Transforming the Fleet 

The arrival of two new battery-hybrid Island Class ferries puts BC Ferries en route to achieving its 20-year strategic plan.

BC Ferries
Photo supplied.

The evolution at BC Ferries (BCF) continues, a reshaping that got full thrust five years ago when BCF decided to replace aging-out, smaller ships with standardized vessels.

As part of the transformation, the first two Island Class ferries, Island Aurora and Island Discovery, are in service; three and four were christened Island Nagalis and Island K’ulut’a in August and will be in operation in 2022, along with two more newly arrived Island Class ships.

“The Island Class is extremely sophisticated. It’s the quietest ship we’ve ever built,” says BC Ferries president and CEO Mark Collins. 

The reason for less noise? The ships use battery-hybrid technology. One-third of the voyage can occur using electric power, with the remainder done on diesel. The ships charge the batteries internally via on-board generators that create the needed electricity, Collins says.

Other notable features of the Island class include a gallery deck (upper-level car deck), connected by an on-and-off-ramp at each end of the ship; two powerful propellers instead of four, which means less underwater noise; wide vehicle lanes and a heated solarium for outdoor seating.

Propelled by demands of riders and ferry communities for low fares and a green and efficient fleet, BC Ferries responded with identical ships. 

“One way to keep costs low is to go with standardized ships,” Collins says. BCF is moving from 18 classes of ferries to five, via a 20-year strategic plan. Having only five classes means crew training is streamlined; ferries can be moved to other routes during refits, repairs or problems; maintenance costs are reduced and when sourcing new ships, buying a dozen of the same version simplifies decisions as build-out progresses.

Three months of back-and-forth about Discovery, the head of the class, were needed. By the time the fifth Island Class vessel was being readied, it was down to 45 minutes of negotiations because the template was already in the process of being finessed, Collins says. 

Once delivered to Victoria, the Island Class vessels carry a two-year warranty. Given that fuel is BC Ferries’ second largest operating expense, Collins is anticipating the day when the federal government and BC Ferries jointly finance electric-charging facilities at main terminals. 

“That’s the future,” he says. “We’ll plug in to BC Hydro.” And diesel’s days will be done.

Island Class Ferries Stats

Fleet: 16

Price (building, delivery & training): $50 Million

Capacity: 47

Top Speed: 14 knots