What’s the End-of-Life Plan for Small Vessels?

If you’ve read this week’s article on large-vessel disposal in Canada, you probably think you know everything there is to know about shipbreaking and recycling in this country but let out your sheets, friend (an expression I just made up as the nautical equivalent of “hold your horses”), there’s more to it than large vessels.



Most Canadian vessels — as in, 4 million of them — are small vessels (under 100 gross tons). While this category includes some tugs and ferries, the “great majority,” according to Vard Marine Inc’s 2016 report, Analysis of Shipbreaking and Recycling Capacity in Canada, are recreational vessels.

That report was commissioned by Transport Canada (TC) over concerns about derelict vessels. Since most vessels in Canada are small vessels, most derelict vessels in Canada are small vessels: Vard reports that “40,000 plus” reach their end-of-life each year and Canada has “little infrastructure tailored” to their disposal.

The chief barrier to recycling these small vessels is the material from which most are made — fibreglass – which “cannot be recycled in a cost-effective manner.” As the report puts it elsewhere, there is a “lack of market appetite for component materials.”

For that reason, owners are often tempted to abandon rather than recycle such vessels. (I really want to break the monotony of repeating  “vessels” but I know sailors are very particular about their terminology and I have no desire  to be keel-hauled for calling a ship a boat or a boat a ship so “vessel” it must be). How they abandon such vessels  depends on what part of the country they inhabit.


Rugged coastline

Here in Atlantic Canada, I’m rather amazed to report, the owner of a small recreational vessel that has reached the end of its useful life is quite likely to let it float off into the sunset. Says VARD:

Discussions with industry contacts have also suggested that the more rugged nature of the Atlantic seaboard means that abandoned vessels may disappear into the ocean instead of remaining within view of shore or harbours. This may influence the decision to abandon rather than recycle, given that allowing an abandoned vessel to sink at sea represents no cost to the owner, and relatively little risk to their home port or harbour.

Apparently, no one gets worked up about the threat posed to the ocean at large by allowing vessels containing hazardous materials to sink into it.

On the other hand, Atlantic Canada has far fewer recreational vessels than does British Columbia or Ontario and because they must be hauled out of the water in winter, they tend to be abandoned on land rather than at sea.


Eyesores & obstacles

In British Columbia, where recreational boating is “very popular,” the kinder winters mean small vessels can be abandoned on the water, where they are more likely to be seen as “eyesores” and “obstacles.” On the West Coast:

Municipalities and marinas frequently encounter derelict vessels left at anchor, blown on shore, or sunk in regions where they pose a hazard.

The problem of derelict recreational vessels in Canada is basically a West Coast problem. How they must envy us our “rugged coastline!”



Ontario has lots of recreational vessels but because they operate in fresh water, they last longer, and because they often operate on small bodies of water (the Great Lakes excepted) and have to be hauled out in winter, they also tend to be abandoned on land.



There aren’t many boats on the prairies.


Local recycling

When we’re not setting our old recreational vessels adrift, we in Nova Scotia are apparently “leading the way” with our “vessel disposal initiatives.” We’ve established a process, which the Nova Scotia Boatbuilders Association (NSBA) explains as follows:

1. First, the boatyard will remove any parts or fittings from the boat that have value for reuse. any hazardous fluids (such as oils and fuels) are drained into containers to be delivered to a hazardous waste recycling depot.
2. The boatyard then engages a demolition company.
3. The demolition company removes all steel, stainless steel and aluminum materials to be taken to a recycling depot.
4. All fibreglass, wood, trim and other construction materials are then removed, broken down and delivered to an official landfill site.

The VARD report then provides a list of “Small Vessel Disposal/Recycling Facilities” in Nova Scotia.

There are precisely two (and the first one doesn’t seem to have read the NSBA’s rules for vessel disposal):

Small vessel Disposal/Recycling NSSmall Vessel Disposal/Recycling NS

At least one is in Cape Breton, right?


Featured image: Boats in Creaser’s Cove, NS by SMUBull, own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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