Dealing with Problem Vessels and Structures in B.C. Waters

Problem vessels and structures on provincial Crown foreshore and provincial Crown land covered by water have been topics of interest for many communities situated near fresh and marine water.

With rare exceptions all lake and river beds in B.C., along with most sea beds are owned by the Province; however, the federal government owns or manages a number of harbours, ports and wharf or dock facilities throughout British Columbia.

In recent years, cases of unauthorized vessels or structures that are anchored or moored, sunk, beached or wrecked on provincial Crown land have been increasing, along with demands on government to take action.

Dealing with problem vessels and structures can be highly complex due to the mix of provincial ownership of land, federal jurisdiction over navigation and shipping and sometimes conflicting federal and provincial laws.

What governments do depends on specific  facts of the situation, such as whether the cause of concern is a vessel, wreck or some other type of structure; the nature of the problem; who owns the bed of the waterway in question; and what laws apply in a given situation. 

Determining what laws apply can be complicated by the fact that Provincial laws or local government bylaws that would be applicable to a structure or vehicle on dry land may not apply to vessels because they either conflict with federal laws such as the Canada Shipping Act, or infringe on the core of the federal government’s responsibility for navigation and shipping.

Often, there is no simple answer to the question: Who should be dealing with this problem? Usually the answer will depend on the particular facts of each case; often legal advice is necessary to determine the limits of governmental authority. In some cases, there may be unavoidable legal uncertainty regarding how specific laws apply.

Because of these complexities, it is often necessary for all levels of government to work together in a coordinated manner. Solutions can involve one level of government authorizing another level to take action, with resources to solve problems coming from different levels of government as well as local groups.