Big Tub Harbour: changes proposed to restricted boating areas

Fathom Five National Marine Park

Thank you for submitting your comments

A summary of comments received is in preparation. Should you wish to receive a copy, please contact the park. The applications for changes to the Big Tub Harbour VORR regulations were submitted to Transport Canada on September 29, 2021. Transport Canada will conduct their own review and seek comments from the public on the Canada Gazette - website. Parks Canada will update the Fathom Five National Marine Park website when the Canada Gazette site is available for additional comments.

Over 175,000 visitors discover Fathom Five’s most famous shipwrecks, the Sweepstakes and the City of Grand Rapids each year. Visitors come on tour boats, privately owned boats, and as paddlers, scuba divers, and snorkelers. Big Tub Harbour is a busy place and visitor demand continues to increase. Parks Canada is proposing new measures to enhance safety in Big Tub Harbour by: 

  • Expanding the restricted area around the shipwrecks in the harbour;
  • Introducing a 10 km/hr speed limit throughout the harbour;
  • Discontinuing permits for private motorized vessels in the restricted area to enhance navigation safety.
Vessel operating restriction regulations 

Access to shipwreck areas within Fathom Five National Marine Park is restricted by Transport Canada Vessel Operating Restriction Regulations (VORRs). Parks Canada administers VORR areas to ensure the protection of historic shipwrecks and the safety of all visitors to the park through delegated authority from Transport Canada. 

Parks Canada would like to make two applications to Transport Canada, under Schedule 1 and Schedule 6 of the regulations, to modify VORRs in Big Tub Harbour by:

  1. Increasing the length of the VORR area in the harbour to go from the western shoreline the widest portion of the channel (located at approximately 45°15’21.47”N and 81°40’43.75”W), and expanding the width of the VORR to the shore along the perimeter of the harbour west of the widest point. (see map below)
  2. Introducing a 10 km/hr speed limit in the entire area of Big Tub Harbour. (see map below)

This map shows existing VORRs, proposed changes to VORRs, and the area where a new speed limit would apply.

Map of Big Tub Harbour showing restricted ares

The changes being proposed by Parks Canada have been informed by the Big Tub Harbour Visitor Use Management Plan (completed in 2020). Copies of this plan are available by request.

If adopted, changes to VORRs in Big Tub Harbour will be implemented for the start of the 2022 boating season.

What will the impact of proposed changes be for: 

Boat Tours

Most visitors discover the shipwrecks of Big Tub Harbour from a tour boat. Under the current VORRs, the harbour is very busy and congested. Vessels (tour boats, private boats, paddlers) can each be travelling at significantly different speeds. The restricted areas are very small, which means a vessel within the VORRs may not always have the appropriate clearance to vessels outside the current restricted area. High wind and waves can also further reduce steering capabilities of vessels on the water. The proposed changes to the VORRs in Big Tub Harbour will help reduce the concern of collision by enabling better management of the number and speed vessels operating in the harbour.

Diving and Snorkeling

The shallow and sheltered waters around the shipwrecks in Big Tub Harbour make scuba diving and snorkeling these wrecks a premier experience. While Parks Canada can regulate safety concerns between tour boats and diver/snorkeler boats, the small size of the current VORRs and the popularity of this type of experience mean that the risk of a collision between a boat in the harbour and a person in the water remains a concern. Increasing the size of the VORR area will reduce the potential for incidents to occur between in-water users and powered vessels.

Private Motorised Vessel

Privately owned motorized vessels: motorboats, sailboats, and jet skis generally arrive from local marinas and boat launches. These vessels can travel at high speed within the confines of the congested harbour and the small size of the restricted areas within the harbour means that the potential for collision with other users remains a concern. Expansion of the restricted boating area will make it safer for private vessels to turn around in a wider part of the channel under a reduced speed. Under the proposed changes to the VORRs, Parks Canada would stop issuing permits for entry into restricted boating areas stating in May 2022.

Non-Motorized Vessels

Visitors in kayaks, canoes and paddleboards come to explore the shipwrecks in the calm and shallow waters of Big Tub Harbour. Kayaking is the most popular type of non-motorized vessel used in the harbour. Capsizing of paddlers is a growing concern as the number of different user groups within the harbour has grown. Reducing the speed limit within the harbour will reduce the risk of wake caused capsizes and also ensure both paddlers and motorized vessel operators will have time to adjust course in this congested harbour.

Adjacent Residents

Seasonal and permanent homes border Big Tub Harbour, and these residents enjoy using the waters of the harbour from their private docks. The proposed changes to the VORRs will improve the safety of these users regardless of the activity being undertaken.

Privacy Disclaimer

“In the text of your comments, please do not include any personal information about yourself or other individuals; this includes name, address, email address or any other information by which you or anyone else can be identified by your comments or views.”

The information is collected under the authority of subsection 10(1) of the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act and subsection 8 (1) of the Parks Canada Agency Act for seeking public comments about the reduction of speed vessels in the busy Big Tub Harbour channel in order to improve safety for all users and adjacent harbour residents. Information may be shared with Transport Canada for the purpose of evaluating the two applications for change in the Vessel Transport Canada Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations (VORRs) program under the Canada Shipping Act (hereafter referred to as restricted boating areas). 

Your participation is voluntary and your information will never result in an administrative decision being made about you. All information including personal information collected, used and disclosed for a non-administrative purpose will be depersonalised of all once the non-administrative program or activity has been completed.

Furthermore, given that your comments will be depersonalised, Parks Canada will not be able to provide you the rights to access or correct the information you have submitted. For additional information regarding this activity, please refer to Personal Information Bank – PSU 938 (Outreach Activities) in Info Source.

You have the right to file a complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada regarding the Agency’s handling of your personal information. 

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