Admiralty Law

Canadian Admiralty Law is the body of law governing navigation and shipping.

Some of the Topics Associated with this Field:

  • shipping;
  • navigation;
  • waters;
  • commerce;
  • seamen;
  • towage;
  • wharves,
  • piers, and docks;
  • insurance;
  • maritime liens;
  • canals; and
  • recreation.

Piracy (ship hijacking) is also an aspect of admiralty.

The Legislature seeks to create a uniform body of admiralty law both nationally and internationally in order to facilitate commerce.

Canadian Admiralty Law - History

Admiralty is an ancient legal system deriving from the customs of the early Egyptians, Phoenicians and Greeks. The earliest maritime code is credited to the island of Rhodes which is said to have influenced Roman law.

Special tribunals were set up in Mediterranean port towns to judge disputes arising among seafarers. This activity eventually led to the recording of individual judgements and the codification of customary rules by which courts became bound. Among the Mediterranean sea-codes were the Tablets of Amalfi and the Libre del Consolat de mar of Barcellona. These codes enjoyed authority far beyond the ports were they were promulgated.

As commerce from the Mediterranean moved northward and westward, sea codes developed in northern European ports. Among the important medieval sea codes were the Laws of Wisby, the Laws of Hansa Towns, and the Laws of Oleron. These codes have been called the three arches upon which rests modern admiralty structure.

In England, admiralty courts were already functioning in the 14th century. Initially, the courts of the lord high admiral dealt primarily with cases of piracy and naval discipline but gradually these tribunals extended their jurisdiction to commercial matters.

Canadian Admiralty Law - Admiralty Law in Canada

The Admiralty Act of 1891 established the Exchequer Court of Canada with all the jurisdiction, powers and authority conferred by The British Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act of 1890.

In 1934, The Admiralty Act, 1891 was replaced by the Admiralty Act, 1934. Pursuant to the Admiralty Act, 1934 the Exchequer Court was continued as a Court of Admiralty for Canada and given the same jurisdiction as possessed by the High Court of Justice in England on its Admiralty side.

In 1971 the Federal Court Act was enacted. Section 2 of the Federal Court Act defines Canadian maritime law as follows:

"Canadian maritime law" means the law that was administered by the Exchequer Court of Canada on its Admiralty side by virtue of the Admiralty Act, chapter A-1 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1970, or any other statute, or that would have been so administered if that Court had had, on its Admiralty side, unlimited jurisdiction in relation to maritime and admiralty matters, as that law has been altered by this Act or any other Act of Parliament;"

Section 42 of the Federal Court Act enacts Canadian maritime law as defined in subsection 2. Section 42 provides:

"42. Canadian maritime law as it was immediately before June 1, 1971 continues subject to such changes therein as may be made by this Act or any other Act of Parliament."

The effect of the interplay between the sections 2 and 42 of the Federal Court Act and the Admiralty Act 1934, and the Admiralty Act of 1890 is to incorporate as federal statutory law all of the law, common law and civil, that was administered by the English Courts of Admiralty. Pursuant to the interplay of these sections and Acts. Such law is administered and applied not as common or civil law but as statute law enacted by the Federal Government.


Canadian Admiralty Law - Jurisdiction and Powers of the Federal Court

As a statutory court the Federal Court has no inherent jurisdiction. It has only jurisdiction over those matters that have been specifically assigned to it by statute. The main source of its Admiralty jurisdiction is section 22(1) of the Federal Court Act which grants concurrent jurisdiction to the Federal Court in all cases in which a claim for relief is made or a remedy is sought under Canadian maritime law.

Section 22(2) of the Federal Court Act then enumerates, for greater certainty, 19 separate types of admiralty actions over which the Federal Court has jurisdiction.


Canadian Admiralty Law - Significant Canadian Cases

Bow Valley Husky (Bermuda) Ltd. v. St. John Shipbuilding Ltd., [[1997] 3 S.C.R. 1210.

Bow Valley involved a fire on board an oil rig. It was alleged that the fire was caused by the breach of contract and negligence of the defendants in the construction of the rig. The defendants alleged that the plaintiff was also negligent and argued that the common law bar applied to bar the plaintiffs' claim. The defendants were successful at trial. On appeal, the Newfoundland Court of Appeal held that although the matter was governed by Canadian maritime law, Newfoundland's Contributory Negligence Act also applied. Alternatively, the Newfoundland Court of Appeal was prepared to abolish the common law bar in cases of contributory negligence. The judgement of the Supreme Court on this issue was written by McLachlin J.

