Free WiFi at Descanso Bay and Nanaimo Harbour Ferry Terminals

A long standing item has been ticked off the wish list of many Gabriolans.

Last year the BC Government announced that it was providing funding though the Connecting British Columbia program to deliver Wi-Fi service at 14 ferry terminals serving communities from the Southern Gulf Islands to Bella Bella. As of yesterday, the FAC has been advised that this service is now live at both our Gabriola and Nanaimo terminals.

For more information see BC Ferries’ website here.

Island Class Vessel Trials Set for Next Week

BC Ferries has announced that the Island Aurora will supplement the Quinsam next Tuesday to Thursday in preparation for the launch of the the Island Class vessel service starting this spring. BC Ferries has further advised that there is no set schedule for when the Aurora will be in each port, as the crew will need flexibility to pick up loads as it makes sense for their trial efforts. They will be assessing the conditions, new ideas for procedures, etc. What this means for customers is that the Aurora may just show up in dock while the Quinsam is at the other terminal, creating unexpected sailing opportunities.

From the Service Notice:

BC Ferries will trial two-ship service between Nanaimo Harbour and Descanso Bay (Gabriola Island) January 25-27. The Quinsam and Island Aurora will run the trials with plans to make two ferry service a permanent fixture in the spring.


Dock fitting will take place January 24 with trial service starting January 25. The trial period will give crews the chance to monitor travel and loading times and validate the schedule for two-ship service.


During the trial there is no change to scheduled sailing times although customers will have additional sailing opportunities throughout the day as Island Aurora will be running opposite the Quinsam. There may be a reduction in the number of pay parking spaces at Nanaimo Harbour to accommodate the additional crew.

After this trial is complete, BC Ferries will analyse what they’ve learned, and we will then aim to confirm the final schedules they will put in place when two Island Class ships start service in Spring.

BC Ferries Potential Service Disruptions

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

Quinsam Returning to Regular Service Wednesday, Nov. 24

Excellent news! The Gabriola FAC has been advised by BC Ferries that regular service on our route will resume on Wednesday, November 24. Recent training efforts have been successful in filling the gap. However BC Ferries did qualify this announcement with the following statement – “We are planning for a full return to service moving forward, however we still have a shortage of crew on this route, which means the situation remains dynamic and we will let you know as quickly as possible if anything changes.”
The FAC is meeting with BC Ferries at 4pm and will share any new information received as a result of that meeting.

Modified Ferry Schedule – Frequently Asked Questions

Update as of Nov. 22 – The FAC continues to hear reports of difficulties finding the location of the water taxi in Nanaimo. Please scroll down to below the FAQ for a couple of maps to help you.

Update as of Nov. 19 – The FAC met again with BC Ferries this afternoon and received further updates which have been added to the table below in bold.

This afternoon the Gabriola FAC met with BC Ferries and received updates as well as answers to many of the questions and concerns raised by the community.

Most of you are probably already aware of some of the highlights such as increased frequency of water taxis in the morning and the ability to park at the Port Theatre when leaving your vehicle in town and submit your parking receipts for reimbursement.

The detailed FAQ provided by BC Ferries is reproduced below:

Issue/QuestionResponse
Why are service disruptions occurring on this route?The service disruptions on the Nanaimo Harbour – Gabriola Island route result from a combination of the short-term impact of BC Ferries’ mandatory vaccination policy and crewing shortages being experienced by the marine industry around the globe.
 
The implementation of a mandatory vaccination policy that aligns with Transport Canada’s new Interim Order No. 7 has meant that unvaccinated and undeclared employees are unable to board BC Ferries vessels. This in combination with a limited number of trained and qualified crew to pull from has created a crew shortage that is limiting our ability to operate the vessel on its regular schedule.
 
https://tc.canada.ca/en/ministerial-orders-interim-orders-directives-directions-response-letters/interim-order-no-7-respecting-passenger-vessel-restrictions-due-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
How long will this service disruption last?The modified schedule will be in place on the Nanaimo Harbour – Gabriola Island route at least until the end of the day November 23 (this is not a fixed date).
 
This is a fluid situation and we are doing everything we can to address the shortage of crew on this route. We will continue to keep the community updated.
What is BCF doing to resolve the issue?BC Ferries is working closely with the BC Ferry & Marine Workers’ Union and is actively reaching out to onboard employees who have yet to report to ensure they understand the requirements and encourage them to submit their vaccination status attestations and comply as soon as possible.
 
In addition, we continue to work on sourcing crew members to staff this route. We know this is a frustrating and challenging situation for the community and we are exploring all available avenues to return service to normal.   

