New Brunswick and
Prince Edward Island Pilots


Capt. Ryan McLean

There are currently 10 licensed full-time pilots and 1 apprentice pilot for the Port of Saint John, New Brunswick. As with all pilotage districts in Atlantic Canada, a staffing level that is established by the federal government in consultation with pilots and industry, and which reflects actual and anticipated traffic levels.

Saint John pilots must meet or exceed the minimum requirement of Master, Near Coastal. They are highly skilled master mariners with many years of sea experience and extensive nautical training. Most pilots for the minor ports hold a Master, Near Coastal or higher, which exceeds the minimum requirement for a 500 tonne Master Certificate. Critical success factors: Local knowledge of waterways and targeted specialized training throughout career.

Pilots usually board the vessel by means of the ship’s rope pilot ladder, either alone or in combination with an accommodation ladder, often climbing the side of the vessel for up to 9 m. Embarking and disembarking pilots is always risky, and even more so during night navigation and under inclement conditions. Once the pilot is aboard, they go to the vessel's bridge area where they will have the conduct of the vessel until it has safely transited pilotage waters or is safely secured to the berth.

Saint John pilots support economic development and safe shipping through their contribution of nautical technical expertise to government and/or private sector entities projects (i.e. Termpol study for Canaport LNG), modifications to existing port infrastructure (i.e. Port Saint John West Side Modernization Project for new wharf and channel dredging), and other projects (i.e. OPP Met/Port Demonstration Project for Bay of Fundy).

There are three compulsory pilotage ports/areas in New Brunswick: Saint John, Restigouche and the Miramichi. Saint John is a major compulsory port for pilotage whereas Restigouche and the Miramichi are minor compulsory ports for pilotage.

New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island

Designation as a compulsory pilotage area depends on local levels of risk to safe navigation and takes into account a number of criteria including:

  • Degree of difficulty and hazard in the approaches and within the port itself;
  • Amount of vessel movement and maneuverability and the size of those vessels;
  • Design of wharfs, slips, and actual space available for maneuvering;
  • Nature of cargo carried on board (e.g. oil, gas, explosives, hazardous materials); and
  • Environmental concerns and the preservation of the ecosystem.
Compulsory pilotage areas

Saint John

Saint John, located on the Bay of Fundy, is the largest commercial centre in New Brunswick. Its port activity is clustered in two areas: around the inner harbour in the core of the city’s waterfront, and at Mispec Point which is 9 km SE of the city on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy. Both of these sites experience some of the highest tides in the world. The maximum tidal variation for the Port of Saint John is 9.15 m. This strong tidal action is credited with preventing significant ice from forming and Saint John remains ice-free year round. Saint John is the only port in Atlantic Canada serviced by more than one rail carrier.

In the inner harbour are the Saint John Port Authority facilities which include DP World Cargo Terminal, Piers 10-12, Long Wharf Terminal, Marco Polo and Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminals, Lower Cove Terminal, Barrack Point Potash Terminal, the AIM Recycling Atlantic facility, the Crosby’s Molasses tank farm, and the wharf area of the former sugar refinery. In 2016, the Spruce Lake barge facility was opened for transporting locally-made oversized manufactured pieces to market by waterway. The Bay Ferries Terminal is located in the West Docks.

It may surprise some to learn that Saint John is Canada’s largest energy port. Its proximity to international and domestic shipping routes combined with deep water and excellent rail connections make it ideal for handling import and export crude oil and refined products. Canaport LNG and the Irving Oil Refinery and tank farm are located at Mispec Point while the Irving Oil East Saint John Terminals are located in the city centre.

For vessels arriving or leaving Saint John Harbour, a traffic separation scheme is in effect. A MCTS system is in operation for the approaches to and in Saint John Harbour. There are three lettered anchorage areas within the limits of Saint John Harbour. Pilotage is compulsory when proceeding to anchorage area A, while anchorage areas B and D are outside the compulsory pilotage area.

New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island

Navigational Challenges

The main harbour of Saint John is at the mouth of the mighty Saint John River. The main channel is dredged to a depth of 8.4 m however depths are subject to change due to silting. In general terms, for vessels both entering or leaving the inner harbour of Port Saint John, the pilots utilize the significant tidal range to bring in deeper draft ships. While actual tidal windows vary, they generally start two and a half hours before high water and last up to two hours after high water. During this time, the water level is higher and the current is less.

The Kennebecasis River and the Saint John River both feed into Saint John’s inner harbour. Freshet from these rivers, resulting from heavy rains or melting snow, creates a rush of fresh water into the harbour that can significantly increase the speed of the currents in the inner harbour. For example, during the severe flooding of the Saint John River in the spring of 2019, the pilots experienced freshet of 3m above high water. Piloting in freshet requires a specialized skill to maneuver vessels safely in such a dynamic environment.

