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Plan ahead if you want to take a ferry on the long weekend

B.C. Ferries says it anticipates carrying more than 400,000 passengers and 140,000 vehicles this long weekend.
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B.C. Ferries says heavy traffic is expected for the B.C. Day long weekend on Thursday and Friday, and Sunday afternoon and Monday. It recommends travelling Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. B.C. FERRIES

Hoping to take a ferry this B.C. Day long weekend?

You may need to do some planning — not only is it one of B.C. Ferries’ busiest times of the year, but the system has recently been hit with frequent service cancellations because of crew shortages, sometimes with little notice.

In a statement Tuesday, B.C. Ferries says it will be operating at maximum capacity this weekend, and anticipates carrying more than 400,000 passengers and 140,000 vehicles. It has 2,500 sailings scheduled, covering more than 22,000 nautical miles.

Four ships will be on duty on the busiest route, between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen, providing up to 32 sailings per day.

On the Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay in Nanaimo run, three ferries will provide up to 24 sailings daily, while two vessels and 16 sailings per day are planned for the Duke Point-Nanaimo-to-Tsawwassen run.

Between the Southern Gulf Islands and Tsawwassen, a second ship will offer two additional sailings daily until Thursday, then four extra sailings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The route from Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island to Swartz Bay will run as usual on Friday and Saturday. B.C. Ferries had expected crew shortages would limit some of the sailings but it says that issue has been resolved, although the route will see reduced evening sailings until Thursday: the 5:50 p.m. and 7:50 p.m. sailings out of Fulford Harbour are cancelled, as are the 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. sailings out of Swartz Bay.

A 48-person water taxi will start carrying passengers at 5:50 p.m. from Fulford Harbour. Drivers who park at Swartz Bay Terminal are asked to give their licence-plate numbers to the ticket agent to receive complementary parking.

Tips for navigating heavy weekend ferry traffic:

• Heavy traffic is expected on Thursday and Friday, and Sunday afternoon and Monday. B.C. Ferries recommends travelling Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning.

• Buy lower-cost saver fares offered on many routes at off-peak times.

• Book in advance and book early at bcferries.com. Customers who do not have an advance booking will likely experience sailing waits at peak times.

• If you choose not to make a reservation, the less-busy times are usually mid-week days, and early-morning or late-evening sailings.

• Carpool if possible or walk on the ferry. Vehicle deck space fills up quickly.

• Since parking at terminals fills quickly, take transit or make arrangements to be dropped off at a terminal. For parking-lot updates, check Twitter or go to bcferries.com.

• Arrive early — 45-60 minutes prior to departure if you have a reservation. Walk-on passengers should be at the terminal 45 minutes before the sailing. Those with important appointments or travel connections should consider taking an earlier ferry.

• Prepare for high temperatures and bring enough water for yourself and any pets travelling with you.

• For the latest information, follow B.C. Ferries on Twitter @BCFerries

cjwilson@timescolonist.com