We are training crew to create additional resources that can be deployed onto the ship (cross-training ship and terminal crew).

How long will training take? – We are compressing training windows to get crew on to the ship as soon as possible. 8 days being compressed for 3-4 days.

If employees are on leave without pay is the position considered vacant and could be filled? Will filling the positions be temporary? We won’t post against those jobs until we are able to work further with the Union. But in the meantime someone will be filling the roles as required.
Can BCF redeploy a different vessel to solve crewing issue? Is a split shift an option?Deploying a different vessel would not solve the challenges related to crew shortages, and could create knock-on impacts to other areas of the system.
 
The modified schedule is designed to provide regular ferry service across the typically busiest times of day. Supplementing with water taxi outside of those times.  A split shift is likely to create overload situations for vehicle traffic with a mid-day gap, placing additional strain on available sailing times.
 
Further feedback from FAC: Can we consider a split shift to give space in the middle of day and more service early/later? We can pass this request on for consideration. The decision to move to a split shift requires involvement and approval of the Union as well as BC Ferries.
Will BCF reimburse customers for pay parking or organize for complimentary parking nearby?Yes. We will reimburse customers for paid parking at nearby parkades and lots. Customers simply need to keep their receipts and send them in to BC Ferries at:
 
Email: customer.relations@bcferries.com
Phone: 1-888-223-3779
Mail: BC Ferries
Attn: Customer Relations
Suite 500-1321 Blanshard Street
Victoria, BC V8W 0B7
 
The Port Theatre parkade offers parking close to the Nanaimo Harbour ferry terminal.
Is it possible to contract a larger water taxi?We have confirmed an additional six-person water taxi for the morning between 05:15 and 07:30 Monday to Friday. Taxis will run in shuttle mode from opposite sides providing service approximately every 10 minutes during the busy morning sailings.
 
We will continue to monitor the situation over the coming days.

We have found an even larger water taxi (12 ppl) for the mornings Monday – Friday in addition to the 10 person taxi.

Are we keeping track of how full the taxis are and how many left behind? We are now tracking this. The person on the dock call to the booth to report number on the taxi and anyone waiting. If anyone is waiting they will enter shuttle mode.
Can we shuttle in AM to ensure commuters are able to travel as easily and quickly as possible during disruptions?The water taxi did go into shuttle mode this morning (November 18) but it was not moving enough people. We have sourced an additional water taxi and both boats will work in shuttle mode from 05:15 to 07:30 Monday to Friday, providing service approximately every 10 minutes.   
 
Further feedback from FAC: If taxi is waiting to fill up with 10 people on the Nanaimo Harbour side before transiting back to Gabriola this will create unnecessary delays in shuttle mode since the majority of traffic moves from Gabriola to Nanaimo Harbour in the mornings. BCF will pass this feedback on to operational staff.

Did not hear anything on the water taxi service this morning. Sounds as if things ran smoothly.

May need to make high school aware of modified service so they don’t keep kids late for activities. We will follow up.

Water taxi can accommodate bicycles.
Can customers call the water taxi directly for pick up?Customers cannot call the water taxi directly but we are happy to help with this. Terminal staff are situated at the water taxi docks  on both the Nanaimo Harbour and Gabriola side during operation and are able to provide information, answer questions and trigger shuttle mode when people are waiting.
Can a map be provided to customers at the Nanaimo Harbour ticket booth to show where to go for water taxi service?Sandwich board signs are being created to provide easy way-finding for customers. These should be installed in the next day or two.
 
Further feedback from FAC: Dock F is a few minutes walk from Nanaimo Harbour terminal and is not easy to find. There are safety concerns with kids trying to find the dock in the dark and more needs to be done to ensure safe wayfinding. BC Ferries will look to put something in place sooner than the signs and report back at the next meeting.
 
Is it possible to have temporary shelter erected at the dock to provide comfort for waiting customers? BC Ferries will take this feedback away and report back at the next meeting. Have call into Nanaimo Port Authority to see if we can erect tent to keep folks dry at the dock. Umbrellas are also an idea for helping to keep ppl more comfortable.

Signage is going up as we speak to help guide people down to the dock and we will work on getting a map to the booth today.

