British Columbia sets forth unique options for pilotage of U.S. tugboats on province’s rivers


On a recent trip to Canada from Seattle, Capt. Cindy Stahl encountered a situation new to her. 

Travel through Canadian waters by a tug with a U.S.-licensed master is permitted without a B.C. Coast pilot. There is a reciprocal arrangement that allows Canadian vessels with Canadian masters into Puget Sound waters. However, Stahl’s recent voyage required her to deliver a barge up the Fraser River to the Fraser Surrey Docks. This waterway requires foreign vessels to engage a Fraser River pilot. 

A simple alternative in common use has the U.S.-flagged tug hand off its tow to a Canadian tug at the Sandheads, which is the designated mouth of the river and the boarding point for Fraser River pilots. For the September visit of the tug Shannon, barge owner Pacific Terminals made arrangements with the Canadian tug F.W. Wright through the tug’s owner Mercury Marine. 

When Shannon arrived at the Sandheads at 0400, F.W. Wright was there to meet it and took over the tow. F.W. Wright proceeded upriver with Shannon trailing along behind. As they neared the Catalyst Paper barge-loading facility at 0800, the master of F.W. Wright explained the complexities of getting into the berth around a dredge and a previously moored barge. He then asked Stahl to run Shannon into the tight berth ahead of him so that she could assist with the landing. This operation was carried out smoothly and efficiently with the barge all secured by 0834. The Canadian tug departed with an exchange of compliments between the two masters.

There is an alternative to this method. The U.S. captain can qualify to operate his or her own tug in the Fraser River by meeting the criteria set by the Pacific Pilotage Authority. 

The authority may waive compulsory pilotage in respect of a ship under 10,000 gross tons travelling in the portion of Area 1 below the New Westminster railway bridge if all persons in charge of the deck watch meet certain conditions and have completed five return voyages through that portion of Area 1 within the 24 months before the application. This can be with a licensed pilot or with a person in charge of the deck watch who has completed five return voyages through that portion of Area 1 with a licensed pilot.

In practice, this would mean that Stahl could hire a Fraser River pilot to come onto the bridge of her tug while she completes the required number of transits within the required time. Alternatively she could ride in the wheelhouse of the Canadian tug during the required number of transits. As she doesn’t know how frequently she will be making this particular voyage, she is expecting to continue hiring a Canadian tug. 

When her barge was loaded and it was time to go back downriver, F.W. Wright was on another job so Valley Towing’s Sea Cap III took her barge down to the Sandheads where Shannon took over the tow and proceeded south to Seattle. 

By Professional Mariner Staff