The Inner Harbour of Victoria is a nautical traffic hub, thanks to the recreational boats, international ships, kayaks, paddlers, sea planes, harbour ferries, and the lost tourist or two. Not to mention huge summer events including the Symphony Splash and the Swiftsure Yacht Race.
This begs the question; how is all this traffic coordinated?
Transport Canada, who runs the Harbour from Ogden Point to Selkirk Trestle, says it’s a matter of keeping the harbour as a place of organized chaos.
“It’s a busy, complicated harbour with a certified airport in the middle of it,” says Mariah McCooey, Harbour Master with Transport Canada. “It’s important everyone knows the rules. We have a traffic scheme that lays out lanes, runways, different zones and speed lanes and we have to enforce that.”
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Every day during the peak season– running April to October– Transport Canada has three Harbour Patrol vessels on the water tracking what’s happening and filing reports about rule contraventions, with the most common write-ups circling around speed or improper lane use.
While citations are written up, Transport Canada does not issue tickets to those breaking rules, since McCooey says most of the time people simply are unaware of them. Should people cause problems or be repeat offenders, consequences are a diverted to the RCMP.
McCooey said that summers have become more and more work to coordinate, between large events, an increase in paddler traffic and the installation of new services like the V2V ship which travels between Victoria and Vancouver.
“A huge amount of our workload is in the summer. We’re responsible for issuing special licences, and any event that is coming up we call someone in and have a big safety meeting about roles and responsibilities,” she said.
Transport Canada starts information campaigns to remind people of safety measures, including reaching out to local kayak clubs, and more recently, establishing clear rules against any drones within nine kilometres of an airport, including the sea plane port that sees 34,000 air craft movements per year.
Miraculously, in any recent memory there are no reports of traffic accidents or injuries, though Transport Canada is meticulous with its records and now hosts more than 14,000 reports.
The data-driven department will soon instal more systems to help it keep track of the harbour, including using 23 pieces of camera equipment installed last spring, and an upcoming installation of an Automatic Identification System (AIS) which will be used to track ship sizes, speeds, and routes live.
For McCooey, the harbour is an anomalous little gem.
“We’ve got the only airport in the world where you’ll see whales on the runway, and that happened twice this year.”