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Noise from ships at anchor still a problem, say West Vancouver residents

Busy port, winter weather has seen spike in 3 West Van anchorages

Some days it sounds like a train approaching on an imagined railway track.

Other times, it sounds like the blades of a helicopter thrumming overhead.

The sound can be a low resonant hum that “sounds like its coming from everywhere,” said West Vancouver resident Dan McKenzie.

When he first heard the noise, around the time of the pandemic, “it was kind of hard to figure out exactly what was happening,” said McKenzie. “I started talking to neighbours to try to pinpoint where the sound was coming from.”

That’s when he learned the sound was coming from freighters moored at three anchorages off the shore of West Vancouver’s Sandy Cove.

That surprised him, said McKenzie, because he lives up the hill in West Vancouver.

“We’re actually quite a ways away from the water,” said McKenzie, who lives on Bayridge Place. “We can’t see the water from our house.”

McKenzie has lived in his home since 2017. But it was really only after 2020 when he noticed the sound kicking up a notch.

“Some people hear it. Some people don’t. Other people, it drives them crazy,” he said.

“I can hear it throughout the entire house.”

Last year, McKenzie said he had all the windows replaced in his home. “I thought that would help with the issue, but it didn’t,” he said.

McKenzie isn’t the only one bothered by the noise.

Noise from anchorages spiked in 2022

Residents who live at the head of Caulfeild Cove complained two years ago that noise from freighters anchored close to shore off West Vancouver was getting worse.

At issue are three anchorages in English Bay near Lighthouse Park, used by freighters waiting to dock at shipping terminals in the Port of Vancouver.

In the past, those anchorages weren’t used as much by the port.

But as the port became busier, the anchorages have been used more often, reaching a peak during the period immediately after the pandemic when supply chain issues hit.

Although those closest to the water have been among those complaining to the port, sometimes the sound is louder further up the hill, with sound bouncing around West Vancouver’s topography like an amphitheatre.

Residents say some ships appear to be worse noise polluters than others – especially when they run big generators.

Last month, one such noisy ship was parked for two weeks at one of the West Vancouver anchorages, said McKenzie. He was happy to see it go.

West Vancouver resident Barb Lunter said she’s noticed a slight improvement in some of the noise coming from ships in the past two years, “but there are still so many freighters out there and the noise still exists.”

Neighbour Bill Wheeler, who has also contacted the port about the issue, said the only change he’s seen is “they no longer put the large container ships in those three anchorages.”

But the noise remains.

The three West Vancouver anchorages have been used more as the port grows busier. | Port of Vancouver

Increased demand for anchorages

Port spokesman Alex Munro said there has been an increased demand for anchorages since mid-January, due to both an uptick in ship traffic and winter weather.

A bulk carrier loading grain may need to anchor if rain prevents loading during the expected time window, he said, or if a ship arrives in port ahead of its scheduled loading slot.

Recently the port also launched a centralized scheduling system to try to improve movement of ships around the Port of Vancouver.

Usually if noise complaints come in, the port will contact the vessel’s agent to remind the ship’s master they are anchored near residential areas.

Ships are required to minimize noise levels while at anchor, according to the port. But if the source of the noise is due to a vessel generator, required to power navigation equipment and on-board amenities for the crew, there’s not much that can be done.

Munro said official complaints from West Vancouver about ships at anchor are actually down, with only one registered so far this year. There were six complaints from West Vancouver residents in 2023, and 75 in 2022, which made up over half of the 136 complaints received that year.

Previously residents have suggested the port keep track of especially noisy ships that generate complaints and make an effort to have them anchor further offshore.

McKenzie said when he complained, he received a form letter back, and guesses most residents have given up.

McKenzie uses a marine vessel tracking app to identify which ships are using the anchor when the noise is especially annoying.

When one ship leaves, another is quick to take its place these days. Like other nearby residents, McKenzie has his fingers crossed it won’t be one of the noisy ones.