As you may have heard on the news, BC Ferries is anticipating the potential for sailing disruptions on all routes, and particularly on its minor, inter-island routes over the coming months. Unfortunately, this includes the Gabriola-Nanaimo route. They have provided the following background for communities that may be impacted.

Causes of service disruptions

Service disruptions are possible across the BC Ferries system due to a combination of factors, including:

  • Impact of winter storms that have been affecting vessel operations and staff availability
  • Potential of the highly contagious Omicron variant to impact employee wellness
  • The impact of cold and flu season on employee wellness
  • Staff vacancies created by a global shortage of experienced mariners
  • Unvaccinated shipboard employees being placed on leave without pay by January 24 in accordance with vaccination policies (The remainder of employees are required to be fully vaccinated by February 28)

Contingency plans

BC Ferries has several layers of contingency plans in place to mitigate the risk of service disruptions including:

  • Staffing pools with crew held in reserve
  • Cross-training employees so they can be redeployed from one location to another as required
  • Overtime pay for employees who cover gaps

The combination of factors noted above has the potential to overwhelm all layers of contingency planning and BC Ferries will need to modify service.

Modified service planning

  • If BC Ferries is unable to maintain regular operations, it will modify service, seeking to maintain the maximum amount of service possible for the route
  • While a route may operate on a modified schedule, no route is expected to be suspended completely
  • How service is modified is specific to each route and to the nature of the service disruption
  • Whenever possible, BC Ferries seeks to provide supplemental service (such as by water taxi) during times the ferry would normally be operating

The crewing process

  • Crewing is a complex, logistical task that considers the individual’s qualifications and the number of skilled mariners required for the various roles onboard each vessel, as well as where they live and work
  • Regulations require these positions to be filled with the appropriate crew, or the vessel cannot sail:
    • Large vessels require 30 to 50 crew on each shift, with two shifts daily
    • Smaller vessels like those on the inter-Island routes can require five to 10 crew, also in shifts
  • Even a small number of crew that are unavailable to sail can have a significant impact on service if replacements are challenging to find

These staffing challenges are not unique to BC Ferries:

  • Public health officials now suggest as many as 20 to 30 percent of employees may test positive for COVID because of the more contagious Omicron variant
  • Transportation industries across the country are experiencing similar challenges and disruptions, e.g. the airline industry
  • If a shipboard or terminal employee tests positive for COVID, they are required to be absent from work for a minimum of five-to-10 days, and longer if their symptoms persist

Notification of service disruptions

  • As staff shortages may not be known until an employee calls in sick, it is possible for service disruptions to occur on short notice
  • Where disruptions are likely or anticipated, BC Ferries will provide as much advance notice as possible
  • Customers can also stay up to date in several ways:

BC Ferries COVID Protocols

  • The health and safety of our customers and employees remains BC Ferries’ priority
  • BC Ferries supports the federal and provincial Health Officers’ position that vaccination and other safety protocols that have been put into place are the most effective tools to reduce the risk of COVID-19
  • BC Ferries adheres to Transport Canada’s regulations which are in the public interest and protect broader public health
  • BC Ferries has implemented many enhanced safety measures, including social distancing with plexiglass screens, additional cleaning and sanitization, and a mask wearing policy for employees and customers

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One Comment

  1. Seems that whether or not it is a popular thought the idea of a bridge becomes more and more relevant considering the population growth on our and other islands. A bridge of course would present new problems but at least it would be a stable situation and reliable unlike the ferry situation which has become more and more costly and untrustworthy. On a day to day situation the ferry schedule is a joke. I personally don’t have a need for a constant ferry service. I LIVE HERE on Gabriola and don’t feel the need to spend time in Nanaimo. I’m not a SHOPPER and what little consumer products I purchase I try to obtain in my own neighbourhood. Thank you to our local stores for their service. Good luck to those people who must travel daily for work. For those who must daily travel forth and back and who moved here to get away from the traffic in the city it must be frustrating to be back in the same situation where sitting in the ferry line is not any different that being in line-ups in the city. Just my observations week to week.

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