Always a topic of debate, we asked BC Ferries to explain the logic – and what’s changed – when it comes to loading and unloading vehicles from Quinsam.

First, the short answer

– BC Ferries has a standard for all crews and are striving for consistency in loading/unloading.
– Yes, there was a trial procedure in the past months, and customers may have seen differences between crews.
– However, because no two loads are identical, the loader/discharger require some flexibility in order to minimise risk and maximise efficiency, and are expected to use their discretion in the execution of their duties.

Now, the longer answer

Because of the variety of traffic that arrives for each sailing, there has to be some flexibility and 100% consistency is not a practical objective. However, BC Ferries does aim for consistency across all crews. To this end, the following are now our standard loading and unloading procedures, where traffic conditions permit:


–      The first three vehicles in line are directed down lane 1 (middle),
–      The next three are loaded down lane 2, and the three vehicles following that are put down lane 3.
–      Next, large vehicles (commercials, RVs etc) are loaded down the remainder of lane 1.
–      Full size trucks and larger personal vehicles are loaded down lanes 2 and 3.
–      Finally, small vehicles are loaded down the outboard lanes (4 & 5).

The reason for loading our traffic lanes according to vehicle size, is to provide sufficient space between vehicles and enable customers to get out of their cars. We have found from experience that this is the best method of loading the ship so as to ensure we carry as many vehicles as possible.


–      The first three vehicles from lane 1, 2 and 3 are discharged first.
–      Then, the remainder of the centre lane is unloaded, followed by the lanes on either side (Lanes 2 & 3).
–      Finally, the outboard lanes (4 and 5) are discharged last.

Why has BC Ferries adopted this standard?

This process was started earlier this year after a couple of accidents on deck where large vehicles contacted smaller vehicles in the lane immediately to starboard of the centreline. By clearing the area occupied by the first three vehicles in the three middle lanes, we alleviate some risk, where larger vehicles turning onto the ramp risked hitting the sides of these cars and trucks. This is particularly important in Gabriola, where the ship tends to lie at a slight angle to the ramp. It also helps to open the working area on the bow of the ship for our crew, thus improving workplace safety. In addition, this attempts to ensure that the first 9 vehicles on, are the first 9 vehicles off, although this is completely dependent on the expected traffic.

Trial & Results

Yes, in an attempt to address customer concerns, a trial was run using one of our watches this summer. After ‘the first nine vehicles’, we offloaded the lanes either side of the centre lane first, followed by the outboard lanes and finally the centre lane. The idea behind this was to hold back the large heavy commercial vehicles and large recreational vehicles so that they did not hold up smaller, faster traffic, and it also enabled us to load the centre lane last, but retain some semblance of discharging in the order of loading.

This trial had positive and negative aspects, but we felt that the current method of middle lane first was safer and more efficient. Because this was done with just one of three watches (crews), customer comments regarding inconsistency may have come from experiencing this trial on occasion.


Although the process outlined above is now being used as the standard procedure for all watches, the type of traffic that is actually boarding may dictate discretion in the process. For example, large loads of commercial/RV traffic may mean the crew needs to alter the standard to ensure they can safely load as many vehicles as possible. The most common adjustment is that we do not load the first three cars in the centre lane, because we require this space for large or commercial traffic. Additionally, space in the adjacent lanes may also need to be made for commercial vehicles.

As well, crew are expected to use their discretion and break from the normal procedures where they perceive that contact between vehicles could result due to lack of space between the lanes or any other reason. As our crew cannot see the entire mix of traffic waiting when loading in Gabriola, they need to load for the traffic that they expect to receive based on the time of year, day of the week, time of day and/or expected commercial traffic.

Ultimately, we do our very best to ensure that we carry as many vehicles as we can in a safe and efficient manner. Whether a customer is loaded into the centre lane or one of our outboard lanes is not a reflection upon the individual driving the vehicle, but upon the size of the vehicle that they are driving and the other factors outlined above.

Our thanks to Quinsam’s Senior Master, Captain Mark Waugh, for providing this comprehensive explanation.

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