You’ve done everything right: your documents are in order, your duties are paid, and your shipment has traveled far. But now, you’re facing delays at Canadian ports, and it feels like things are out of your hands. And guess what? You’re not alone.

Port congestion happens when ports get overwhelmed by too much cargo coming in and going out, and it’s a massive headache for businesses, causing delays, disruptions, and extra costs. In 2023, a 13-day strike at Canadian West Coast ports threw supply chains into chaos, affecting both the Canadian and U.S. economies. Even after the strike ended, delays lingered for weeks, with some vessels rerouting or turning to rail forwarding, adding to the frustration.

The good news is, Clearit can help you navigate port congestion. With Clearit’s expertise, you can maintain smooth operations and minimize the impact of delays at Canadian ports on your supply chain.


Why Your Shipment Might Be Stuck in Canadian Port Purgatory

If your shipment is delayed at a Canadian port, it may be for one of several reasons.

Weather Conditions

Snowstorms, ice, and heavy rain can wreak havoc on transportation schedules, making roads impassable and grounding planes. In 1998, a devastating ice storm left nearly a million people and businesses without power across eastern Ontario and parts of Quebec, home to Montreal’s port.

Labor Strikes and Disputes

Labor strikes can bring everything to a standstill. The BC strike in 2023? It was part of a larger dispute involving over 7,000 terminal cargo loaders and 49 waterfront employers at 30 ports, following months of unsuccessful negotiations. With dockworkers off the job, shipments piled up, leading to congestion and delays. 

High Traffic Volumes

High traffic volumes at ports like Vancouver and Montreal can lead to significant congestion. This is particularly the case during the holiday season, when millions of tons of goods are imported and exported through the Port of Vancouver alone.

Customs Inspections and Clearance Issues

Delays often stem from customs inspections and clearance issues. These occur when documentation is incomplete or incorrect, duties and taxes haven’t been paid, or restricted or prohibited items are being imported. Additionally, improperly labeled shipments can slow down the process. Clearit’s Overview of Canadian Customs Regulations and the CBSA website are excellent resources for understanding these regulations and how to comply with them.

Infrastructure Challenges

Canada’s port infrastructure is outdated, with Vancouver ranking 347th out of 348 global container ports in efficiency in 2023, translating to extreme vessel wait times. Despite recent investments in port digitalization, the aging infrastructure and limited terminal capacity remain significant bottlenecks. And to make matters worse, the Canadian marine shipping sector sees a growing infrastructure investment gap compared to the U.S., threatening the country’s competitiveness, economic growth, and environmental commitments.


Preventing Shipping Delays: Best Practices for Canadian Ports

Big retailers like Walmart Canada have figured out proactive strategies to keep their goods moving smoothly, and you can too. Here’s how:

    •  Give yourself a grace period: Plan ahead to prevent delays from impacting your bottom line. Booking shipments early can secure transportation and avoid last-minute rushes.
    • Collaborate with logistics partners: Work closely with your logistics partners, from suppliers and carriers to customs brokers like Clearit. Effective communication and coordination can preempt many issues. 
    • Diversify your ports of entry: Analyze alternative ports and use them to your advantage. Namely, spread your shipments across multiple ports to reduce the impact of congestion at a single location. 
    • Tap into the latest logistics tech: Real-time tracking solutions and automated notifications can keep you informed about your shipment’s status. This technology helps you address potential issues before they escalate, so you can come up with alternative solutions, which brings us to…
    • Draft a ‘Plan B’: Have a backup plan for unexpected delays. This should include steps to reroute shipments, communicate with customers, and adjust inventory levels. 
  • Maintain buffer stock: Keeping a safety stock can help you manage delays without disrupting your operations. Calculate appropriate buffer stock levels based on your supply chain needs, and maintain flexible contracts and agreements with suppliers and logistics providers to respond to unforeseen issues with agility.
  • Store locally, when possible: Local warehousing can reduce the distance your goods need to travel, minimizing delays, and is ideal for holding onto your buffer stock. But make sure to choose warehousing partners that can handle your storage needs efficiently and reliably, so you don’t run into delays on their end as well.


Government and Industry Initiatives to Improve Port Efficiency

Good news! The Canadian government understands its ports’ problems, and is investing heavily to enhance port efficiency and strengthen supply chains, with key initiatives including infrastructure upgrades and digital innovation. 

  • The Port of Thunder Bay is receiving $6.7 million to upgrade its marshaling yard and wharf, boosting cargo handling and attracting new markets. 
  • Similarly, the Port of Montreal is getting over $2.6 million to develop technological tools that improve supply chain efficiency. 
  • Additionally, the Port of Sept-Îles is set to benefit from a $10 million investment to support marine towing services and improve navigation assistance.

These projects aim to make Canada’s ports more resilient and efficient, ensuring smoother trade flows and economic growth.


Sail Through Canadian Ports With Proactive Customs Clearance Support

When it comes to navigating delays at Canadian ports, importers need to stay proactive. Keeping operations smooth despite these hurdles is a must for maintaining a competitive edge in the market.

Working with experienced logistics partners like Clearit can provide the expertise needed to sail past these complexities. Clearit offers comprehensive solutions to ensure your shipments clear customs without delays or penalties, so you can keep your goods moving efficiently and your business running smoothly.