The Powell River Queen is one of the vessels that will be replaced by BC Ferries by 2021. (BC Ferries)

Gulf Islands to get smaller ferries, more sailings

New BC Ferries strategy promises fewer delays

For many travellers, ferry delays are frustrating, particularly long delays due to mechanical breakdown. However, BC Ferries is shifting their strategy with incoming new ships, choosing to use two smaller ferries on routes once served by one large ferry.

In their Performance Term Five submission to the BC Ferries Commissioner (who will decide the rate hikes next year), BC Ferries explained their strategy. They said using two smaller ships instead of one larger ship adds “increased capacity and resiliency into the system, and ensures continuity of service during an unplanned event with the remaining vessel,” (like a mechanical problem).

“You’ll end up getting more frequency on a route, more foot passenger carrying capacity,” said Deborah Marshall, executive director of public affairs for BC Ferries. She said some Gulf Island routes were getting busier, but the terminals could not be expanded to accomodate bigger ferries. One example is on Gabriola Island.

“Instead of us buying the neighbour’s house or something like that to expand our holding compound, having two smaller ferries with more frequent service means you’re moving traffic out in smaller pulses, more frequently, so you don’t need to expand the holding compound.”

RELATED: BC Ferries wants five new ships

This strategy would be used on the Nanaimo Harbour to Gabriola Island, and then Campbell River to Quadra Island (among many others).

These routes will be getting Island-class ferries, which will have the capacity to carry 47 vehicles and up to 450 passengers and crew. They will have a number of key features that support BC Ferries’ goal to be efficient and environmentally responsible throughout its system. Highlights include:

  • A hybrid diesel electric design which is “quiet, smooth and efficient compared to traditional diesel propulsion. The design allows for future expansion of the on board battery capacity to permit full electric operation when the shore-side charging capacities are available.”
  • Engines which operate on ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel, which has lower environmental impact than regular marine diesel oil.
  • Hull, propeller and thruster design that minimizes underwater radiated noise for the health of sea life like Southern Resident Killer Whales
  • Arrangements to minimize shipboard vibration and airborne noise to improve conditions for communities, passengers and crew.
  • A fully contained waste water handling system which eliminates discharges to the sea.

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