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I recently travelled on BC Ferries (in British Columbia, Canada) and I made an online reservation for my car and me, which is billed 15 dollars per trip. When arriving near the ferry terminal through one of the main highways, there were traffic screens giving real-time filling of the ferries. All of the indicated ferries were rarely more full than 50%, some were less than 10% full a few hours before departure. This means few people reserve their ferry spot beforehand. I supposed that showing up early was enough to have a spot, at this time of the year at least (end of June).

Since 15 dollars per trip is a bit expensive (the whole trip is less than 100 dollars), I would like to know if there is a way to predict when the reservation is useful, i.e. when showing up 30 minutes early is not enough to have a spot on the ferry (and not wait for the next), if it happens at all that ferries are full? I am mostly interested in the ferries between the continent and Vancouver Island, but ideally it may apply to all BC Ferries.

  • Are you able to take a small chance of waiting e.g. 2 hours for the next sailing? – 200_success Jul 22 '15 at 16:51
  • @200_success I updated my post for that, that's the matter, I would like to get on that specific ferry, not on any other ferry available that day/week. However, if coming X minutes before the ferry departs is always enough, that is fine for me, I just would like to have an idea how long before. – Vince Jul 22 '15 at 16:58
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BC Ferries posts a Busy Days Forecast for major routes based on historical data. The information is very limited, though.

For example, for Tsawwassen (mainland) → Swartz Bay (Victoria), expected busy departures over the next two weeks are:

  • Thursday 2015-07-30: 11am to 8pm
  • Friday 2015-07-31: 11am to 9pm
  • Saturday 2015-08-01: 9am to 3pm
  • Sunday 2015-08-02: not too busy
  • Monday 2015-08-03 (BC Day holiday): noon to 6pm
  • Tuesday 2015-08-04: 10am to 6pm

Whether that means you should make a reservation or not depends on your own risk tolerance.

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It depends on how willing you are to wait. Over the weekend, particularly a Friday night outbound and a Sunday return journey you will likely miss a ferry or two. On a long weekend during the summer, you could be waiting a long time.

My two cents worth, 15 bucks is worth the piece of mind.

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