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Watchlist 2010

Emergency preparedness on ferries

Added to Watchlist on August 16, 2010


Emergency preparedness on large passenger ferries operating in Canada needs improvement.


Passenger ferries play a significant role in the Canadian transportation network, with tens of millions of passengers travelling each year. More than 100 passenger vessels above 500 gross tons are operating in Canada, and roughly half of these can carry over 400 people.

During an emergency, it is essential that all passengers be accounted for and, in the case of an abandonment, for example, that they board survival craft in an organized, efficient manner. In these situations, crew members face distinct challenges, including: crowd control, communicating in multiple languages, identifying and locating missing passengers, high passenger-to-crew ratios, and passengers requiring special assistance—such as those who have difficulties with hearing, sight, or mobility.

Past TSB investigations involving two passenger ferries—Queen of the NorthFootnote 1 and Joseph and Clara SmallwoodFootnote 2—highlighted safety deficiencies in how emergency duties and training are performed. Canadian regulations, for example, require passenger vessels to have procedures for rapid and safe evacuation of everyone, yet there is no requirement to carry out drills involving crowd-control duties before evacuation. Full-scale abandonment exercises remain voluntary, leaving crew members without the knowledge or skills to adequately perform emergency duties.


When people are faced with an emergency, the response of those who have received training and practice is more automatic and requires less interpretation and decision making. This amounts to precious time saved—time that is even more vital when lives are at stake. It is therefore critical that crew members have access to detailed, accurate passenger lists, and that crews be practiced at mustering and crowd-control.