Canadian Coast Guard

From Academic Kids

The Canadian Coast Guard or CCG (Fr. Garde côtière canadienne or GCC) is the coast guard of Canada. It is the federal agency responsible for providing marine search and rescue (SAR), aids to navigation (NAVAIDs), marine pollution response, icebreaking, and the annual Arctic resupply missions for isolated northern coastal communities in Canada.

Canadian Coast Guard Crest
Canadian Coast Guard Crest



Originally a variety of federal departments and even the navy performed the work which CCG does today. Following Confederation, the federal government placed many of the responsibilities for maintaining aids to navigation (primarily lighthouses at the time), marine safety, and search and rescue under the Marine Service of the Department of Marine and Fisheries, with some responsibility for waterways resting with the Canal Branch of the Department of Railways and Canals.

After the Department of Marine and Fisheries was split into separate departments, the Department of Marine continued to take responsibility for the federal government's Marine Service. During the inter-war period, the Royal Canadian Navy also performed similar duties at a time when the navy was wavering between becoming a civilian organization. A government reorganization in 1936 saw the Department of Marine and its Marine Service, along with several other government agencies, folded into the new Department of Transport.

In 1958, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened, changing the shipping industry throughout eastern Canada and requiring an expanded federal government role in the Great Lakes and the Atlantic coast. In the late 1950s, it was decided to consolidate the duties of the Marine Service of the Department of Transport and on January 28, 1962 the Canadian Coast Guard was formed as a subsidiary of DOT.

Expansion years

A period of expansion followed the creation of CCG between the 1960s to the 1980s. The outdated ships CCG inherited from the Marine Service were scheduled for replacement, along with dozens of new ships for the expanding role of the organization. Built under a complementary national shipbuilding policy which saw the CCG contracts go to Canadian shipyards, the new ships were delivered throughout this "Golden Age" of the organization.

In addition to expanded geographic responsibilities in the Great Lakes, the rise in coastal and ocean shipping ranged from new mining shipments such as Labrador iron ore, to increased cargo handling at the nation's major ports, and Arctic development and sovereignty patrols - all requiring additional ships and aircraft. The federal government also began to develop a series of CCG bases near major ports and shipping routes throughout southern Canada.

The expansion of the CCG fleet required new navigation and engineering officers, as well as crewmembers. To meet the former requirement, in 1965 the Canadian Coast Guard College (CCGC) opened on the former navy base at Point Edward, Nova Scotia on Sydney Harbour, Cape Breton Island (HMCS Point Edward). By the late 1970s the college had outgrown the temporary navy facilities and a brand new campus was opened nearby in 1981.

During the mid-1980s at a time of increased nationalism following the blatant 1985 violation of Canadian sovereignty in the Northwest Passage by the USCGC Polar Sea, the Conservative administration of Brian Mulroney announced plans to build several enormous icebreakers, the Polar 8 class which would be used primarily for sovereignty patrols.

Unfortunately the proposed Polar 8 class was abandoned during the late 1980s as part of general government budget cuts; in their place a program of vessel modernizations was instituted. Additional budget cuts to CCG in the mid-1990s following a change in government saw many of CCG's older vessels built during the 1960s and 1970s retired.

In the 1990s-2000s, CCG expanded slightly by modernizing part of its SAR fleet after ordering British Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)-designed ARUN-class high endurance lifeboat cutters for open coastal areas, and the USCG-designed 47-foot Cape-class (CCG designation) medium endurance lifeboat cutters for the Great Lakes and more sheltered coastal areas.

Bureaucratic oversight

From its formation in 1962 until 1995, CCG was the responsibility of the Department of Transport. Both the department and CCG shared complementary responsibilities related to marine safety, whereby DOT had responsibility for implementing transportation policy, regulations and safety inspections, and CCG was operationally responsible for navigation safety and SAR, among others.

Following the 1994 budget, the federal government announced that it was transferring responsbility for CCG from the Department of Transport to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The reason for placing CCG under DFO was ostensibly to achieve cost savings by amalgamating the two largest civilian vessel fleets within the federal government under a single department.

