Border quarrel about towboat turf

Are U.S. towboats illegally taking Canadian work? Photo: Eric, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Are U.S. towboats illegally taking Canadian work? Photo: Eric, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

When boats break down on waterways between the U.S. and Canada, does it matter who comes out to tow them to shore?

According to a report from the CBC, that question is getting more attention after the owner of Canadian Coastal Services, has complained about U.S. owned towboats getting too much of the business he says rightfully belongs Canadian companies:

Company owner Glenn Swinton claims U.S. competitors are breaking the law when they do the same by entering Canadian waters and towing boats to Canadian ports.

Swinton says Canadian legislation is clear: it’s illegal for a foreign company to tow a boat found in Canadian waters to a Canadian port.

Swinton says U.S. companies working in Canadian waters are costing him upwards of $80,000 each year.

Swinton has raised the issue with Transport Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency. He alleges neither agency is doing anything to resolve the issue.

I have no idea how companies on both sides of the border work those issues out. According to the CBC story, the relevant legislation is found in the Coasting Trade Act and the United States Wreckers Act.

Boaters, what is your experience or opinion? Are there clear rules that are being followed?  Or is the tow business pretty much a free-for-all? Is this a sensitive issue in our region too? Do tell.

Need a tow? Who're you gonna call? photo: Lucy Martin

Need a tow? Who’re you gonna call? Photo: Lucy Martin


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9 Comments on “Border quarrel about towboat turf”

  1. Michael Greer says:

    Clearly, it has become necessary to arm the towboat fleet…in the same way that we have armed the border guards. This sort of territorial dispute must not be allowed to fester. I think maybe flying a couple of B-52s down the river might send a proper signal of America’s resolve.

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  2. David Duff says:

    I’d opt for drones. Far less intrusive and apparently easy to lose. Besides, they’re local.

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    Maybe it is time to renew the old cry, “54 40 or Fight.” But this time draw the line from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
    I’m sure some Canadians would endorse it. Not all, but some.

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  4. SESZOO says:

    After the B-52s and drones take out their Tug fleet.., We can send John Kerry up here to negotiate a new agreement and how much we need to give, in aid to rebuild their fleet . Could split the talks between Ottawa and Ogdensburg ,bring some business in ,especially if it’s summer for the tourists ..

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  5. Transport Canada has confirmed that the Canada Coasting Trade Act “reserves Canada’s coasting trade for Canadian Vessels.” They have further confirmed that “Coasting trade includes the transportation of goods and passengers between points in Canada AND ANY MARINE ACTIVITY OF A COMMERCIAL NATURE.”
    The United States Wreckers Act gives way for U.S. vessels to enter in to Canada to salve any wreckage and or lend assistance to a vessel in danger or distress only. It further gives immunity to U.S. vessel from the Coasting Trade Act AND Customs Laws ONLY for the act of salvage. All other acts that incur charges of a commercial nature are subject and as such are reserved for a native vessel this includes towing, battery boosting, fuel drops, un-grounding… etc.
    Where the U.S. holds a stance that unless you drop anchor in U.S. water or actually land on U.S. soil you haven’t “landed” in the U.S., Canada is very clear in that the moment you cross the imaginary red line you have entered into Canada and all Canadian laws apply.

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  6. Marlo Stanfield says:

    I imagine a stranded boat will take a tow from whoever gets there first, right? Maybe Mr. Swinton needs to step his game up, buy another tugboat or something so he can compete, rather than complaining to authorities who obviously don’t care or see it as a security issue. Should a stranded boat have to wait longer so a Canadian can get the money?

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  7. With all do respect Mr. Stanfield, it’s more than just waiting for a Canadian to get the money. I’m certain that if you were living in the U.S. and I showed up at your place of work every day, told you to go home without pay because I got to your seat 30 seconds before you your attitude would be much like mine. It’s not that the authorities don’t care, the issue was never put before them and for that reason the process has taken some effort to get it addressed by the appropriate departments. Now that it has we will wait for the conclusion on enforcement.

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  8. Pat Nelson says:

    I’d like some information. How long is the average wait for a Canadian tow and how long for American? What is the longest wait for each and the shortest? If there are no statistics on this, from either government, why not? Any from Mr Swinton’s trade association? Again, if not why not?

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  9. Pat, response times run very similar for either provider. Please remember that this is not an issue of vessels in DISTRESS. This is about routine, commercial activity. Think of it as if you were in a car. If your in an accident, the emergency crews come to your aid the the tow company arrives. If you get a flat or break down, only the tow company comes.
    This isn’t about who can respond first, it’s about who can legally work in Canada. Being over water doesn’t make it fair game. We need to remember the the water between the shores is not “international waters” but rather property included inside an international boundary line.
    To answer your question on response times, there are MANY factors that play a role her but on average we run around 30 mins to arrive on scene but times often vary from 5 mins to very rarely over 60.

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