BC Ferries

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British Columbia Ferry Services Inc.
Type Organized as a privately held company, with the provincial Crown as sole shareholder
Industry Transportation
Founded Victoria, British Columbia (1960)
Headquarters Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Key people Elizabeth J. Harrison, Chair
David Hahn, President & CEO
Products Ferry service
Revenue C$681.8 million (2009)[1]
Operating income C$57.6 million (2009)[1]
Net income C$9 million (2009)[1]
Employees 3,153 (2005)
Website www.bcferries.com

British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. or BC Ferries (abbr. BCF) is a de facto Crown Corporation that provides all major passenger and vehicle ferry services for coastal and island communities in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Set up in 1960 to provide a similar service to that provided by the Black Ball Line and the Canadian Pacific Railway, which were affected by job action at the time, BC Ferries has become the largest passenger ferry line in North America and the second largest in the world,[citation needed] boasting a fleet of 36 vessels with a total passenger and crew capacity of over 27,000, serving 49 locations on the B.C. coast.

As BC Ferries provides an essential link from mainland Canada to the various islands on its routes, it is subsidized by Transport Canada. The subsidy for 2004-2005 was CAD $25 million[2] and is adjusted annually to keep pace with the rate of inflation. The inland ferries operating on British Columbia's rivers and lakes are not run by BC Ferries. The responsibility for their provision rests with the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation, which contracts operation to various private sector companies.


In the late 1950s, a strike by employees of the Black Ball Line caused the Social Credit government of W.A.C. Bennett to decide that the coastal ferry service in B.C. needed to be government-owned, and so he set about creating BC Ferries.

Tsawwassen terminal was constructed by filling in a large area at the end of a causeway
Tollbooths at Tsawwassen Terminal
A BC Ferries loading dock (berth 4 at Tsawwassen terminal)
Final loading of cars onto a ferry

BC Ferries' first route, commissioned in 1960, was between Swartz Bay, north of Sidney on Vancouver Island, and Tsawwassen, a part of the Corporation of Delta, using just two vessels. These ships were the now-retired MV Tsawwassen and the MV Sidney. The next few years saw a dramatic growth of the B.C. ferry system, as it took over operations of the Black Ball Line and other major private companies providing vehicle ferry service between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. As the ferry system expanded and started to service other small coastal communities, BC Ferries had to build more vessels, many of them in the first five years of its operations, to keep up with the demand. Another method of satisfying increasing demand for service was BC Ferries' unique "stretch and lift" program, involving seven vessels being cut in half and extended, and five of those vessels later cut in half again and elevated, to increase their passenger and vehicle-carrying capacities. The vast majority of the vessels in the fleet were built in B.C. waters, with only two foreign purchases and one domestic purchase. In the mid 1980s, BC Ferries took over the operations of the saltwater branch of the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Highways, which ran ferry services to very small coastal communities. This action dramatically increased the size of BC Ferries' fleet and its geographical service area. The distinctive 'dogwood on green' flag that BC Ferries used between 1960 and 2003 gave the service its popular nickname "the Dogwood Fleet".

At its inception, BC Ferries was a division of the British Columbia Toll Highways and Bridges Authority, a provincial Crown corporation. Through successive reorganizations, it evolved into the British Columbia Ferry Authority, and then the British Columbia Ferry Corporation, both of which, again, were provincial Crown corporations. In 2003, the Government of British Columbia announced that BC Ferries, which had been in debt, was going to be reorganized into a private corporation, implemented through the passage of the Coastal Ferry Act[3] (Bill 18-2003). The single voting share of BC Ferries Corporation is held by the provincial government's BC Ferry Authority, which operates under the rules of the Act.

A controversy began in July, 2004 when BC Ferries, under a new American CEO, announced that the company had disqualified all Canadian bids to build three new Coastal class ships, and only the proposals from European shipyards were being considered. The contract is estimated at $542 million for the three ships, which are each designed to carry 370 vehicles and 1600 passengers.

