Monday, July 19, 2010

On Sable Island...

The decision back in May of 2010 to accord Sable Island the designation of a National Park, showed a fair degree of insight and good judgement by our federal government. This designation however, seems to have been severely misinterpreted by a vast segment of the Canadian populace. All of a sudden, we are contending with all these calls and e-mails from people who want to visit Sable Island. Like it's suddenly some kind of theme park...

The following information is courtesy of the Sable Island Green Horse Society:

Sable Island is a sand bar - 42 km long and roughly 1.5 km wide - located far offshore, approximately 160 km southeast of Canso (300km from Halifax...), Nova Scotia, the nearest landfall. The island has been the focus of human activities, imagination and speculation for roughly 500 years. Shipwrecks, wild horses, seabirds and seals, and inaccessibility have endowed this narrow wind-swept sliver of sand with a special mystique. The island is the subject of extensive scientific research and of numerous documentary films, books and magazine articles.

Although most people traveling to Sable Island are those involved in operations or science, others have been able to visit. There is no formalized tourism, however, small numbers of people – including politicians and dignitaries, artists, news media, and people simply interested in seeing the landscape and its flora and fauna - have traveled to the Island. The latter includes individuals and groups who have organized their own trips, or have won the opportunity in a lottery or purchased it at a charity auction. Such events have been held to benefit worthy organizations such as Clean Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. During an average year about 50 to 100 people visit Sable Island (not including those involved in unintended “visits” necessitated by accident or emergency).

Regulations respecting the administration of Sable Island are the
Sable Island Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act. All visitors must obtain permission from the Canadian Coast Guard.

The following provides some details pertinent to visitors, which also generally apply to people visiting Sable Island as part of the operational and scientific programs. Anyone considering a visit to Sable Island should refer to “Sable Island Policies and Procedures”, available from Canadian Coast Guard.


Request for permission to visit Sable Island must be made in writing to the Director of Marine Programs (Canadian Coast Guard, see Contacts, below), and the request must include the details regarding the purpose of the visit, mode of transportation to/from the Island (type of aircraft or vessel), the number of people in the party (and their names and addresses), the anticipated arrival and departure dates, and requirements for logistical support on the Island.

Accommodations & Logistical Support

The Sable Island Station, administered by the Meteorological Service of Canada (Environment Canada), provides the year-round infrastructure for all programs conducted on the Island. Although support of operational, scientific and conservation activities is the primary role of the facility, the Station also provides support for visitors. Arrangements for logistical support on the Island can be made by contacting the Operations Manager (Sable Island Station, see Contacts, below).

Logistical support must be organized well in advance because availability varies depending on operational requirements and programs underway. Camping is not permitted on Sable Island. Visitors who have obtained authorization for overnight stays must arrange for accommodations at the Station. The Station has no vehicles for rent, but visitors may be able to charter a Station vehicle and driver, subject to operational requirements.

The Station is equipped with a variety of radio and satellite communications systems, similarly available for use by visitors subject to operational requirements. Visitors are expected to be as self-sufficient as possible, and fees are applicable to any services required (see Fee Schedule, below). Station activities have priority and visitors are permitted on site only as long as they abide by Station procedures and guidelines.


Once permission to visit Sable Island is obtained, visitors would usually organize their own transportation to/from the Island (charter aircraft or boat; or private boat). In recent years, the most common modes of transport for visitors have been fixed-wing aircraft chartered through Maritime Air Charter Ltd (the only fixed-wing charter service to the Island, see Contacts, below), and private boat.

Air and sea travel to and from Sable Island can be confounded by weather, sea state, mechanical and personnel problems, and offshore emergencies. For the fixed-wing aircraft the most common causes of delay are poor weather conditions (either in Halifax or on the Island) or lack of a landing area on the Island. Cruise ships have encountered difficulties with weather and surf conditions, and of the fourteen such ships that have come to Sable Island, ten had to sail away without having landed their passengers on the Island.

Most boats and cruise ships visit Sable in July and August. August through October offer the most favourable conditions for travel by air. Throughout the year the normal delay due to weather or beach conditions is a day or two. However, flights are occasionally delayed much longer, and visitors must be prepared with enough supplies, and a healthy attitude, to deal with such delays.

Maritime Air Charter Limited uses a Britten-Norman Islander, a fixed-wing aircraft designed for short distance take-offs and landings. Some visitors come as groups of five or six persons for a “day-trip”. The Islander’s payload is 485 kg (1070 lbs), so when a party of people arranges to use the Islander, they must consider their combined body weight and strike a balance between number of people and amount of baggage. All flights – fixed-wing and helicopter - depart from the Halifax International Airport. Depending on the direction and strength of winds, the air travel time between Sable Island and the airport is between 1.25 to 1.50 hours.

In addition to the aircraft charter costs, visitors should expect other charges associated with the landing on the Island as well as any required ground support provided by the Station.

Briefings & Cautions

On arrival, a briefing will be provided for all visitors regarding environmental issues and restrictions; persons staying at the Station will also be briefed on facilities and emergency procedures (fire alarms etc).

ZL is occasionally available to provide environmental briefings, and, if visitors are interested, ZL will take them for a walkabout, providing explanation of the Island’s landscape, flora and fauna, and personal introductions to some of the Island’s four-footed residents.

Sable Island is remote and isolated, and is at times inaccessible. Commercial and medical services normally provided on the mainland are not available on the Island. Although Sable Island is not a highly hostile environment, there are many natural hazards associated with weather, surf, flooding and high tides, unstable terrain, beach conditions and soft sand, and wildlife. Visitors must be cautious, and they should consult Station staff for advice regarding their proposed activities. Anyone using a vehicle or working alone should carry a hand-held marine VHF radio or cell phone, and make arrangements for emergency support.

With travel delays common, and no health services available, medical problems can be aggravated and become life-threatening situations on Sable Island. Visitors must be financially prepared to assume the cost of chartering aircraft for medical evacuation or other emergencies.


Still feel like heading out to explore Sable Island? By all means, be my guest. But don't assume the Canadian Coast Guard will sail or fly you out there and then cater to your needs once you're there. After all... it ain't Six Flags.

Sable Island Fees Schedule:

Aircraft Landing (Includes transportation to main station area)
Fixed Wing $500 each
Helicopter $200 each

*** NOTE: The landing fees DO NOT INCLUDE the price of your flight.


Diesel $1.55 per liter
Gasoline $2.60 per liter
Propane (emergencies only) $150/cylinder

Electricity $1.48 per Kwh

Vehicles (1 hour minimum, plus driver at labour rate)

Crew-cab Pickup $90 per hour
Gator utility vehicle $40 per hour
Bombardier tracked vehicle $140 per hour
Tractor $85 per hour
Loader $85 per hour

Accommodations $300 per person per night
Access to station food supplies $55 per person per day


Mon–Sat, 0800–1630 $90 per hour
Outside of normal hours $135 per hour
Sundays $180 per hour
Callout (less than 4 hrs notice) Minimum of 3 hours at applicable rate

Communications Services

Fax $5 + $1 per page
Phone $1 per minute
Cell call $2 per minute
Internet Access $0.50 per minute

Waste Processing and Disposal

Burnable waste $0.50 per pound
Recyclable waste No charge if properly prepared
Non-burnable, non-recyclable $0.60 per pound
Hazardous material $1.50 per pound

Freight Storage and Handling $1 per day per Kg

All charges must be paid with cash, traveller's cheques, or credit card (Visa /MasterCard).

Personal cheques are not accepted.

A copy of the Canadian Coast Guard's Sable Island Visitor's Guide is available in PDF format at the link below:

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