and its associated regulations. Ships must also comply with all other related Canadian statutes, such at the Oceans Act and the Species at Risk Act

Almost all commercial ships that anchor have a contract to move a specific cargo. The date at which a ship anchors is determined by a commercial agreement called a charter party. This commercial agreement must estimate when a commodity, such as grain, will be available in sufficient quantities at a port and when the ship should be available to load the cargo. There are many factors that influence these timings, including: the harvesting period, transportation from source to a port by trucking and railways, inclement weather, and the efficiency and productivity of cargo operation at a terminal. It is a complex formula that increasingly leverages supply chain data and artificial intelligence.

In choosing a location to anchor a ship safely, there are many factors to be considered. There must be suitable holding ground, an appropriate depth of water for the vessel and for the anchor cable to hold the ship, an appropriate amount of room for the ship to “swing” on its cable, safe passage to the area, and ideally shelter from inclement weather. Additionally, ships at anchor should avoid unintended impacts to other users of the waterway, and minimize social, cultural, and environmental impacts. British Columbia Coast Pilots are responsible for navigating commercial ships safely in coastal waters, including anchoring operations.

For additional information, please see our Frequently Asked Questions.