Shipping within the Great Lakes-Seaway is governed by the world's highest safety and operational standards. The U.S. Coast Guard oversees every aspect of U.S.-flag shipping on self-propelled vessels, including construction, ship maintenance, and qualifications of the crew. Transport Canada plays a similar role for Canadian-flag vessels.
Due to its bi-national nature, the Great Lakes-Seaway is unlike any other waterway system in the world. The safety regime is anchored by a comprehensive structure of regulations that begins with a well-established international framework for the governance of vessel design and operations led by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Canadian and U.S. agencies monitor and enforce these standards for any vessel entering their territorial waters and adopt or adapt these regulations for their own domestic fleets. While Transport Canada and the USCG are the core safety agencies, there are an additional 18 federal agencies as well as state/provincial and local governments in the two nations involved in various aspects of marine safety.
Throughout its lifespan, a Great Lakes ship is subject to rigorous inspections and certification oversight — in the original design and construction stage, through mandatory annual inspections, and through the “out of water” dry-docking inspections undertaken on a five-year basis for domestic vessels and twice in every five-year period for international vessels. Regular inspection of vessels is performed by Transport Canada or the USCG or delegated to an approved classification society. These classification societies are subject to audit and verification by government authorities to ensure compliance with all standards.