The Irving Oil monobuoy is moored about 0.6 mile south of Mispec Point. It has long free floating discharge hose, whose relative direction to the buoy is dependent on the wind and tidal stream. Two submarine pipelines are laid between the buoy and the Irving Oil tank farm at Mispec Point. Pilots are responsible for the safe navigation and mooring of oil tankers on the Irving Oil monobuoy and at the tanker berths in Courtenay Bay. Pilots direct the tug assistance during escorting and mooring operations. Canaport LNG was the first operational LNG terminal in Canada. Saint John pilots receive specialized training for piloting LNG carriers.

On December 5, 2003, the International Maritime Organization ( IMO ) adopted Guidelines on Places of Refuge for Ships in Need of Assistance (resolution A.949(23)). Saint John is a port of refuge so pilots may be required to board and have the conduct of damaged vessels or vessels with mechanical or other issues on board.

New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island


The Port Authority and various levels of government have invested much time and resources in successfully developing Saint John as a major cruise ship port of call. Customers include all the major cruise lines representing a broad range of ship sizes. It is common for multiple large cruise ships to be in port on the same day in a season that extends from late April through to the end of October. The main cruise berths are directly across the harbour from the west side terminal.

Oil tankers are an important component of Saint John’s traffic. These range in size from small coastal tankers up to VLCC and ULCC (Very Large Crude Carriers and Ultra Large Crude Carriers) of between 180,000 to 320,000 DWT. One VLCC can have between 1.7 to 2.5 million barrels of oil onboard. Due to their size, VLCC’s do not call on Canada’s West Coast, the St. Lawrence River or the Great Lakes. Canaport LNG terminal is a deep-water terminal capable of receiving Suezmax crude carriers 274m in length x 48m breadth with a deep draft of 16.8m. It also receives a variety of LNG carriers ranging in size from Q-max gas carriers 338m in length x 53.8m breadth with a deep draft of 12.2m to Q-flex gas carriers 315m long x 50m breath x 11m draft.

Other traffic in the port includes dry and liquid bulk carriers, breakbulk carriers, containerships, tug and barge operations, and fishing craft. Key commodities include potash, road salt, forest products, and scrap metal. As of May 27, 2021, Hapag Lloyd operates a new weekly container service between the Mediterranean and Saint John. The first vessel to call at Saint John on this service was the M.V. Liverpool Express (4,121 TEU). Bay Ferries operates a year-round vehicle / passenger service between Saint John, NB and Digby, NS.

A major reconfiguration of the Port Saint John’s west side terminal is currently underway with completion expected by 2023. It will see a new deep-draft berth created by closing off the finger piers. It will be 345m in length with 17.1m draft at chart datum. The existing seawall berth will remain at its current 435m in length with 12.2m at chart datum. The main channel will be dredged deeper and wider to accommodate the new larger classes of containerships. The channel will go from 150m to 190m wide, and its draft will increase from 8.4m at chart datum + tide height (mean high tide 7.7m) to 9.5m at chart datum + tide height. The intermodal yard will more than double in size while the terminal’s throughput capacity will double to 300,000 TEU.

New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island

Pilots’ Particular Areas of Expertise

The skills required by today’s pilots are ever increasing. Advances in technology have not diminished their role. The presence of a pilot onboard, a specialist from the local community, protects public and environmental safety, and promotes port efficiency. Saint John pilots embrace new technology where it improves safety. They carry aboard portable pilotage units (PPU) with the most up to date information and charting.

Conducting the safe navigation and berthing of massive vessels requires great precision and skill with constant vigilance of weather and sea-state on vessel dynamics, windage, currents, tides and other traffic in the waterway. Saint John pilots are experts in the direction of tugs (for escorting, berthing and mooring operations), night navigation, navigating in reduced visibility, navigating in freshet and navigating in waterways with extreme tidal variations.

Saint John pilots are pleased to be working collaboratively with Transport Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and other stakeholders on the Ocean Protection Plan Met/Port Demonstration Project. This project involves the deployment of one new 3-m Smart Buoy about 35 NM SW of the pilot boarding station for Saint John and coordinating its data with the met/ocean data that is generated from a pre-existing 3-m SmartATLANTIC smart buoy which is situated inside the harbour limits near Anchorage B1. Using these data sets, it is possible to accurately forecast safe operating windows for vessel transits and moves. One important application being tested is the ability of these buoys to predict wave trains for Canaport LNG and the Irving Oil monobuoy where cargo operations are sensitive to wind speed and direction as well as wave period and wave height.