and minor heliports and other airfields within or adjacent to the Shearwater Control Zone:
Halifax South End, Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, IWK Health Centre, DND Willow Park, Porters Lake.

Last updated December 15, 2019

Back to Bill's homepage.    Wikipedia article about Shearwater.

This is not intended to be a detailed description. Information presented here should not be used for navigational purposes.


Shearwater frequencies at a glance

126.2 Advisory (Mandatory Frequency "Traffic" when tower unmanned)
129.175 ATIS
121.7 & 250.1 Ground
344.6 PMSV (Pilot Weather)
308.8 Base Ops
239.3 423 Squadron Ops
312.1 406 Squadron Ops
231.95 DIP Sector
149.35 Ground vehicle retransmission of aero frequencies
119.0, 340.2, 360.2 are secondary backups or retransmissions of 126.2

134.1 & 289.4 (& 128.1 backup) "Shearwater Radar" - Ground Controlled Approach

Many of these frequencies are used only sporadically, if at all.

Note that the fire department and Military Police use the provincial TMR system.

Photo Caption:  This is a modern aerial photo of Shearwater, current in 2019.  Historical runways are still evident. The former Runway 16/34 is the longest one extending prominently at an angle on the right.  It is abandoned but relatively intact except for some unknown usage at the top left end.  Older runway segments include the one extending almost straight up and down on the photo.  This has not been used in many years.  Runway 10/28 extends nearly horizontally across the photo.  It was in use until at least the 1980's but only the narrowed west end containing helicopter pads remains in use.  The wider east end is unused.  All of the light coloured wide runways on the upper right and with X's painted on them are actually outside the modern Shearwater base property, and are awaiting an uncertain fate.  The shorter runway extending at a 45 degree angle down the middle of the photo is the modern Runway 16H/34H.  It is based on a long disused older runway (clearly seen in the historical photo) whose extent is easily seen in the cleared grassy areas.  This modern runway is capable of being used by military STOL flights if necessary.  There is yet another disused runway remnant, that being the section in the middle of the photo extending at a 45 degree angle at right angles to the 16/34 runways. Most of it was long ago incorporated into the large rectangular ramp.  

The historical photo from 1965 shown below depicts the five physical runways much more clearly, although even at that time one of them (without the dashed centre line) was apparently no longer in use as a runway.    Note that this is from the era in which there were two parallel runways (modern alignment 16/34)

Oblique View of Shearwater in its Heydey.  Four runways in use.


The Shearwater heliport is the east coast base for the ship-borne fleet of CH-148 Cyclone helicopters.  Suffice to say that it began as a US Navy patrol base at the tail end of World War I in 1918. After transitioning to Canadian control in 1920 It went through several identities as an air force station and then as a Royal Canadian Naval Air Station, and then with unification it became CFB Shearwater. Up until the 1970’s and early 80’s it was a significantly busy fixed wing and helicopter base. Its runway 16/34 was the longest in Nova Scotia, and there was several times a week scheduled Boeing 707 (CC-137) traffic carrying service personnel between various parts of the country.

For the past several years Shearwater has existed as a much down-sized helicopter-only facility. Its fixed wing runways have been closed and to some extent removed, however the long 16/34 still physically exists, but is now outside the perimeter fence, and under the ownership of the Canada Lands Corporation. Some of us remain hopeful that someday it will be put back into use. I can certainly recall my own flights (as a passenger) in Boeing 707 and Hercules service aircraft, and as well with my son piloting light aircraft there as part of his studies with the NS Community College.

There now exist two helicopter runways that in theory can support STOL fixed wing aircraft. These runways 16H/34H and 10H/28H are quite short but are based on old runways that existed long ago in the early days of the field. Only the 16/34 runway is marked as a runway. There are a number of helicopter landing spots visible on the modern air photo, but it is unclear as to which ones remain in use.  The pads on runway 10/28 do appear to be current.

Due to downsizing, Shearwater has become a component of CFB Halifax, though I still call it CFB Shearwater when I am not being careful in my speech. It is operated by, and as, 12 Wing of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The flying units hosted are 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron and 406 Maritime Operational Training Squadron. Note that the Canadian Coast Guard bases at least one of its helicopters at Shearwater.

Due to downsizing the tower at Shearwater is now technically not a tower at all.  As far as I know the personnel do not carry out actual control functions and provide an advsiory service only.  This may mean that the personnel are not air traffic controllers (which is an officer category in the armed forces) and may be non-commissioned members.  The area under the supervision of Shearwater is still referred to as a control zone (CZ) but the personnel do not actually tell pilots what to do.  The CZ extends in a circle around the field to a distance of 5 nautical miles. Most of the time the tower is unmanned and when this is the case, the advisory area is further downgraded so that aircraft passing through merely announce intentions and listen for other aircraft doing the same. Note that the Shearwater area includes the peninsula of Halifax, and therefore the helicopters going to and from the hospitals frequently are heard on the Shearwater 126.2 frequency.

Being a military base, there are UHF frequencies as well as VHF frequencies, but for the most part VHF is used. The ATIS usually is simply a looped announcement that the tower is unmanned and that aircraft transitting should announce on 126.2. if you listen to the ATIS frequency and hear an actual typical ATIS message indicating weather and active runway, you will know that the tower is in use.

The PAR system is also referred to as GCA, Ground Controlled Approach. In this system the ground-based radar operator talks the pilot in. The call sign and everyday designation for this frequency is “Shearwater Radar”.This is normally heard on 134.1, but its use is not an everyday event.


Helipads on the Halifax peninsula

Users of these pads all use 126.2 for their approaches and departures


Halifax (South End)


This pad is operated by the Halifax Harbour Authority, and is open to use by prior permission.  It has had extensive use in the past when the two hospital pads were not accessible by Lifeflight helicopters.


Halifax (IWK Health Centre)


Pilots are also advised on TMR radio by a Landing Zone officer


Halifax (Queen Elizabeth II Health Science Centre)


Pilots are also advised on TMR radio by a Landing Zone officer


Halifax (Windsor Park)


This is a military pad. Aircraft may also use 239.3 UHF (Shearwater Military)


Note that there are several other helicopter facilities within Nova Scotia other than at Shearwater and Halifax International. The largest of these is CFB Greenwood, which is also a fixed-wing base. Another very significant helicopter base is that belonging to the NS Department of Lands & Forestry at East Shubenacadie in Colchester County. This facility houses four Airbus 350 helicopters. Each of these is painted identically other than civil registration marks and the numbers 1 to 4 that easily match the on-air call signs Patrol 1 to 4.


Porters Lake


Mandatory Frequency: 123.2

Porters Lake lies just east of the Shearwater control zone and therefore aircraft heading in and out will often be heard on 126.2.  This is a registered private airfield that has very little traffic on its 2400' gravel and turf runway15/33.  In fact there is much more vehicle traffic crossing or passing along the runway edge than there are aircraft movements.  In the photo you will note several long driveways connecting to the gravel road situated beside the runway. Note that 123.2 is the standard frequency across Canada for small airfields that have no ground-based communications facility, and therefore is entirely a self-announce situation.