The argument for domestic construction of the ferries is that it would employ numerous British Columbia workers, would revitalize the sagging B.C. shipbuilding industry, and entitle the provincial government to a large portion of the cost in the form of taxes. However, European shipbuilders had far more experience and shipyards that were more capable of constructing the ships at a significantly lower cost, and contract terms with European shipyards could be negotiated that were superior to what was likely to be available from B.C. shipbuilders.

On September 17, 2004, BC Ferries finally awarded[4] the vessel construction contract to Germany's Flensburger shipyard. The contract protects BC Ferries from any delays through a fixed price and fixed schedule contract, and the performance of the ferries is guaranteed with strong contractual requirements. Coastal Renaissance entered service in March 2008, while Coastal Inspiration was delivered the same month, and entered service in June. The third ship, Coastal Celebration, has been delivered and is now in service as well.

On August 18, 2006, BC Ferries commissioned[5] Flensburger to build a new vessel for BCF's Inside Passage route, with the contract having many of the same types of terms as that for the Coastal Class vessels. The new northern service vessel, Northern Expedition, has been delivered.

Current routes


Route numbers are used internally by BC Ferries. All routes allow vehicles unless stated otherwise.


Numbers in blue circles are ferry route numbers. Provincial highway trailblazers are added where appropriate.

Regional districts served


Spirit of British Columbia under construction at Fraser Surrey Docks in September 1992.
Mayne Queen is a Powell River class ferry.
Northern Expedition began service in 2009, replacing the sunken Queen of the North.
Queen of Saanich (retired) is a V class ferry

BC Ferries has the largest fleet of vehicle ferry vessels in the world. There are 36 vessels, ranging from small 16-car ferries up to 470-car "superferries". All of the vessels in use by BC Ferries are "roll-on, roll-off" car ferries. Most of the major vessels are based on similar designs which are aggregated into "classes" of ferries:

Current Vessels

Former Vessels


The following is a summary of some of the incidents which have occurred in the BC Ferries fleet:

Queen of Victoria

On August 2, 1970 the Soviet freighter Sergey Yesenin collided with the Queen of Victoria in Active Pass, slicing through the middle of the ferry, days after her return to service following stretching. Three people were killed and damage was estimated at over $1 million (1970) dollars. The Soviet ship was not supposed to be in Active Pass, and as such, the Soviet government was forced to compensate BC Ferries.

Years later, while in Active Pass and within metres of the site of the 1970 collision, the Queen of Victoria was disabled by a fire in the engine room.

Queen of Alberni

On August 9, 1979, the Queen of Alberni was transiting through Active Pass when it ran aground on Galiano Island, tipping fifteen degrees to starboard. Several large commercial vehicles on board the vessel at the time were damaged. No persons were injured, but a racehorse on board was killed.

On June 1989, the Queen of Alberni collided with the loading dock at Departure Bay causing significant damage to the ship and dock. 6 people were injured including a cook who suffered a fractured cheekbone as he was walking down a set of stairs.

On March 12, 1992, at 8:08 am (16:08 UTC), the Queen of Alberni collided with the Japanese freighter Shinwa Maru southwest of Tsawwassen. The collision occurred in heavy fog, with both vessels suffering minor damage. Injuries included 2 serious and 25 minor injuries for the 260 people on the ferry, while none of the 11 people aboard the freighter received injuries.[6]

Queen of Cowichan

On August 12, 1985 three people were killed when the Queen of Cowichan ran over a pleasure boat near the Horseshoe Bay terminal.

Queen of Saanich

On the morning of February 6, 1992 the Queen of Saanich and the Royal Vancouver passenger ship collided in heavy fog while navigating near the northern entrance of Active Pass. A total of 23 passengers aboard the Royal Vancouver were injured. Blame was cast upon the crew of the Royal Vancouver for failing to track the Queen of Saanich on radar, though both vessels were equipped with sophisticated radar systems.

Queen of New Westminster

In October, 1971, the Queen of New Westminster pulled out of her berth at the Departure Bay terminal while vehicle loading was in progress. A car and its two occupants fell into the water. Both of the vehicle's occupants were rescued.

