Boat Regulations / August 21, 2019

Canadian boating rules around whales

From coast to coast, there is an abundance of opportunities to see a variety of whales species and other wildlife. The thrill of seeing a killer whale breach is a breathtaking experience. With the current trend of eco-tourism and the whale populations declining, the Canadian government and conservation groups have recommended boating rules around whales and other wildlife observations.

Rules around observing southern resident killer whales by boat in coastal waters of BC

In May 2019 the Government of Canada released new boating rules around whales as part of the Whales Initiative of the Oceans Protection Plan to support endangered Southern resident killer whale population.  The rules are in effect from June 1 to October 31, 2019. For a complete overview refer to the Department of Ocean’s and Fisheries. 

1. Keep 400 meters away from killer whales (about 4 football fields).

2. Avoid whale sanctuaries. It is the law to not fish or boat around Swiftsure Bank and the east coast of Saturna Island and south-west of North Pender Island.

3. Reduce speed to less than 7 knots.

4. Avoid fishing within 1,000 metres of a killer whale. (don’t be stealing their dinner).

5. Reduce vessel noise.  Put the engine in neutral idle and turn off echo sounders when within approach distance of a killer whale.

North Atlantic right whales

Right whales are critically endangered and the global population is about 450. Whales can be injured or killed if they are struck by vessels, they get tangled in ropes, nets and fishing gear. The primary management in the Atlantic and Quebec is to prevent vessel strikes and entanglement in non-tended fishing fixed-gear fishing. Ways that the the right whales are being protected:

  • Slowing down boats
  • Adjusting fishing seasons to make way for whales
  • Actively looking for right whales
  • Using less rope in the water
  • Keeping better track of rope and buoys
  • Mandatory reporting for lost gear
  • Exploring new fishing technologies and methods
  • season-long area closure (static zone) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence
  • if one or more right whales are detected anywhere in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or the 2 critical habitats in the Roseway and Grand Manan Basins, temporary closures (dynamic zone) will be implemented for snow crab and lobster fisheries (and all other non-tended fixed-gear fisheries)
  • Outside these areas, special case-by-case basis consideration given to sightings of 3 or more whales or a mother and calf pair

Enjoying nature responsibly

If you are taking out your own boat or travelling with a tour company, be responsible around the whale populations on both coasts of Canada. When humans and boats get too close to wildlife we risk disturbing and harming marine wildlife. Watching whales and other marine mammals in their natural surroundings gives Canadians an opportunity to better appreciate these beautiful animals and to truly understand the precarious situation these majestic animals are in. You may be inspired to join in on the conservation of endangered species.

Resources for Canadian boating rules around whales


Department of Fisheries and Oceans:  Department of Fisheries & Oceans:Boating around killer whales

Department of Fisheries and Oceans:  Protecting Canada’s Endangered Whales

Department of Fisheries and Oceans:  Killer Whale Information

Information about Whales:  Be Whale Wise

Boating Industry Canada: New rules for boaters around killer whales

Whale Watching

Cottage Life:  Best Whale Watching Sites in Canada

Croisieres AML: The St. Lawrence River, a haven for whales

Quebec Maritime:  The whale route

Hello BC: How to go whale watching from Vancouver.

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Image courtesy of: Photo by Dick Martin on Unsplash

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