BC Ferries launched its summer schedule Thursday by adding more sailings and staff, but warns customers to expect some cancellations.
The summer schedule has an additional five ferries added into service on routes between Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and the Southern Gulf Islands.
This will provide more than 4,700 additional sailings over the three-month period ending Labour Day, expecting to move nearly 2.6 million vehicles and almost 7 million passengers through Sept. 5.
BC Ferries said to support this transition it held its largest hiring initiative in the company’s history, adding more than 1,200 staff in the last year. This includes 140 recently recruited professional mariners with more than 70 from Ukraine.
“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 release.
“Even though we have more people, we are short backup 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.”
By regulation, all vessels require a minimum number of skilled mariners before a sailing can depart.
BC Ferries said backup crews are particularly thin at Swartz Bay and Nanaimo, meaning even one or two crew absences can result in a cancelled sailing.
Last year, more than 300 sailings were cancelled due to crew shortages between June and August.
While it’s only a small fraction of overall sailings, the company admits if you are on those cancelled routes, the impact is significant.
“Two things are true about that number, one, 98.5 per cent of all the sailings you run in a year go, which is great. But, the challenge is, you (customers) don’t care that we’re 98.5 per cent successful if it’s your sailing that’s cancelled on the one day that you need to travel,” said Jimenez.
“The issues we’re facing are complex and while we’re hiring more people, boosting training budgets and cross-training staff so they can be re-deployed in areas of greatest need, getting to long-term reliability and sustainability will take time.”
He is also extending a heartfelt thanks to the BC Ferries team for their ongoing dedication, offering back-up when they can to mitigate impacts to customer service where possible.
BC Ferries will continue to go to work to hire more staff. The company admitted compensation for some positions has fallen behind, and that they’re going to sit down with the union this summer to try and fix it.
“We know that there are gaps and we know that we need to address those gaps. We have to negotiate with the union how we do that, on what roles by what amount, but certainly compensation is an issue,” said Jimenez.
To alleviate some of the travel stress this summer, BC Ferries has suggested some travel tips.
Customers are encouraged to book in advance, consider off peak travel times and arrive at the terminal early, even if you have a reservation.
BC Ferries also posts its most up-to-date information on Twitter.