The Canadian Hydrographic Service and the law

Flags of Canada, Nunavut, Greenland, Denmark and the Canadian Hydrographic Service at the Ward Hunt ice camp, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. (Photos by Janice Lang, NRCan, CHS/DFO).

Learn about the federal statutes that give the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) authority over hydrography and oceans science.

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The Constitution Act of 1867 gives Canada authority over navigation and shipping in Canadian waters.

Other statutes require owners and operators of vessels to carry and use up-to-date CHS issued or approved nautical charts.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Act explains DFO's powers over:

  • hydrography and marine sciences
  • coordination of Canada's ocean policies and programs

The Oceans Act gives the minister of DFO the power to:

  • collect data to understand oceans
  • prepare, publish and authorize distribution of:
    • data
    • plans
    • reports
    • sections
    • statistics
    • charts and maps
    • other documents
  • coordinate national policies and programs for:
    • hydrography
    • oceanography
    • other marine science
  • conduct hydrographic and oceanographic surveys
  • charge fees for services, facilities, products, rights and privileges
  • set standards and make guidelines for hydrographers and others in collecting data and preparing charts on behalf of the minister

Within DFO, CHS exercises these powers.


The Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations were created in 1995, following the:

  • Canada Shipping Act (2001)
  • Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act

These regulations state that:

  • the person in charge of navigation must have on board the most recent edition of the:
    • sailing directions
    • tide and current tables
    • chart reference catalogue
    • lists of lights, buoys and fog signals
    • annual edition of notices to mariners
    • other documents, if applicable, such as:
      • Radio Aids to Marine Navigation
      • the International Code of Signals
      • Ice Navigation in Canadian Waters
  • a person planning a voyage must use the most recent edition of a chart issued officially by or on the authority of the CHS, which:
    • is the largest available scale chart
    • applies to the immediate area in which the ship is being navigated
  • the ship navigator must make sure charts, documents and publications are correct and up to date, based on information in the:
    • radio navigational warnings
    • notices to shipping (NOSHIPs)
    • notices to mariners (NOTMARs)

Local knowledge exceptions

The regulations make an exception for local knowledge for persons in charge of navigating vessels under 100 tons. They must have sufficient knowledge of:

  • the location and character of charted:
    • lights
    • buoys
    • marks
    • shipping routes
    • navigational hazards
  • prevailing navigational conditions, such as:
    • ice
    • tides
    • currents
    • weather patterns

Electronic chart exceptions

These regulations allow charts to be in electronic form if they're:

  • electronic navigational charts (ENC) displayed on an electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) with an ECDIS or paper backup
  • raster navigational charts (RNC), if:
    • there's paper backup
    • ENCs aren't available


The chart carriage and use requirements are enforced by Transport Canada and police forces.

Canada's also involved with international conventions that have provisions concerning hydrography, navigation systems and nautical charts. These include the:

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