The Island Class

Efficient, quiet, battery-hybrid ferries

Latest news

All six battery hybrid electric Island Class ferries have arrived in BC and will be providing service along our coast. 

In January 2023, round trip service between Campbell River – Quadra Island will grow from up to 18 trips to up to 29 per day with the introduction of the Island Nagalis and Island K’ulut’a to deliver more service at peak times and more capacity overall. The new schedule was developed in consultation with the community and the Campbell River – Quadra Island – Cortes Island Ferry Advisory Committee through a public engagement process carried out in the spring of 2021.

Individual Island Class vessels won't be permanently assigned to a region, territory or route. The vessels will be repositioned to replace each other during planned maintenance periods or as required. Having more ferries of the same build allows us to provide a more efficient and consistent experience for customers.

Online schedules for this new, two-ship service are available here

Learn more about Island Class ferries coming to the fleet in 2022

Visit our Island Class playlist on YouTube to learn more about these new state-of-the-art ferries and watch key milestones of the Island Class ferry replacement program.

An investment in our planet
BC Ferries and the Island Class – An investment in our planet

At BC Ferries, the shift to a cleaner future isn’t something that only gets attention on Earth Day. It is anchored by a strategic goal to be a leader in the transition to a more sustainable future. As one of the most sustainable large-scale ferry operators in the world, the adoption of cleaner technology is being made primarily through hybrid vessel design at this time.

The arrival of six new hybrid-electric Island Class vessels to the BC coastline is a key milestone on the journey. The approximately $260 million investment in these vessels is significant, and it is anticipated the returns will be as well; not just from an environmental standpoint, but for the customers they serve and the people who operate them.

Captain Fergus Stewart has the distinction of being one of the fortunate few trained to command the cutting-edge engineering and environmental marine marvels and says being at the helm of 1500 tonnes of green technology is an entirely new experience.

The quietness and lack of vibration is impressive. With the vessel operating in battery mode it is possible to depart the dock, and except for looking out the window and noticing the scenery move by, there is almost no physical sense that the vessel is underway.

It is a quiet that is not only calming for passengers but critically important to marine life. The Island Class ships were designed for extremely low underwater radiated noise. Electric propulsion is quieter, smoother and more efficient compared to traditional diesel propulsion.

Island Class vessels also outclass their conventional counterparts when it comes to redundancy as both a generator and battery bank are able to supply power. This, in turn, equates to a much more capable and reliable platform.

And while the bridge of an Island Class is fully equipped with the latest in marine technology like infrared cameras, those expecting a futuristic engine room that looks like something from a sci-fi movie are in for a surprise. The battery at the heart of the hybrid technology is a simple stack that looks like a tall filing cabinet. A few monitor lights are the only indication that the made in B.C. battery technology is at work.

Stewart explains that each route has a unique ‘load program’ specifically designed with parameters like ship speed, crossing time, and time in dock. This programming can be honed and adjusted for maximum power and fuel efficiency.

“We now have technicians setting up our engine configurations and we are left to sail [the ship]. You could say the system is smart enough not to need a sailor meddling with settings,” Stewart laughs.

Island Class vessels are currently in operation on the Port McNeill – Alert Bay – Sointula, Powell River – Texada Island and Nanaimo Harbour – Gabriola Island routes. Island Class vessels will be introduced on the Campbell River – Quadra Island route by the fall.

Reducing the environmental footprint through continued investment in leading-edge practices related to environmental stewardship is a top priority for BC Ferries. The recent investment in battery-hybrid Island Class ships is the latest step along this journey.


Did you know:

  • At all times, the propulsion of an Island Class vessel is driven by electric motors.
  • Island Class vessels run primarily on a single engine. The use of batteries for any portion of a trip results in reduced engine wear and tear and maintenance.
  • The Island Class vessels are just one part of BC Ferries’ electrification plan.
  • New major vessels will replace the C-class and will provide the greatest opportunity to reduce emissions.
  • BC Ferries also operates six vessels on liquefied natural gas, a cleaner burning fuel than traditional ultra-low sulfur marine diesel.

