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13th Coast Guard District
915 Second Ave
Seattle, WA 98174
(800) 982-8813

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(800) 982-8813 x7015

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Cooperative Vessel Traffic Service (CVTS)

A model partnership, serving the international waters of the Pacific Northwest for over 20 years.

The Cooperative Vessel Traffic Service (CVTS), established in 1979 by international agreement, is an integral part of the waterway management program of this region. It is a formal partnership between the United States and Canada to manage vessel traffic in the shared waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the connecting waterways. The CVTS assists in preventing collisions, groundings, and other maritime casualties, thus preventing the potential for ensuing environmental damage by facilitating the safe transit of vessel traffic. The region is divided into several zones each managed from one of several vessel traffic centers. The CVTS actively manages vessel movements through:

  • Active surveillance by a network of radars:
  • A seamless communications system;
  • Administration of internationally recognized Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS);
  • Application of the International Collision Regulations (COLREGS); and
  • Enforcement of national Vessel Traffic Service regulations of U.S. and Canada.

Approximately 30 times each year, vessel traffic service operators must intervene to prevent collisions. They give direct navigational instructions to vessels in these close-call situations.

Vessel Traffic Centers

There are three Vessel Traffic Centers that jointly managed the shared waterways. Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service, which has been in place since 1972, is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard at Pier 36 in Seattle. The other two centers are Canadian Coast Guard operated and have been in place since 1973. They are located at Tofino, British Columbia (at Southwest end of Vancouver Island) and now Victoria, British Columbia (previously from Vancouver, BC). Tofino Traffic manages vessels entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca from about 40 miles out. Seattle Traffic manages vessel traffic in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and onto U.S. ports. Vessels bound for Canadian ports are handed off to Victoria Traffic as they proceed north toward Victoria. Hand-offs between the three centers are almost transparent to the mariner, requiring only a change of radio frequency. Thesecenters manage over 250,000 vessel transits a year, including some 200,000 ferry transits.

What vessels use the CVTS

National regulations require the following vessels to monitor CVTS radio frequencies:

  • Power-driven vessels of 20 meters (66 feet) or more in length;
  • Vessels of 100 gross tons or more carrying one or more passengers for hire; and
  • Dredges or floating plants

The following vessels are required to make voice reports to appropriate Traffic Center:

  • Power-driven vessels of 40 meters (131 feet) or more in length;
  • Commercial vessels of 8 meters (26 feet) or more in length, while engaged in towing; and
  • Vessels certified to carry 50 or more passengers for hire, when engaged in trade.

Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS)

Traffic Separation Schemes help provide order and predictability to vessel movements. They establish lanes with a "separation zone" between opposing vessel traffic similar to the "median" between opposing traffic on the highway system. Rules for the TSS, and the navigation rules (aka Rules of the Road) in general, are designed to enhance safety and reduce conflicts between the many waterway users (e.g., freight ships, tank vessels, tug and barge combinations, fishing vessels, and recreational boaters).

Other Sources

Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service Web Site:

Canadian VTSs Tofino and Vancouver Web Site:

Last Modified 3/31/2013