Coming into a new harbour is never easy even with the assistance of electronic charts. Victoria’s Inner Harbour is a hub of activity: float planes; Coho ferry service to Port Angeles; Clipper fast-ferry service to Seattle; harbour ferries; fishing boats; whale boat tours; harbour tour boats; standing wake boards; row boats; visiting pleasure craft; residents of numerous marinas; dinghies; and tourists in kayaks. It is a busy place with all these user groups vying for a piece of the water.
It is no wonder that there is a traffic scheme for the inner, middle and outer harbours. Invisible dotted lines directing you to the proper channel depending on whether you are arriving or departing. If your chart plotter has been properly calibrated, when zoomed in, it will guide you down two lanes to the red buoy off Shoal Point that in addition to keeping you off the rocks to the east (hence the name Shoal Point), marks a speed zone change from 7 knots in the Outer Harbour to 5 knots in the Middle Harbour. If you choose to ignore the speed limit during summer months, the ever-vigilant Harbour Patrol will happily pull you over giving you a hefty fine as a parting gift. If you are non-compliant with Coast Guard regulations for your boat, your fine will be topped up.
This unfriendly welcome to Victoria’s Inner Harbour might seem heavy-handed, but this is a busy tourist-based harbour which buffers an equally busy working harbour north of the Johnson Street bridge where Seaspan tugs routinely move barges in and out of the harbour while Victoria Shipyards hauls out vessels for repair and maintenance. It’s a busy place and in need for some guidelines to keep each user group out of the way of each other.
Add to this, the numerous festivals (Classic Boat Festival, Dragon Boat, Tall Ships, Symphony Splash, Jumpship) and rendezvous events for boaters throughout the summer and the Inner Harbour can quickly be reduced to chaos.
If you tune into VHF channel 11, you will hear Victoria Traffic juggle the comings and goings of ships in between float plane landings and take-offs. Tune into VHF channel 18 to hear the coordination of this movement between the patrol craft on the water and the Harbour Authority.
The Port of Victoria traffic scheme directs motorized vessels to two lanes to the right/east side of the float plane runway in the Outer Harbour and once past the red buoy, yellow cones kept to port, guide you through the Middle Harbour into the Inner Harbour.
It is recommended that non-motorized vessels are to keep to the north side of the harbour and may cross at right angles at either set of ‘traffic lights’ – the speed zone change (red buoy) at Shoal Point to the flashing green marker off Work Point and the markers between Laurel Point and SongheesPoint at the Delta Ocean Pointe Resort. The two ‘traffic lights’ allow you to safely cross the float plane runway if the strobe lights on top of the buoys are not flashing. Non-motorized vessels can use the traffic lanes, but should do so with caution.
Float planes approach the harbour from different directions depending on wind direction. We always do a 360-scan of the sky before crossing the float plane lane as a double check in case the strobe light has not been activated. It happens. This is what boaters need to know about float planes: “Because of varying weather conditions, boat operators should not count on pilots always being able to operate completely within the designated areas. Therefore, boaters must remain vigilant at all times.” Yes indeed. We have seen the whites of the eyes of a float plane pilot and hence have adopted the “360-scan rule” when in Victoria’s harbour.
Additional congestion is created by the 211 cruiseships that visit Victoria between April and early October. Winds funnel down the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the Pacific Ocean into the harbour entrance creating white caps and lumpy water in the shallow harbour.
In the Port of Victoria you will see every kind of marine vessel imaginable with hidden hazards scattered throughout the harbour. Follow the navigational aids and obey the traffic scheme to arrive at your destination, safe and sound.
“BE ALERT, BE SAFE, THINK SAFETY FIRST.”