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Cancellations expected as BC Ferries launches summer schedule

Staff shortages continue to plague ferry sailings

Natasha Baldin/News Staff

BC Ferries is warning passengers to expect service interruptions over the next few months as its summer schedule comes into effect.

The summer schedule will put five more ferries into service and add more than 4,700 sailings on a number of routes, including between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay. But amid staffing shortages, BC Ferries said smooth sailing cannot always be guaranteed.

Despite having undergone the largest hiring initiative in its 63-year history by adding more than 1,200 staff, BC Ferries said back-up crews are particularly thin at Swartz Bay and Nanaimo, “meaning even one or two crew absences can result in a cancelled sailing,” according to a news release.

“We’ve done a lot to ensure smooth sailing this summer, but we need to be prepared that not all ships will sail all of the time,” said BC Ferries President and CEO Nicolas Jimenez, in a news release. “Even though we have more people, we are short back-up staff in key positions to cover unexpected absences. I hope customers will continue to offer their understanding as we grapple with retirements and a global shortage of 21,000 professional mariners.”

BC Ferries said they are expecting to move nearly 2.6 million vehicles and almost seven million passengers during the summer season, which will finish following the Labour Day weekend.

Last summer, more than 300 sailings were cancelled due to crew shortages.

READ MORE: BC Ferries hiring binge aims to fill 500 positions to stem wave of sailing cancellations

BC Ferries offered summer travel tips for passengers hoping to avoid delays:

• Book in advance – Book early to secure a spot on the sailing of your choice. Book online at Customers with advance bookings do not experience sailing waits, even when multiple waits are reported. Customers with flexibility can travel at off-peak times to avoid the rush and in many instances travel at a reduced fare.

• Consider off-peak travel times – Customers travelling with vehicles without an advance booking will likely experience sailing waits at peak times. Be prepared for sailing waits if you are travelling without a booking. The best option to avoid sailing waits is to travel during less busy times. These are typically mid-week days and early morning or late evening sailings.

• Ride-share, if possible – Vehicle deck space fills up quickly. Customers are encouraged to carpool or take public transit. For schedule information visit TransLink or BC Transit.

• Consider parking options – Parking lots at the major terminals also fill up quickly on long weekends. If possible, choose public transit or arrange to be dropped off at the terminal to avoid traffic congestion. Parking lot status by terminal is provided via Twitter @BCFerries and on our website.

• Arrive early – Customers with advance bookings should plan to arrive at the terminal 45-60 minutes before their scheduled departure. Walk-on passengers should arrive 45 minutes early for their anticipated sailing. If you have an important appointment or connection with another ferry or flight, travel on an earlier ferry. For travel certainty and a faster check-in process, walk-on passengers can book in advance online on select routes.

• Consider travelling on Saturday of a long weekend – Heavy traffic is expected Thursday into Friday and Sunday into Monday morning. It’s always a good idea to check current conditions before heading to the terminal and review the routes-at-a-glance page.

• Prepare for warm weather – pack your sunscreen, a sun hat and plenty of water for you and your pets. Misting stations will be in place for customers to cool down at major terminals, as well as many minor staffed terminals.