We were getting feedback that boarding passes were inconvenient for folks, so we moved to a first-come-first-serve at the water taxi dock. We are not charging for passage.
What time do people need to arrive to catch the water taxi, i.e. is there a cut-off time?There is no cut-off time for the water taxi as long as customers arrive prior to sailing time.
Is there communication between the ticket booth and the water taxi so the booth can let the taxi know when people are on their way down if it’s getting close to departure time?
There is communication between the booth and staff on water taxi dock, and the taxi will hold if customers are making their way from the booth to the dock close to departure time.
Will the taxi go into shuttle mode in the evening if people are waiting?Yes. Terminal staff are situated at the water taxi dock on both the Nanaimo Harbour and Gabriola side during operation and are able to trigger shuttle mode when people are waiting.
 
BCF will monitor numbers and if there is an increase in capacity in the evening we can look to add another taxi.
How will the taxi know to go into shuttle mode if people begin to gather after the taxi has left?Terminal staff are situated at the water taxi dock on both the Nanaimo Harbour and Gabriola side during operation and are able to trigger shuttle mode when people are waiting.
Will commercial deliveries to the Island be impacted by this disruption?We are not aware of any impacts at this time to commercial traffic at this time, but this is something we will monitor closely. We encourage the FAC to let us know if they hear of any disruptions or concerns related to commercial goods and services.
 
Further feedback from FAC: There may be impact to construction staff and equipment who are not able to come over as early as usual.
 
Stores and restaurants who rely on early morning deliveries have also had to adjust staff schedules to accept deliveries later than normal.

Sounds like the grocery store is missing early morning deliveries (5am), arrives later in morning instead of night before impacting ability to staff/stock.

BCEHS is working with Harbour Patrol Boat and helicopter to supplement BCF service in light of disruptions. Challenges to using Harbour Patrol Boat as supplemental service, however feeling well prepared to get across water if/as needed.

RCMP also use Harbour Patrol Boat for after-hours needs. Will make adjustments/assessments as needs arise.
Could the route operate normally if the Nanaimo office allowed unvaccinated crew to take rapid COVID tests? Is this being done on other routes?
 
What crew is this route short on, e.g. deckhands? Are we generally short-staffed? Is it that staff are under-vaccinated, won’t attest?
BC Ferries’ mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy aligns with Transport Canada’s new Interim Order No. 7 and applies to all employees at BC Ferries regardless of route or position.
 
Transport Canada regulations require all ship-board employees to attest to having at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in order board the vessel. Any ship-based employee who is partially vaccinated (that is, they have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination) is required to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test before beginning their shift on a vessel.
 
The service disruptions on this route are a short-term impact of the BC Ferries mandatory vaccination policy. In line with other organizations, approximately 1.6 per cent of employees have indicated they are unvaccinated. A small number of employees are seeking accommodations and these cases are currently being reviewed. The Nanaimo Harbour – Gabriola route is the only route affected by a crew shortage at this time.
 
We are not able to disclose the details of specific staff positions or vaccination status for privacy reasons.
How will we handle special-case scenarios, i.e. people returning home after medical treatment who are unable to take the water taxi?We are happy to accommodate these passengers with priority loading at the terminal. Customers simply need to identify themselves to the terminal booth attendant when they arrive.
 
Those customers connecting through the Horseshoe Bay – Departure Bay or Tsawwassen – Duke Point routes, can also take advantage of Medical Assured Loading (more info here: https://www.bcferries.com/book-sailings/medical-assured-loading) to secure their travel from the Mainland to Nanaimo.

Customers can reach out to Customer Care to arrange special case situations, e.g. where hotels may be necessary etc.

Email: customer.relations@bcferries.com
Phone: 1-888-223-3779
Mail: BC Ferries
Attn: Customer Relations
Suite 500-1321 Blanshard Street
Victoria, BC V8W 0B7

Water taxi is not easily accessible for seniors and those with mobility concerns. These people will be disproportionately impacted by the service disruption.
How will these changes impact the minimum contract service levels in the Coastal Ferry Services Contract?We are working with the Province of BC to identify and address any impact to minimum service levels this disruption may have.
How will the regularly scheduled Dangerous Goods sailings on Wednesday be handled?We are in the process of figuring this out and will update the FAC on the plans once they are established. We recognize the impact DG sailings could have on the modified service and are working to mitigate these.

We should have a better update on Monday re: DG sailings and return to regular service.
Will the 07:35am sailings on Sunday be cancelled as they sometimes are?No. We will not cancel regularly scheduled sailings as we recognize the impact this will have on the modified service.
How will we consider the impact of modified service on emergency services and businesses?We will reach out to emergency services and the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce to create a direct line of communication for these organizations to provide feedback and stay informed.

