If you’re getting out on the water in the Port of Vancouver this summer, there are simple steps for making your activity safe and enjoyable. We caught up with Jason Krott, Manager Marine Operations and Fleet for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to learn about safely sharing the water in Canada’s busiest marine region.

Krott has worked for the port authority for 23 years, with the first 22 years as a Harbour Patrol Officer. He manages the Harbour Patrol fleet with responsibility for Tier Two vessels in the port — encompassing every vessel that doesn’t require a pilot such as pleasure craft and tugs.

The port authority’s safe boating focus is managing interactions between large commercial vessels and both recreational and smaller commercial vessels.

How has traffic in the port changed since you started your career?

Ships were smaller and there were fewer recreational boats. You had less volume of standup paddlers and kayakers. Today there’s much more traffic. Ships are bigger. There are more recreational boaters. There are many more people enjoying the water with unpowered craft.

How is the port authority addressing increased activity?

A big part of my current duties is guiding the port authority’s internal boating safety program. We’re trying to safely move commercial traffic through the area and finding ways to explain to the public how best to operate around that traffic.

The port authority is responsible for the safety and security of the port. We want the public to enjoy this port and what it has to offer. We want to help educate people on how to safely move around the traffic, how to let traffic flow without causing any issues for their ability to use the shared waterways.

What’s the single most important thing the Port wants to communicate to recreational vessel operators?

The number one message is ‘be aware.’ Educate yourself about how to manage in the port. There is a lot of good information available that explains how the port operates — make yourself aware of what you’re getting into when you’re out on the water.

What measures should they take to prepare themselves for travel in the port?

Educate, plan and communicate. The first issue that keeps coming to the surface is people don’t understand their surroundings. It’s not that someone would willfully cut off a ship. They just don’t understand what the ship is doing. Familiarizing yourself with the rules of the road and local regulations will help you transit those areas in a safe way.

Plan your route. Research your local conditions and ensure your vessel is properly prepared. People get in trouble when they don’t know where they’re going. For instance, underneath the Second Narrows Bridge you might encounter a day with a big flood or a big ebb tide and get into trouble with the current and the speed — and you’re unable to make time. That can be addressed with planning. Be aware of marine conditions in the port, it’s very helpful.

Communicate. By learning how to call for help and knowing when to call, you not only get yourself out of trouble, you might potentially stop people from accessing the area while there’s an issue. Everybody on the water, especially those operating in the port, should be at least listening on radio — VHF Channel 12 for the Vancouver Harbour, Channel 74 for the Fraser River and Channel 11 for outside the port. Monitor the radio even if you have no intention of communicating. Even just monitoring really increases your awareness of your surroundings. It allows you to hear that vessels are coming or leaving, or ships are communicating, or someone is calling you. Ships transiting these areas might for example be calling a sailboat to ask their intentions — and often, the operator of the sailboat isn’t listening.

Know how to call for assistance. No one is immune to needing assistance. The key to making it safely through that situation is knowing how to communicate. For example, if there’s an inbound deep-sea vessel, such as a tanker, and they hear a pleasure craft broke down under the bridge, they’re going to go into a holding pattern until someone tows that vessel out of the way.

Transport Canada has Collision Regulations that explain the rules of the road for all vessel operators. How do the Regulations serve recreational boaters in the port?

The rules are complex, and determining who has the right of way depends on changing factors such as the kind of vessel you’re in, the situation and your location. For transit in the port, it’s a matter of being familiar with the Collision Regulations and the Port Information Guide. The Port has created traffic control zones and instituted speed limits in select areas to increase safety for all users in busy traffic areas. In the traffic control zones — narrow channels such as the First and Second Narrows — Rule 9 of the Collision Regulations takes effect. Rule 9 is basically a rule that says ‘a vessel that is restricted in its ability to manoeuvre has the right of way.’ Knowing the rules of the road in the narrow channels and knowing that ships have the right of way per Rule 9 is important.

Non-power craft are not allowed by our bylaws to be in those difficult areas. You must have mechanical power to operate between the Lions Gate and Second Narrows bridges. This restriction has been in place for many years. The reasoning for this restriction is that currents, conditions and commercial traffic movements make it dangerous for non-power craft to safely operate there.

Can you relate a story about an experience with a non-power craft in the restricted area?

It happens. It’s part of our summer. We have patrol boats out and we conduct regular safety patrols in the port. A number of years ago I got a call about some kids in a rubber raft underneath the Second Narrows Bridge. We go out there and sure enough, there are two boys in a little rubber raft rowing like crazy, trying to get into the harbour. They were just two kids that wanted to go get pizza in downtown Vancouver and figured it would be fun to row their rubber raft from Port Moody. And there was a ship coming. So we brought them on board, grabbed the rubber raft and took them to the Seabus Terminal on the south side. The last thing I saw was one of them holding the front of the raft, the other holding the back, running over the skyway and headed downtown to get their pizza.

This incident goes back to the education component. People don’t know — 99.9 per cent of the people aren’t doing this out of any need to flout the rules. They just think ‘it’s water and we can go.’ They don’t know that it’s like a river underneath the Second Narrows Bridge. There are countless, countless times in the space of every year when we are talking with standup paddle boarders, taking them back to where they came from, stopping jet skiers, helping people whose engines died underneath the bridge, or they’re fishing and they had no idea. We do a lot of that.

If people want more information on boating safely in the port, where can they find it?

We have a Port Information Guide and a boating safety flyer we recently updated. We encourage people to go out and see the things that make this port so dynamic, but we want you to do it safely. 

Burrard Inlet safe boating guide

Fraser River safe boating guide