In a similar incident, on August 13, 1992 the same vessel pulled out of her berth at the Departure Bay terminal while vehicle loading ramps were still lowered and resting on the ship. Three people were killed, one was seriously injured, and two others received minor injuries when a van from Alberta containing 6 people fell 15 m (about 50 ft) from the upper deck onto the lower car deck and finally into the sea below. The van was stopped and instructed to wait on the loading ramp by terminal crew members. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada determined that this accident was caused by the vessel not properly following departing procedures and secondarily due to poor communication between terminal and ship crew members.[7]

Mayne Queen

On November 7, 1995 the Mayne Queen departed from Snug Cove and ran into a neighbouring marina, heavily damaging a floating dock in addition to 12 small pleasure boats (one of which sank). The crash was primarily attributed to human error and while transferring steering and power control from one control panel to the other located in the ship. The captain of the vessel was also inexperienced with the Mayne Queen and normally piloted other vessels. More alarming was the fact that the captain promptly left the scene of the accident after the incident occurred without conducting a proper damage assessment.[8]

On August 12, 1996 the Mayne Queen departed Swartz Bay terminal and ran aground off Piers Island after losing steering control. The grounding occurred while performing a regular weekly test of the batteries for the steering control system. A crew member overheard there was going to be a test and in an attempt to be helpful and without direction cut all power from the vessel's steering batteries as he had done at night when the ship was stored, not realizing the test in question only required the removal of a battery charger and that his assistance was neither requested nor required. No one was injured in the incident and the vessel was assisted off the rocks at high tide but she suffered extensive damage to her propulsion system, having two of the four steering and propulsion pods for the right-angle drives sheared off and one of the two remaining pods suffering propeller damage.[9]

Spirit of Vancouver Island

On September 14, 2000 the Spirit of Vancouver Island collided with the 9.72 m (about 32 ft) Star Ruby while attempting to overtake the vessel in a narrow channel. The collision occurred approximately 1 km (about ½ mi) from the Swartz Bay Terminal where the ferry had departed from. The Spirit of Vancouver Island struck the Star Ruby on its port side, causing the pleasure craft to flip over and eventually right itself, though swamped and heavily damaged. Two passengers aboard the Star Ruby later died as a result of their injuries sustained by the collision.[10]

On July 13, 2003, the Spirit of Vancouver Island collided with the dock at Swartz Bay. Four passengers suffered minor injuries. The accident caused tens of thousands of dollars of damage to the dock and the ship.

On October 9, 2009, a standby generator on the Spirit of Vancouver Island caught fire on an early morning sailing out of Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal. No one was injured in the incident however it did cause massive delays in the ferry system because of the already large volume of traffic for Thanksgiving weekend. Eight sailings were cancelled that day and the ship remained out of service for the entire weekend.[11]

Queen of Surrey

On May 12, 2003 the Queen of Surrey was disabled as a result of an engine room fire. The Queen of Capilano was dispatched and tethered to the Queen of Surrey while tugboats were dispatched. The vessel was then towed back to shore. None of the 318 passengers were injured, but several crew members were treated for minor injuries. Some buckling of the main car deck resulted from the heat of the fire. However, no vehicles were damaged in the incident.[12]

Queen of Oak Bay

The Queen of Oak Bay after crashing into a marina on June 30, 2005.

On June 30, 2005 at about 10:10 in the morning (17:10 UTC), the vessel Queen of Oak Bay, on the Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay (or Trans-Canada Highway) ferry route, lost power four minutes before she was to dock at the Horseshoe Bay terminal. The vessel became adrift, unable to change speed, but able to steer with the rudders. The horn was blown steadily and an announcement telling passengers to brace for impact was made minutes before the 139 m (456 ft) ship slowly ran into the nearby Sewell's Marina, where she destroyed or damaged 28 pleasure craft and subsequently went aground a short distance from the shore. No casualties or injuries were reported. [13] [14] [15]

On July 1, 2005, BC Ferries issued a statement that Transport Canada, the Transportation Safety Board, and Lloyd's Register of Shipping were reviewing the control and mechanical systems onboard to find a fault. An inspection revealed minimal damage to the ship, with only some minor damage to a metal fender, paint scrapes to the rudder, and some minor scrapes to one blade of a propeller.

