Canada has the longest coastline of any country in the world, with over 200,000 kilometres of mostly uninhabited waterways, deep inlets and island shorelines to patrol. The Pacific Region alone has more than 25,000 kilometres of coastline that is made up of large fjords, countless small islands, the larger Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, and the area along the Washington and Alaska borders. The distance, as the crow flies, from Victoria on the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Prince Rupert near the Alaska panhandle is 806 kilometres.
Of course these waterways make for some of the most fantastic cruising grounds in the world for boaters, especially in summertime, but there are also fishing boats, freighters and smugglers using these same waterways year round when sea conditions and weather often get very nasty. To make sure everyone can get around safely, and to help out those who find themselves in difficulty, is the primary function of the Canadian Coast Guard. Law enforcement, however, is not their responsibility, which is just as well since they barely have enough equipment, personnel or resources to do their search and rescue work and respond to the more than 3,500 calls they receive each year.
The Coast Guard maintains a fleet of 114 patrol ships, including 4 hovercraft, ranging in size from search and rescue lifeboats to heavy arctic icebreakers, along with 27 rotary and 22 fixed wing aircraft. While these ships and aircraft are of various age and condition they are all easily recognized by their Canadian flag colours of red and white. 28 of these ships and 2 of the hovercraft, roughly 1/3rd of the fleet, are based out of the 13 stations/bases located in the Pacific Region, with the Sea Island and Kitsilano stations serving the Vancouver area.
|Kitsilano Station photo by Junie Quiroga|
Seemingly always on the move, the near/inshore patrol vessel Osprey and the hovercraft Siyay are commonly sighted as they zoom around the Vancouver Harbour, Georgia Strait, and Howe Sound checking on boaters in distress. Built in 1998, Siyay is relatively new compared to the Osprey which was built in 1986. The Osprey belongs to a group of 6 other boats built in the 70's and 80's that are nearing the end of their lifespan and are being replaced by the more modern, self righting, search and rescue (SAR) lifeboats built after the year 2000.
There are 11 of these SAR lifeboats (with an operating range of 200 kilometres) stationed around the Pacific but there are only 3 mid-shore vessels with a range of more than 2,500 nautical miles to look after all the rest and the newest of those vessels was built in 1991. Even if all these boats were on the move 24 hours a day there would still be a lot of coastline that would never see a Coast Guard vessel from one week to the next. Fortunately there is also the volunteer Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary to assist with the coverage model but this group has to rely on donations to cover even the fuel they use.
But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that is why the Coast Guard is also responsible for broadcasting the weather and safety notices, providing marine communications and traffic services, and maintaining the more than 2,000 buoys, lights and beacons that mark the majority of rocks and other hazards along the coastline. These aids to navigation are indispensible to mariners wanting to know their ship's position and it's a year round effort to keep them all properly serviced and functioning.
Speaking of aids to navigation, I see these pair of bald eagles quite often as I go past the Q41 buoy on my morning swim. They would make great auxiliary members if only they could use a VHF radio. Boaters are supposed to keep the buoy on their port side as they come into False Creek and on their starboard side as they leave. This would protect them from any of the rocks in English Bay and allow me to swim in relative safety. For the most part boats stay where they belong but it's nice to know there are other folks keeping an eye on things.
There are over 1,000 employees in the Pacific Region trying to do their job in an environment of ever rising fuel costs, old equipment, and pressures to reduce operational expenses. A daunting task with demands on the service increasing and the need to have a more proactive display of sovereignty in our waters. Fortunately the federal government has finally realized it needs to up the ante on a neglected service and has commissioned 8 billion dollars worth of new mid-shore vessels, icebreakers and other special use vessels that will be built here in Vancouver over the next few years.