Fire? Only time they may use ferry is if they are assisting BCEHS. Will likely not be requiring transportation off-island. What about getting off-island fire support onto Gabriola? We will extend invitation.
Will the water taxi make an additional trip if it is overloaded for its last run at 11pm?Yes. The taxi would complete an additional run to ensure all customers get home at the end of the day.
Will water taxis have weather limitations like the Quinsam?Yes. The water taxis will likely have higher weather limitations than the Quinsam and could be cancelled if weather is bad.

What happens if the wind comes up and taxis can’t sail in the evening? We would need to support this through our Customer Care team if it happened. Could we put together a plan B in case of cancellation of water taxi so that we could support this situation if it happened? Particularly important for kids who may be stuck without parents on the Nanaimo side.

BCF should consider as much advance warning that weather cancellations could happen so that people can make an informed choice. Advance warning that possibilities exist.

In an emergency situation, e.g. Island is without power we would find a way to make it happen to support resolution.
Route 19 Service Disruption – Community Questions & Concerns
November 18, 2021

URGENT – Further Sailing Cancellations

 

The FAC has been advised that a further crewing shortage has arisen for service starting tomorrow, November 18, and BC Ferries has not been able to find replacements.

This means that the service that was in place Monday and Tuesday this week; consisting of water taxi service during the time when the first two, and last four, round-trips would normally be conducted, and regular service using the Quinsam during a 12-hour period from 7:30 am to approximately 7 pm, will be back in place tomorrow. The water taxi service will be provided by the same operator as Monday and Tuesday, and they will shuttle if/when demand appears to exceed their capacity.

 BC Ferries has advised us that this schedule will be in place until further notice.

The FAC shares the community’s frustration with this situation. We are deeply disappointed by both the inadequate service and the insufficient notice provided, and we hope that BC Ferries is doing everything it can to provide a speedy and satisfactory resolution.

URGENT – Sailing Cancellations Mon. Nov. 15 & Tues. Nov. 16

The FAC has just been advised by BC Ferries that there will be several sailing cancellations tomorrow Mon. Nov. 15 and Tues. Nov. 16.

The first sailing of the Quinsam will be at 7:35 am and the last sailing will be at 6:25 pm.

There will be a small water taxi in place of other sailings.

This post will be updated if we receive more details.

This is very short notice for the community – please share this information as widely as possible.

UPDATE from BC Ferries: We will be supplementing service with water taxi service from 05:15 to 06:50 and again between 19:00 and 23:00. The water taxi will operate in shuttle mode in case of overloads and staff will be on hand at both terminals to assist passengers. Parking will be complimentary. 

UPDATE #2 from BC Ferries: A complimentary 10 passenger water taxi will be available for those needing to travel on the select cancelled sailings. Prior to boarding the water taxi, please visit the Nanaimo Harbour ticket booth to secure a boarding pass.

Next Week’s Sailings

Many community members have been expressing concern about whether sailings on the Gabriola – Nanaimo route will be impacted by the next week’s deadline for crew to be vaccinated or placed on unpaid leave. The FAC reached out to BC Ferries for more information. We were told that based on what they currently know about crew vaccination rates, they are not anticipating cancellations on any routes on Monday (or next week at all), nor are they anticipating a situation on Route 19 (Gabriola – Nanaimo) where they are at minimal crew complement so have to go to a license that will limit number of passengers.

We will up date this post if we receive any updates.

Ferry Schedule Change

BC Ferries has advised the FAC that a new schedule is being implemented next Monday, October 4th in order to reduce sailing delays and improve on time performance.

The schedule changes are summarized in the table below.

The FAC is disappointed to see that the 345 departure is one of the affected sailings, and we acknowledge that this will be a difficult change for high school students who already have a very long day. We sincerely hope that this adjustment will meet BC Ferries’ goal of improving on time performance and thus providing a more reliable schedule for our community.

Terminal Upgrade Update

BC Ferries has informed the Gabriola FAC that they are postponing the major work on the Route 19 terminals in Nanaimo and on Gabriola. This is partly due to funding constraints and partly because they have not been able to reach an agreement with the Snuneymuxw First Nation concerning the work to be done on Gabriola.

According to BC Ferries, the only work being planned now is minimal upgrades to the berths at both ends of the routes that will make them suitable for the Island 47 vessels that will be arriving here in he spring. There will be no changes to the locations of the berths at this time.  Nanaimo berth may get a foot-passenger ramp as part of this process, but the Gabriola terminal will not.

All other terminal work on both sides is on hold for now. BC Ferries will resume discussions with the Snuneymuxw First Nation, and after that they will re-submit a proposal to Islands Trust for the rest of the terminal work.

The FAC will keep the community informed if and when we receive further details.