She found that "the recognition of shared liability for fault and elimination of the contributory negligence bar in maritime torts falls within these principles" (para.93).

The importance of Bow Valley is the emphasis given to achieving uniformity and the reluctance to apply a provincial statute because of the possibility that doing so might some day lead to non-uniformity.


Ordon v Grail, [1998] 3 S.C.R. 437
(An issue left undecided by Bow Valley was whether or when provincial statutes could be applied to maritime matters. This issue was addressed by Ordon v Grail.)

Ordon v Grail, involved four negligence actions arising out of two boating accidents which resulted in fatalities and in serious personal injury. The actions gave rise to similar legal issues. The issues were:

  • Do the superior courts of the provinces have jurisdiction over maritime fatal accident claims or are such claims within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Court;
    • The Supreme Court held that provincial superior courts have an inherent general jurisdiction over maritime matters that can only be taken away by clear and explicit statutory language. The provisions of the Canada Shipping Act granting jurisdiction over fatal accident claims to the "Admiralty Court" (which is defined as the Federal Court) do not expressly exclude superior court jurisdiction. Therefore the superior courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Court over maritime claims.
  • When can provincial statutes of general application (specifically, the Ontario Family Law Act, the Ontario Trustee Act, the Ontario Negligence Act, and the Ontario Occupiers Liability Act) apply to maritime negligence claims; and
    • The Supreme Court held that in the context of an action arising from a collision between boats or some other accident, maritime negligence law encompasses the following issues, among others: the range of possible claimants, the scope of available damages, and the availability of a regime of apportionment of liability according to fault. A provincial statute of general application dealing with such matters within the scope of the province's legitimate powers cannot apply to a maritime law negligence action, and must be read down to achieve this end.
  • Is the limitation period for fatal boating accidents one or two years?
    • The Supreme Court held that the plaintiff's claims prima facie came within section 572(1). The Court further held that the ambiguity created by the two sections must be resolved in favour of allowing the plaintiff to rely on the longer period.
  • One of the significant finding of the Supreme Court was that it would be constitutionally impermissible for a provincial statute to regulate maritime negligence law and further noted that it would be rare that a provincial statute would apply in a maritime context.

    This makes it clear that only in very rare circumstances will provincial statutes be applied to fill a federal legislative gap in relation to maritime matters.


    When do you need the Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

    Effective September 15, 2009 All operators of powered watercraft regardless of boater's age or length of boat require a Pleasure Craft Operator Card.

    Canadian Admiralty Law - More Information and Getting a Boat Operating Card Online


    Links to More Information

    Federal Court Act

    Admiralty and Maritime Law Guide

    Canada Shipping Act



    Find us at Google +



    Canadian Law News

    Lawyer Locator

    Twitter Facebook Google +

    Free Lawyer Listing

    logoModern Law:

    Law Overview









    Appellate Practice

    Dispute Resolution



    Banking Access


    Bankruptcy History

    Clarity Act




    Consumer Protection




    Dating Violence

    Dealing with Lawyers

    Debt Collection


    Elder Law

    Employment & Labour



    Family Violence




    Good Samaritan Laws


    Gun Laws

    Hate Laws

    Health & Medical

    Human/Civil Rights

    Information Technology


    Impaired Driving


    Intellectual Property


    International Trade


    Jury Duty

    Legal Malpractice

    Libel & Slander

    Medical Malpractice




    Personal Injury

    Poverty Law

    Privacy & Access to Information

    Products Liability

    Professional Liability

    Real Estate

    Sharia Law



    Starting a Business

    Steps in a Lawsuit



    Trusts & Estates



    Wills And Probate


    Workers Compensation

    Young Offenders

    Canadian Law Apps

    logoAncient Law to the Present:

    Hammurabi's Code

    10 Commandments

    Ancient Greece

    Ancient Rome

    Christian Influence

    Justinian's Code

    Magna Carta

    Royal Proclamation 1763

    Code Napoleon

    British North America Act

    Constitution Act, 1982

    logoLegal Organizations:

    Bar Associations



    Law Schools

    Law Societies

    Legal Aid


    Business Lawyers

    Criminal Lawyers

    Employment / Wrongful Dismissal Lawyers

    Family / Divorce Lawyers

    Immigration Lawyers

    Impaired Driving Lawyers

    Insolvency Lawyers

    Personal Injury Lawyers

    Real Estate Lawyers

    Wills Estate Lawyers

    List your Law Firm

    Publish your Articles


    Send to a Friend

    Privacy Policy

    About us