Arising out of this arrangement, CCG became ultimately responsible for crewing, operating, and maintaining a larger fleet - both the original CCG fleet before 1995 of dedicated SAR vessels, NAVAID tenders, and multi-purpose icebreakers along with DFO's smaller fleet of scientific research and fisheries enforcement vessels, all without any increase in budget - in fact the overall budget for CCG was decreased after absorbing the DFO patrol and scientific vessels.

Unfortunately there were serious stumbling blocks arising out of this reorganization, namely in the different management practises and differences in organizational culture at DFO, versus DOT. DFO is dedicated to conservation and protection of fish through enforcement whereas CCG's primary raison d'etre is marine safety and SAR. There were valid concerns raised within CCG about reluctance on the part of the marine community to ask for assistance from CCG SAR vessels, since CCG was being viewed as aligned with an enforcement department. In the early 2000s, the federal government began to investigate the possibility of making CCG as a separate agency, thereby not falling under a specific functional department and allowing more operational independence.

In one of several reorganization moves of the federal ministries following the swearing-in of prime minister Paul Martin's administration on December 12, 2003, several policy/regulatory responsibilities were transferred from CCG to the Department of Transport to provide Canadians with a single point of contact for issues related to marine safety and security, although CCG would maintain operational responsibility for some of these tasks. The list included:

  • Canada Shipping Act
  • Pleasure craft safety
  • Marine navigation services
  • Pollution prevention and response
  • Navigable waters protection
  • "Receiver of Wreck"

Finally, on April 4, 2005 it was announced by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans that CCG was being redesignated a "special operating agency" - the largest one in the federal government. Although CCG still falls under the ministerial responsibility of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, it has more autonomy where it is not as tightly integrated within the department.

An example being that now all CCG bases, aids to navigation, vessels, aircraft, and personnel are wholly the responsibility of the Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard. The Commissioner is in-turn, supported by the CCG headquarters which develop a budget for the organization. The arrangement is not unlike the relationship of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police toward that organization's parent department, the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

The special operating agency reorganization is different from the past under both DOT and DFO where regional director generals for these departments were responsible for CCG operations within their respective regions. Now all operations of CCG will be directed by the commissioner and CCG in the regions. This management and financial flexibility is being enhanced by an increased budget for CCG to acquire new vessels and other assets to assist in its growing role of helping to ensure maritime security, although CCG will not be usurping the traditional role of the Canadian Navy.

CCG will still provide the vessel and crew support for DFO's fisheries science, conservation, and protection requirements. Unfortunately the changes in making CCG a special operating agency under DFO do not address some of the key concerns raised by an all-party Parliamentary committee investigating low moral among CCG employees since the transfer from DOT to DFO and budget cuts since 1995. The committee had recommended that CCG become a separate agency under DOT and that its role be changed to a paramilitary organization involved in maritime security by arming its vessels with deck guns, similar to the United States Coast Guard and that employees be given peace officer status for enforcing federal laws on the oceans and Great Lakes.


Unlike the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), CCG is a civilian organisation. None of CCG's personnel is a peace officer. Enforcing and protecting Canada's maritime sovereignty is a military task and the complete responsibility of Canada's navy, Canadian Forces Maritime Command.

The enforcement of laws in Canada's territorial sea is the responsibility of Canada's federal police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as all ocean waters in Canada are considered federal jurisdiction. Saltwater fisheries enforcement is a specific responsibility of DFO's fisheries officers.

Note that the Great Lakes are not coastal waters and are therefore not part of the territorial sea - thus certain laws on the Canadian side of the US-Canada border in the Great Lakes may be enforced by the Ontario Provincial Police or municipal police forces, although enforcing any federal laws in these waters are still the ultimate responsibility of the RCMP.

