Government Oversight Supports Safe Operations

Both the U.S. and Canadian governments maintain a robust program of regulatory oversight governing almost every aspect of marine shipping. While the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada are the lead agencies, in fact 18 additional government agencies oversee aspects of vessel and port operations. These include ship safety, port security, emergency response, search and rescue, icebreaking, lock operations, weather information, dredging, customs and immigration, environmental protection, and workplace safety. In some cases, additional oversight is exercised by state and provincial governments.

Vessel Regulations

  • International VesselsThe regulatory framework governing international vessels is established through the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an agency of the United Nations. Both the United States and Canada are members of the IMO and participate in development of international rules. These rules are administered by each vessel's "flag-state," or the country in which the vessel is registered. When in a foreign port, each vessel must also comply with requirements of the "port-state," or the country in which the port is located.
  • Domestic VesselsThe regulatory framework for domestic vessels is established and administered by the United States for U.S.-flag vessels, and Canada for Canadian-flag vessels. These rules may be similar to IMO regulations or they may be slightly different to address unique local concerns.

Vessel Inspections:

  • International VesselsForeign vessels entering the Great Lakes-Seaway system are stopped, boarded and inspected in Montreal prior to being allowed to sail up the St. Lawrence River and into the Great Lakes. Inspections focus on safety, security and environmental compliance, and are conducted jointly by a team representing Transport Canada, the U.S. Coast Guard, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, and the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.
  • Domestic VesselsU.S. and Canadian domestic vessels are subject to inspections throughout their service life. These inspections are conducted by Transport Canada for Canadian-flag vessels, and the U.S. Coast Guard for U.S.-flag vessels. As an alternative, both agencies also partner with vessel classification societies - such as Lloyd's Register and the American Bureau of Shipping - to survey and inspect vessels to ensure regulatory compliance and safety.