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Search and Rescue Incidents (1999-2004)

Scotian Shelf: An Atlas of Human Activities

The year-round nature of human use in the waters surrounding Nova Scotia is associated with a significant number of distress incidents requiring maritime search and rescue (SAR) response. This map shows the density of search and rescue incidents in the region over a five-year period. The majority of these distress calls involve small craft, such as fishing and recreational vessels. The highest density of search and rescue incidents occur in the more heavily used and transited areas. For example, the waters off southwest Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy experience the highest number of incidents owing to the significant levels of fishing activity there, while the approaches to Halifax record a high number of incidents related to seasonal yachting and recreational boating in the area.

The specific nature of the individual incidents shown on this map varies in terms of the severity and the response required. Only a small percentage of distress incidents are classed as life-threatening and requiring immediate assistance. The majority of distress calls involve a potential risk to vessels and require regular monitoring and communications with search and rescue authorities.

The lead federal authorities for maritime search and rescue are the Canadian Forces (air force and navy) and the Canadian Coast Guard. Regional search and rescue operations are coordinated from the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Halifax. The JRCC is staffed 24 hours a day by both Canadian Forces and Coast Guard personnel. The map shows the locations of Coast Guard bases, lifeboat stations and Canadian Forces air bases in the region. Distance intervals have been projected from each lifeboat station to illustrate zones of coverage in relation to incident patterns. In general, Coast Guard lifeboats are used to respond to near and mid-shore incidents while larger vessels are used farther offshore. In many cases, trained volunteers with the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary and other fishing and commercial vessels in the vicinity of distressed vessels are contacted by the JRCC to assist in search and rescue operations.


Search and Rescue Incidents (1999-2004)

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Shipping Routes and Harbours

A significant amount of international and domestic commercial shipping traffic occurs over the Scotian Shelf. Commercial shipping in this area is generally in the form of tankers and general, bulk and containerized cargo carriers. The area is also transited by a range of fishing vessels, cruise ships and various government vessels. The primary commodities being moved in the region include crude oil and gas, minerals and chemicals, paper and forest products, coal and coke, and various containerized goods.

The map shows the main shipping routes through the region. These routes are drawn from the internationally recognized Ocean Passages for the World issued by the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. The map also shows the vessel traffic service (VTS) zones that are used to control and separate vessels in high density traffic areas, such as major ports or channels. Four distinct regional traffic patterns are highlighted below:

  • international shipping over the Scotian Shelf as part of the "great circle route" (i.e., shortest distance over the earth's surface) between Europe and the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada;
  • international and domestic shipping along the coast of Nova Scotia bound to and from the United States, Bay of Fundy, Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland;
  • shipping through the Cabot Strait, a major sea route linking trans-Atlantic shipping lanes to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes; and
  • traffic associated with the major ports of Halifax, Saint John, Port Hawkesbury (Strait of Canso) and Sydney.


United Kingdom Hydrographic Service. 1987. Admiralty Ocean Passages for the World. 4th ed. Taunton, UK: Hydrographer of the Navy.


Shipping routes and harbours

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Commercial Shipping: Traffic Density (2000)

This map depicts commercial shipping density for a representative year of inbound vessel traffic to the region. The primary source of commercial vessel data for Canadian waters is the Canadian Coast Guard's Eastern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone (ECAREG) system. This is a mandatory reporting system for all commercial vessels over 500 gross registered tons (GRT) transiting within Canada's 12-nautical-mile territorial sea. Vessel trip records include information on vessel size, class, cargo and departure/destination points. The ECAREG system also provides geo-referenced information (latitude/ longitude) for chronological movement reports made during individual vessel trips.

This map does not show all international shipping through the region for the year 2000 for several reasons. The map includes only inbound traffic; however, other analyses have shown that the density pattern of departing vessels is much the same as the inbound traffic pattern. As well, the ECAREG system does not include information on vessels transiting through Canada's 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) if they are not departing or entering the territorial sea or internal waters.

The vessel tracks shown on this map were generated by plotting vessel movements as straight lines between reported vessel locations in the ECAREG dataset. Subsequently, the number of ship tracks passing through each cell of a four-minute grid was counted. The number of ships passing through each cell was interpolated across the study area. A vessel count and weighting analysis was used to determine relative densities of the vessel tracks and routes. The resulting traffic density map corresponds to the known and expected shipping patterns in the region, with the highest density of traffic from the United States over the Scotian Shelf and through the Cabot Strait, where it is joined by trans-Atlantic vessel traffic from Europe.


Commercial Shipping: Traffic Density (2002)

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