On July 7, 2005, BC Ferries concluded that a missing cotter pin was to blame. The pin normally retained a nut on a linkage between an engine speed governor and the fuel control for one of the engines. Without the pin, the nut fell off and the linkage separated, causing the engine, clutches, and propellers to increase in speed until overspeed safety devices tripped and shut down the entire propulsion system. The faulty speed governor had been serviced 17 days before the incident during a $35-million upgrade and the cotter pin was not properly replaced at that time.

The Queen of Oak Bay was quickly repaired and tested at sea trials. She returned to regular service on July 8, 2005. A complete investigation report consisting of a 14-page Divisional Inquiry and a 28-page Engineering Incident Investigation was finally released in September 2006.[16]

The Transportation Safety Board's Marine Investigation Report, released on September 6, 2007, indicated that "inadequacies in BC Ferries' procedures on safety-critical maintenance tasks and on ship handling during berthing operations" were major contributing factors to the accident. It appears that insufficient oversight of work done by contractors also played a role in the accident.

Queen of the North

On March 22, 2006 the M/V Queen of the North sank 135 km (81 mi, 70 nautical miles) south of Prince Rupert, British Columbia when she struck Gil Island at approximately 1 a.m. PST. Two people from 100 Mile House went missing. David Hahn, CEO of BC Ferries states, "There is a real possibility that they went down with the ship." It is unlikely that it will be possible to salvage the North.

Officials have determined the cause of this accident is due to human error by 3 BC Ferries employees neglecting their navigational duties. Charges are being considered of Criminal Negligence Causing Death, and a Class Action Lawsuit for the passengers is proceeding while the Ferry and Marine Union seeks to re-instate the fired crew who failed to provide information to the $1 million TSB enquiry.[17]


On January 9, 2007, the MV Quinsam was loading traffic from Nanaimo to Gabriola Island when the ferry unexpectedly pulled out of its berth. A pickup truck that was on the boarding ramp plunged into the water below. Ferry workers were able to warn the truck's lone occupant, who was able to escape before the vehicle fell.[18]

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "BC Ferries Releases Year-end Results" (PDF). 2009-06-11. pp. 4. http://www.bcferries.com/bcferries/faces/attachments?id=108870. Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  2. Vancouver Sun article (see last paragraph for subsidy information)
  3. Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
  4. Microsoft Word - 04-071 Super C.doc
  5. http://www.bcferries.com/news/files/06-049contracttobuildnewnorthernvessel.pdf
  6. Canadian Transportation Safety Board report on Shinwa Maru/Queen of Alberni collision
  7. Canadian Transportation Safety Board report on Queen of New Westminster accident
  8. Canadian Transportation Safety Board report on 1995 Mayne Queen accident
  9. Canadian Transportation Safety Board report on 1996 Mayne Queen accident
  10. Canadian Transportation Safety Board report on Spirit of Vancouver Island accident
  11. CBC News Report on the incident.
  12. Canadian Transportation Safety Board report on Queen of Surrey engine fire
  13. "B.C. ferry runs aground in West Vancouver, hits marina and boats". The Seattle Times. 2005-06-30. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/travel/2002353141_webbcferry30.html. 
  14. "B.C. ferry that hit marina 'just kept coming'". CBC News. 2005-07-01. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2005/06/30/ferry-050630.html. 
  15. Queen of Oak Bay Collision Simulator
  16. BC Ferries Corporation (September 25, 2006). Queen of Oak Bay Grounding at Sewell’s Marina: Divisional Inquiry and Engineering Incident Investigation.
  17. BC Ferries: Divisional Inquiry
  18. Truck rolls into harbour when Nanaimo ferry leaves dock early
  • Bannerman, Gary and Patricia. The Ships of British Columbia - An Illustrated History of the British Columbia Ferry Corporation. Surrey: Hancock House Publishers, 1985

Press releases

External links

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