For more on the Island Class vessels:

To find out more about BC Ferries initiatives on sustainability and environmental responsibility:

Let's talk about inclement weather

Our new Island Class ferries are built to handle rough seas and stormy conditions, even on the Campbell River – Quadra Island route where we tend to experience some of the roughest conditions and strongest currents.  Did you know…

  • BC Ferries has a weather matrix for each ship that determines when weather becomes a factor in cancellations.
  • The Island Class will operate under the same weather parameters as the current ferries, depending on route.
  • The Island Class has a very similar weather matrix to our larger Spirit and Coastal class ferries that operate on our major routes.
  • While some of the ferries the Island Class will replace have more installed horsepower, this is not the only indicator of sufficient power to operate safely and efficiently in challenging conditions.
  • Even though our ships are capable in many instances of managing the transit, a crossing in rough seas would be extremely uncomfortable for our customers, or weather conditions at the terminals may make it unsafe to approach the dock. 
  • Operational experience with the Island Class on our other routes, along with a number of simulations and live trials, have indicated the ferries have more than sufficient power and maneuverability to handle the weather and currents we typically experience.

Two Island Class ferries—the Island Nagalis and Island K’ulut’a—made the approximately 10,700 nautical mile transoceanic journey under their own power from Romania to British Columbia earlier this summer. This involved crossing the Atlantic Ocean, navigating the Panama Canal and travelling up the coast of North America. These voyages demonstrate the ability of Island Class ships to handle weather.
Standardizing our fleet
The making of a more efficient ferry system overall

BC Ferries continually looks for ways to run the ferry system more efficiently. One approach we are taking to achieve this goal is ferry standardization.

At the moment, we have 17 different types of ferries, and crew training and maintenance is unique to each one. We have adopted a strategy to standardize more ferries, with a plan to reduce ferry types to just six. Standard, identical ships save money and improve safety. Identical ships simplify ferry swaps when one is required to be removed to perform maintenance activities. The bridge and engine rooms are outfitted with the same equipment, reducing training costs. Standardized equipment reduces maintenance costs and allows employees to operate the same familiar gear, enhancing safety for everyone.

Customers also benefit from more consistency. Amenities, outdoor decks and seating configuration are the same on standardized ships.

The Salish Class are BC Ferries’ first class of ferries designed to be identical, with the Island Class our next set of identical ships. By the end of 2022, BC Ferries plans to have six Island Class ferries servicing four routes.

Island Aurora and Island Discovery entered service in 2020 on the Port McNeill – Alert Bay – Sointula and the Powell River – Texada Island routes. This summer, the third and fourth Island Class ferries, Island Nagalis and Island K’ulut’a, completed the transoceanic journey from the shipyard in Romania to Victoria, British Columbia. Once in service in 2022, these ferries will allow for two-ship service to begin on the Campbell River – Quadra Island route. The fifth and sixth Island Class ferries in the series are on their way, and will allow for two-ship service to begin on the Nanaimo Harbour – Gabriola Island route in 2022.

While these four routes will be serviced by Island Class ferries, the specific ships themselves won’t be permanently assigned to a route. Standardization allows us to move ferries around to replace each other during planned maintenance periods or as required. We refer to this as interoperability – identical ferries can be used interchangeably. When identical ferries sub in for each other, the only difference that customers will notice is the name on the hull of the vessels.

BC Ferries is already realizing the benefits of standardization. In advance of the delivery of new Island Class ferries, we trained our crew and conducted dock fits by using the Island Class ferries already in service. By doing this, we reduced operational, training and maintenance costs – proof that standardizing our fleet is a win for both customers and the company, making for a more efficient ferry system overall.

Maximizing space with gallery decks
Gallery Decks – a design feature on the Island Class ferries 

One of the ways the new Island Class ferries maximize the use of space is with a gallery deck – an upper-level car deck connected by an on and off ramp on either end. Island Class gallery decks hold about 15 cars.

When the Island Class ferries begin to provide two-ship service on the Campbell River – Quadra Island and the Gabriola Island – Nanaimo routes in 2022, customers will experience a different loading procedure. Before every sailing, BC Ferries' experienced loading officers will assess the traffic situation at the terminal. Based on sight lines, it is not always possible to see all vehicles in the queue before they approach the terminal, so the crew generally plans to load the ship anticipating a full sailing. As vehicles drive up to the vessel, crew will decide which vehicles to load on the main vehicle deck or the gallery deck.  Generally, smaller vehicles will be directed up the ramp. While the ramp may appear narrow, the loading officers are experts and you can trust that your vehicle will fit. We have successfully loaded large SUVs and pickup trucks on the gallery decks without issue.

