Northumberland Strait

From Openwaterpedia
Photo of Northumberland Strait and Confederation Bridge, taken on Cape Tormentine wharf in New Brunswick.
A snapshot of Google Earth, measuring the shortest distance across the Strait at 12.66km (7.9 miles).

The Northumberland Strait is located on the east coast of Canada. It separates Prince Edward Island from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

The 12.7 kilometer (7.9 mile) path from Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick to Borden-Carleton, Prince Edward Island is shortest route across the Strait. This distance can be verified via Google Earth.

The Northumberland Strait is noted for its warm water and absence of sharks at its narrowest crossing.


The Northumberland Strait (French: détroit de Northumberland) is a strait in the southern part of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in eastern Canada. The Strait is formed by Prince Edward Island and the Gulf's eastern, southern and western shores.

The western boundary of the Strait is delineated by a line running between North Cape, Prince Edward Island and Point Escuminac, New Brunswick while the eastern boundary is delineated by a line running between East Point, Prince Edward Island and Inverness, Nova Scotia.

Historical Relevance

Barb MacNeill, Evelyn (Henry) Brown, and Andrea Brown, the third, first, and fourth women to swim the strait, respectively.

In 1963 and 1964, the swim across the Strait was part of the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation circuit. Participating swimmers included Regent LaCoursière (credited as John LaCoursière), Herman Willemse, and George Park.

Recorded Swims

Swim details have been retrieved from various reports in the news media. Sources of those reports and recorded times are maintained by In the absence of an official recording body, there is no guarantee that these details are correct or complete.

The list has been broken into two parts:

  • The first portion lists those successful swims that employed no aids to swimming – e.g. no wetsuits, flippers, hand paddles, periods out of the water, or periods holding onto a supporting object, etc.
  • The second section lists unsuccessful attempts and swims using swimming aids (primarily wetsuit-aided swims).

Confederation Bridge

Confederation Bridge with numbered piers

The Confederation Bridge spans the Northumberland Strait at its narrowest crossing. The bridge is 12.9 km (8.1 miles) long, including the approaches. The bridge, which curves, does not take the shortest path across the Strait.

The Confederation Bridge gives a sense of progress across the middle 11 km (6.9 miles) of the Strait: the bridge has 44 main piers spaced 250 meters (273 yards) apart.

Water Temperature

Average sea surface temperatures between August 22-28, 2010. Canadian geography spans the coasts of PEI, NS, NB, and QU. US geography spans the coasts of ME, NH, MA, RI, CT, NY, and NJ.

The Strait's shallow depths lend to warm water temperatures in summer months, with some areas reaching 25°C (77°F). Consequently the Strait is reportedly home to the warmest ocean water temperatures in Canada, and some of the warmest ocean water temperatures on the Atlantic coast north of Virginia.

During the winter months between December and April, sea ice typically covers the entire Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The St. Lawrence Global Observatory offers near real-time and cumulative historical data through detailed information about sea surface temperature and ice coverage (via its Remote Sensing and Ice Concentration services).

All successful swims to date have been completed between July 15 and September 6. Temperatures between mid-July and early September typically range between 18-22°C (64-72°F).

Marine Life

Fisheries and Oceans Canada created a web-based mapping application for the "Traditional Fisheries Knowledge for the Southern Gulf of Saint Lawrence" to display species data collected from local fishers between 1995 and 1996. Chart 4406 shows the data collected in the most-swum area of the Strait.


Jellyfish can be a challenge in the Northumberland Strait during the summer months. According to the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, only five of the 56 species of jellyfish that occur in Atlantic Canadian waters are harmful to humans. Lion's Mane jellyfish are dominant, with moon jellies present to a lesser extent. Portuguese man-o-war are rare in Atlantic Canada, and only get blown into Atlantic Canadian waters by the gulf stream at the end of summer.

At the height of their season, the frequency of jellyfish can be overwhelming, and can be as high as one jellyfish for every 4 square metres. Jellyfish seem to concentrate at the shore, and begin to die out during late July.


Harbour and Grey seals are common in the Strait. Harbour Porpoises and Atlantic White-sided Dolphins are common in the summer and autumn.


The leatherback turtle, an endangered species, is rarely seen in the Strait. The Leatherback turtle eats Lion's Mane Jellyfish almost exclusively.


American Lobster are present and fished in the Strait. There are large crabs near shore; swimmers would be wise to look before putting their feet down.


Fishermen claim that the area of the Strait near the Confederation Bridge is too shallow for sharks, and state that they have never seen them in the vicinity. (Near the bridge, the Strait only reaches a depth of 26 metres.) However, Fisheries and Oceans Canada documents the presence of Great White Sharks in the Northumberland Strait.



A Swim the Strait facebook group has formed to support swimmers in their quests to swim the Strait.

Supervising Authorities

  • Coast Guard Joint Rescue Coordination: 800-565-1582 or 902-427-8200
  • Confederation Bridge Security at Strait Crossing Bridge Limited: 902-437-7349
  • Transport Canada - Guidelines for Navigation Under the Confederation Bridge
  • Coast Guard, Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre (Northumberland Traffic): 800-686-8676 or 902-564-7751
  • PEI RCMP: 902-566-7112
  • New Brunswick RCMP: 506-452-3400


The Northumberland Strait experiences predictable but irregular tides. Due to the tides and currents, swimmers invariably cover a V-shaped course, with the deviation from a straight-line being dependent upon their speed and the phase of the moon (Spring tide or neap tide).

In contrast with the tides of the English Channel, which change 3-6 metres between high and low tide, the tides of the Northumberland Strait are far gentler, changing 2 metres at most, and occasionally not changing at all.

During the summer of 2012, the tides at Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick range between 3h 34 minutes and 8h 17 minutes. Tide information can be found on the website of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.


Vectors predicting direction and velocity of currents in the Northumberland Strait on April 26, 2012 at 02:00.

Typical currents peak at 2.1 knots (3.9 km/h) during the spring tide and, once each summer month, run at a minimum of 0.7-1.0 knots (1.3-1.9 km/h). Information on the tidal currents can be found in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' Canadian Tide and Current Tables. This information recently became available (free) online. Print books are available at authorized chart dealers, and often in public libraries.

The St. Lawrence Global Observatory offers detailed predictions of current vectors via its Surface Currents service.

Lobster Seasons

There are two separate lobster fishing seasons in the Northumberland Strait.

In Atlantic Canada, lobster fishing seasons are determined by districts called LFAs (lobster fishing areas). The fishing season in LFAs 26A and 26B, covering the eastern side of the Strait, typically runs from May 1 to June 30. The lobster season in the western side of the Strait, LFA 25, typically runs from August 10 to October 10. The shortest path across the Strait is located in LFA 25. Specific start dates can vary, and can be modified based on adverse weather.

See for a map of Atlantic Canada's lobster fishing districts.

See for announcements regarding fishing season dates. In 2011, the seasons were scheduled for April 30 to July 1 (LFA 26), and August 9 to October 10 (LFA 25).

External links