BC Ferries announcements amuse and confuse

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“This is an important announcement on how to be safe at sea.”

Sounds familiar, right? Now where have you heard these words before? Oh, of course, this is the message you have become accustomed to hearing over the loudspeaker while you are waiting in the ferry lineup for the parking lot attendant to wave you forward onto the ferry. Or maybe while trying to relax in the passenger lounge. Or while “freshening up” in one of the public washrooms. Maybe even in the privacy of your own living room as the peaceful silence is broken by the annoying sound from the loudspeakers of the MV Coastal Celebration chugging her way across the waters.

We’ve come a long way since the days when ferry announcements were delivered by a mechanical monotone voice that made you ignore the message because you couldn’t hear or understand the meaning it was trying to convey anyway. Today’s ferry announcement is much more personable; it’s like being contacted by an old high school buddy who wishes to renew your friendship and really wants to make sure that the bygone years have been treating you fairly.

Why else would it tell the travelling passengers that “Your safety is important to us”? Of course it is, and just in case any of us have been so distracted by being part of this ocean cruise, we are reminded to remember that we are on a moving vessel. Lest we may have forgotten, the Titanic was another moving vessel that just happened to plough into a floating chunk of ice while crew members were busy rearranging the deck chairs. As a result, other than spawning successful disaster movies, she has done nothing other than rust away on the Atlantic sea floor for over a century. A friendly public address announcement starting with “Your safety is important to us” could have made all the difference.

Maybe it’s just me, but any time I hear an announcement begin with the phrase “In the unlikely event of an emergency,” I feel anything but reassured. My blood pressure skyrockets up to infinity and the accompanying adrenalin rush makes me regret that I hadn’t thought of boarding the ferry with a flotation device already strapped to my body under my clothes and a complete set of scuba gear within easy reach at the slightest hint of danger.

We are informed that “There is a lot of safety knowledge behind every ferry crew member,” but we don’t know exactly how much is “a lot.” And seriously, can enough safety knowledge be imparted to us hapless passengers to help save our sorry lives should a real maritime disaster scenario ensue?

BC Ferries does actually have a plan. First of all, we are to stop what we are doing (even if we are in the final stages of purchasing a throughfare transfer ticket from the “never-get-it-right-the-first-time” machine in Lounge #4 on the Skeena Queen and having to restart the entire process after the disaster is dealt with) and then follow the directions of the crew in an orderly fashion to the designated assembly stations.

We are assured that, if necessary, a crew member will instruct us on how to put on a life jacket so we don’t end up floating upside down with only our legs sticking out of the water. We are also informed that ferry decks can be slippery and we should watch out for strong gusts of wind that can knock us off balance. Other potential hazards include the high door sills that could trip us up as we enter or exit the lounges and washrooms and end up causing serious bruises to our bodies as we try to navigate ourselves around the oversized side view mirrors protruding out into the foot-traffic passageways.

Speaking of bruises, remember hearing the announcement that drivers should park no more than 24 inches or 60 centimetres behind the vehicle immediately in front of them so that they can squeeze as many cars and trucks onto the vessel as is humanly possible? This, of course, makes it all the more likely that you won’t be able to pass between vehicles on the car deck without breaking at least one kneecap.

My favourite ferry announcement was always the one that warned passengers that the ship’s horn was about to sound. That was usually broadcast about one nanosecond before the deafening horn was blasted. There was no way you could get your hands up over your ears in time to try to protect yourself. The announcement might just as well have been “Attention passengers, the ship’s horn has just sounded.”

Nobody asked me, but there’s a BC Ferries story that made the rounds back when the Queen of Nanaimo used to ply the waters between Long Harbour on Salt Spring and the mainland terminal at Tsawwassen, making scheduled stops at Galiano, Mayne and Pender islands. It’s difficult to determine if this really happened, or whether it’s just another one of these urban myths that keeps getting recirculated and gets better with the passage of time.

Apparently, one of the novice deckhands was up in the wheelhouse as the ferry was being guided into its berth at one of its outer island stops. The captain pointed to the deckhand and asked her to make the announcement that the ferry was now docking and passengers disembarking at this stop should commence to make their way down to the vehicle deck. The pressure must have gotten to the deckhand, because she momentarily forgot the name of the island. Unfortunately, she also neglected to turn off her microphone as everybody on board that day heard her announce, “We are now arriving at … um … er… what %#$&ing island is this anyway?”

I’ve experienced so many ferry trips in the past year that the auditory details of this type of travel have blazoned themselves into my brain. But best of all is: “Thank you for sailing with BC Ferries.” I always wonder what the alternative is!

Editor’s note: Shilo Zylbergold writes a HUMOUR column for the Driftwood. He is not a journalist and did not intend to personally insult ferry workers. 

6 Comments
  1. Me says

    This article is completely offensive and an insult to all the hard working ferry employees who dedicate hundreds and hundreds of hours taking endless courses in order to keep our passengers safe. We do at least 2 to 3 drills every week and instead of making ignorant assumptions, try doing your due diligence and if you are a true journalist, investigate and check to see how much work we put into keeping you safe at sea. You made published a BS story of a novice deckhand on the bridge,maybe if you want to publish false stories, try writing for the Enquirer. You insulted every hard working ferry employee and you insulted true journalists. We tell you over the loudspeaker we are sounding a the horn as a courtesy, it isn’t required. Our deckhands work tireslessly to fit as many vehicles as they can on board as to not leave passengers behind, there is no monetary reward for them. Oh you may hurt your knee because they wanted to get as many passengers on board, boo hoo. May I suggest buying yourself a boat that you can take yourself over the mainland or Vancouver island and thus opening up one more space to a person who actually appreciates what we ferry workers do for them. This whole article if offensive.

  2. Corinne Smith says

    Completely agree with Me Says. I cringed with every insult flung at BC Ferries and its hard working crew. How was this drivel permitted to be published? I think Shilo owes BC Ferries and the people who make it work a big apology.

  3. Dirk Ouellette says

    Have to agree that ferry workers should never be the butt of jokes in writing. Make jokes among friends, sure, but not on the written page.

  4. Me says

    Sorry Editor but saying he is writing this from a humor stand point is BS. Humor is subjective and I am fairly certain most of us ferry workers don’t find this remotely funny. Repeating urban legends to give them any validity isn’t funny, questioning our abilities as workers isn’t funny..We work tirelessly to make sure we keep the passengers SAFE and happy.

  5. Jason says

    So far all of the comments appear to be from ferry workers who appear to be nothing more than a bunch of easily offended babies protected by a union. PS the reason I left the island is entirely due to my loathing of BC Ferries.

  6. Jon doe says

    How do you get to Salt Spring Island? Oh that’s right, a ferry. Sure the company itself is far from perfect but when you have crew doing shift work and providing services for an x amount of consecutive days, errors will occur. I know from experience as I worked on the Gulf Islands route, making personal arrival announcements multiple times a day.

    And let’s say you happen to hear the safety announcements for the first time as a tourist, I would find it comforting knowing that the crew is trained and ready to react in an emergency. Sure us “regular” travellers have heard it many times, but does that give you a reason to make a column about it?

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