Following the direction of the loading officers will result in a smooth and efficient process, keeping the ships on schedule. As a bonus (subject to operational or emergency vehicle requirements), gallery deck traffic disembark before the main deck traffic, continuing their journeys ahead of others.

The gallery decks make the best use of space on the vessel, maximize the number of vehicles we can move on each sailing and are an important design feature as we provide safe, reliable, efficient and sustainable ferry service to coastal British Columbia.
Gallery decks in use on Island Discovery servicing the Powell River – Texada Island route.
Two propellers doing the work of four

Two propellers doing the work of four – a change in design for the Island Class ferries

The new Island Class is a diesel-electric battery hybrid ferry that has many similarities to a Toyota Prius car’s power train. In the Island Class, energy is drawn from the ship’s batteries or diesel engine, through propulsion motors to power two 360-degree steerable propeller units called thrusters. Each thruster can be turned in any direction to provide propulsion power and steering control, which gives the ship excellent maneuverability.

The Island Class have only two thrusters instead of four, such as what exists on the Powell River Queen or the Quinsam because marine technology has advanced considerably since these vessels were built in the sixties and seventies. Modern propeller units are more reliable and can transmit more power, generating thrust more efficiently compared to the older technology. The Island Class design takes advantage of these advances in technology.

A number of benefits exist using this new, two-thruster design. Every propeller produces thrust, but also creates a resistance force, or drag, which can act to slow the ship. Four propeller units create twice as much drag as two units. Drag increases fuel consumption, so we try to reduce it whenever possible. Since two larger propellers are hydro-dynamically more efficient than four smaller ones, further fuel savings are possible. Underwater propellers are noisy, and four thrusters can be expected to be noisier than two. Reducing the number of propellers helps to make the underwater world a little quieter for marine life.

While a ship with four thrusters can often continue operating even if one is out of service and a two-thruster ship may not, the high reliability of today’s marine machinery significantly reduces the risk of service interruption. Consider that just a few years ago, jet aircraft had four engines, but now commonly have only two because they are highly reliable. The same principle applies with propellers on the Island Class: today’s machinery allows reliable operation and delivers important benefits for the natural world around us.

About the Island Class

The Island Class ferries carry 47 vehicles and are double-ended for easy loading and unloading. The ferries also feature wide vehicle lanes, dedicated pedestrian paths, and bicycle parking spaces.

Passenger lounges and washrooms are situated on the main deck for easy access. Lounge areas have been built with your comfort in mind, with a variety of seating choices and charging stations. A sundeck with seating, windbreaks, and an accessible washroom will provide a comfortable space to sit outdoors.

The Island Class are battery-equipped ships designed for full electric operation. The ships are fitted with hybrid technology that bridges the gap until shore charging infrastructure becomes available. From the exterior details to the engines, the design of the new vessels reduces underwater radiated noise, lowers emissions and improves the customer experience on board.

The Island Class ferries will service the following routes:
  • Powell River – Texada Island (in service)
  • Port McNeill – Alert Bay – Sointula (in service)
  • Nanaimo Harbour – Gabriola Island (two ferries - in service)
  • Campbell River – Quadra Island (two ferries - January 18, 2023) 

Key features

  • Electric power and propulsion systems
  • Battery-hybrid power systems improve efficiency and reduce emissions during interim operations
  • Exhaust system reduces NOx emissions through selective catalytic reduction
  • Twin propellers designed to reduce underwater radiated noise
  • Designed to be fully accessible without elevators, reducing energy consumption, operating cost and complexity
  • Vessel completely outfitted with LED lighting
  • Heat recovery system uses waste thermal energy to heat vessel
  • Low friction and biofouling resistant hull coating reduces fuel consumption
  • Comfortable passenger lounges and solariums for great views along the journey

We are standardizing our fleet

The Island Class ferries are another step towards standardizing our fleet. Standardization helps us:
  • Dramatically improve resiliency in our fleet by allowing us to move ferries around to replace each other during refits, repairs, and unexpected challenges.
  • Provide a more consistent travel experience for our customers.
  • Reduce logistical, operational, training, and maintenance costs.

Questions, concerns, or need more information?

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