BC Ferries applying to Commissioner for two Island Class vessels to serve Gabriola

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, October 31 2018


Early 2022, that’s when BC Ferries is saying it is looking to replace the 63-vehicle MV Quinsam with two brand new 47-vehicle Island Class vessels.

There are currently two of the Island Class vessels being built now - to be completed in 2019 and in service in 2020.

Those are already assigned to the Powell River-Texada route, and the Port McNeil-Sointula route. 

Mark Wilson, BCF Vice President, Strategy & Community Engagement, explained this to the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee at the FAC meeting held on October 19.

He said not only will there be an increase from 63 vehicles per hour to 94 vehicles per hour, “there’s a significant increase in passenger capability.”

The Quinsam is currently rated for 400 passengers and crew per sailing.

Each of the new vessels is capable of carrying up to 450 passengers per sailing.

Wilson said “that means up to 900 passengers transported each hour.”

 Wilson said an application is going to be going into the ferry commissioner within the next week asking to build four more Island Class vessels to replace vessels in the Bowen Queen class.

“Those ships have timed out and need to be replaced by 2021 or as soon as we can.”

The application is asking for four more Island Class vessels, and one more of the Salish Class (three Salish vessels are already in service in the BCF fleet).

Two of the requested four Island vessels will go to the Campbell River-Quadra route, and two will be deployed to the Nanaimo-Gabriola route.

In both cases, a two-ship option is seen as preferable to the current one-vessel system serving those routes.

That application will be made available for public comment.

Wilson suggested that if the Gabriola FAC finds the two-ship option a good solution for the Gabriola route, it should send that feedback in to the commissioner.

The application is open for feedback for a couple of months and, if successful, BCF will release a request for proposals to build the ships.

The design process has already been completed with the first two vessels being built.

The Quinsam would be moved off the Gabriola route and used to replace an older vessel somewhere else in the system.


Wilson said the new ships are diesel-electric hybrid, and have the potential to be made fully electric, as BC Ferries is working with BC Hydro to lower the overall carbon footprint of the fleet.

“We want the capability to go fully electric down the road.”

In all, BC Ferries plans for up to twelve Island Class vessels in the fleet at the end of the fleet modernization and standardization process.

BC Ferries staff said that with standardization comes a much more efficient use of staff time and finances.

Currently, if the Quinsam has to be taken off the route, and the Bowen Queen brought in as a replacement, staff all have to be put through a familiarization process on the Bowen.

If one of the new Island ships has to be taken off, it’s temporary replacement will just be another Island ship, with the same layout and safety procedures as all the other ones.

FAC Chair Steve Earle asked if it is possible one of the Gabriola ships would be moved if the one on the Texada route were to need coverage.

Wilson said that’s possible, but that’s not what is in the plans for now.

Earle asked about a potential schedule for the new ships.

Peter Simpson, BC Ferries Director of Fleet Operational Strategy, said that depending on the speed of the new vessels, BC Ferries is looking at getting as close to 30 minutes between sailings as possible.

The plan is to have two ships service the route from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. at night.

“After that, [current] demand is about 35 per cent, so we would run hourly service with a single ship that matches the level of demand.

“But during the heart of the day, it would be working at as close to 30 minutes a day.”

Wilson said the community would be heavily consulted on the new schedule.

“Two ships versus one ship is a significant change to the schedule.”

Simpson said another benefit to the smaller ships is that they generally take less time to load and unload.

That leaves more time for sailing - and the new ships will be faster than the Quinsam. On paper, the Quinsam hits 12 knots, though staff at the FAC said the actual speed is closer to 10.

On paper, the new ships are designed to hit 15 knots.

FAC member Heather O’Sullivan said that so far things were sounding good, but one thing for BC Ferries to consider would be restoring a sailing to the schedule prior to the 6:00 a.m. departure from Gabriola.

Prior to the 2014 cutbacks, there was a 5:25 a.m. sailing leaving Gabriola, followed by a 5:55 a.m. sailing from Nanaimo.

Earle said the FAC is going to be pushing for there to be a pre-5:30 a.m. departure from Gabriola.

Having that sailing would be critical for people who are trying to connect with the 6:15 a.m. sailings out of Nanaimo to Vancouver.

O’Sullivan said, “We had people who left the island because we lost those sailings. 

“With two ships, we’re hoping very much we can get some of that early service back with the cuts.”

She added that, surprisingly, there are overloads on the 6:15 a.m. sailing from Gabriola.

Simpson and Wilson said there would be challenges to doing that, but it would be part of the discussion.