Command structure

CCG's command structure is also reflective of its non-military role. The head of CCG is called the "Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard". The term "commissioner" is commonly used in other agencies of the Canadian government, most notably the head of the RCMP. The CCG bureaucracy supports several functional departments which are outlined as follows:

  • Fleet Directorate
  • Marine Programs Directorate
  • Integrated Business Management Directorate

CCG as a whole is divided into five regions:

  • Newfoundland Region
  • Maritimes Region
  • Laurentian Region
  • Central and Arctic Region
  • Pacific Region


CCG maintains a number of major bases and operating locations/stations on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as in the St. Lawrence River, Great Lakes and major navigable inland waterways such as Lake of the Woods, Lake Winnipeg, and Great Slave Lake/Mackenzie River.

Currently, there are no vessels permanently based in the eastern Arctic, although CCG vessels and aircraft frequently operate there, staging out of bases on the Atlantic coast and supported by a base in Iqaluit, Nunavut.


The Fleet Directorate is responsible for all ships and their manning requirements. Most vessels have between 5-30+ crewmembers. CCG as a whole numbers approximately 2,000 personnel.

All CCG vessels are painted uniformly regardless of their use. They are characterized by a red hull and white superstructure, designed to look like a "floating Canadian flag". The hull bears a 75-degree white stripe, similar to the markings on USCG vessels. Ship nameplates are typically affixed to the superstructure and vessels are typically named for persons or places of historic (or geographic) significance.

From the 1960s-1990s, CCG did experiment with painting primary SAR vessels in a colour scheme with a yellow superstructure and red hull, meant to distinguish them from navaid tenders and icebreakers, and also to improve their visibility on the open ocean with a breaking waves environment. Today the only distinguishing markings for primary SAR vessels is the large RESCUE-SAUVETAGE lettering on the superstructure.

The prefix "Canadian Coast Guard Ship", abbreviated CCGS, is affixed to any major vessel. Several minor vessels such as patrol boats and life boats carry the prefix "Canadian Coast Guard Cutter", abbreviated CCGC.

The list of various classes of CCG vessels includes:

  • Heavy Gulf Icebreaker
  • Medium Gulf/River Icebreaker
  • Light Icebreaker - Major Navaids Tender
  • Medium Navaids Tender - Light Icebreaker
  • Ice Strengthened Medium Navaids Tender
  • Offshore Research & Survey
  • Offshore Fisheries Research
  • Inshore Research & Survey
  • Coastal Research & Survey
  • Small Navaids Tender
  • Special River Navaids Tender
  • Offshore Ice Strength Multi Patrol Vessel
  • Offshore Multi Task Patrol Vessel
  • Inshore Fisheries Research
  • Intermediate Multi Task (Patrol) Cutter
  • Small Multi Task Ice Strengthened Cutter
  • Small Multi Task Cutter
  • Multi Task Lifeboat
  • Multi Task High Endurance Lifeboat
  • Multi Task Medium Endurance Lifeboat
  • Inshore Multi Task Patrol Vessel
  • SWATH Survey & Sounding
  • Multi Hulled Survey & Sounding
  • Small Multi Task Utility Craft
  • Air Cushion Vehicle
  • Small Inshore Navaids Tender
  • Hydrographic Research Support Barge


In addition to various bases located in deep water ports, rescue stations in smaller minor ports, and its fleet of vessels, CCG also operates a small number of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The former are primarily used for icebreaking surveillance in winter and servicing aids to navigation in summer while the latter are used primarily in pollution surveillance patrols. The majority of CCG aircraft are stationed at municipal airports located near major CCG bases and are primarily located in eastern Canada, given the absence of icebreaking spotter requirements for the west coast.

As with any government vessels being called upon to assist the Canadian Navy, government civilian aircraft such as CCG aircraft may be called upon at any time to assist the Canadian Air Force as well.

Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary

The Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (CCGA), formerly the Canadian Marine Rescue Auxiliary (CMRA), is a nonprofit organization of volunteer recreational boaters and commercial fishermen who assist CCG with search and rescue as well as boating safety education. CCGA members who assist in SAR operations have their vessel insurance covered by CCG, as well as any fuel and operating costs associated with a particular tasking.

The CCGA permits CCG to provide marine SAR coverage in many isolated areas of Canada's coastlines without having to maintain an active base and/or vessels in those areas.

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