Ferry sector concerned about federal exclusion of ferries

For immediate release

Ottawa, March 29, 2020 – The federal government, on March 28, 2020 banned passengers showing any COVID-19 symptoms from boarding planes and inter-city trains. Ferries were not included in that measure.

The Canadian Ferry Association (CFA), which represents the sector in Canada, is concerned about the exclusion of ferries from this measure and believes it has the potential to increase health and safety risks for passengers, crews and the sector’s ability to transport passengers and goods throughout the country.

“People with COVID-19 symptoms should also be banned from boarding ferries unless there are emergency requirements, such as going to a hospital, and only with prior notice to the ferry operator,” said Serge Buy, the CEO of the association. “We urge the federal government to better consult with the ferry sector and provide the national leadership required to support critical continued ferry service to communities across the country.”

Not all ferries have the capacity to sufficiently protect passengers and crews from a potential exposure. The safety and economic impact of a passenger potentially spreading the virus to crew members and other passengers is as significant for ferries as it is for other forms of transportation.

Crews are crucial to providing continued ferry services to communities. Self-isolations, quarantines and confirmed cases of COVID-19 have already worsened severe workforce shortages in the ferry sector. The impact of a crew member being inadvertently infected with COVID-19 may mean that ferries may not be able to service their communities.

For further information, contact CFA’s CEO, Serge Buy at or 613-720-1777.



In 2019, ferries in Canada transported about 55 million passengers, 22 million vehicles and billions of dollars of goods in communities throughout the country, from urban centres to remote regions.

The Canadian Ferry Association represents the sector and its members include eight provincial governments, large urban municipalities, First nations and Crown corporations and private corporations (such as BC Ferries).


Is it easier to enable “social distancing” on ferries than on planes and trains?

It depends on the situation of the ferry.  Some ferries are large and provide adequate space, but others are small and have limited facilities.  As an example, some smaller ferries have only one washroom.  If someone with symptoms uses the washroom without declaring it, the virus can potentially spread to other passengers and crew members.

Transport Canada has relaxed rules for passengers on car decks – isn’t that sufficient?

This impacts a small percentage of ferry operators.  Some operators stated that they would not be able to enable passengers to stay on car decks as it would create safety risks while others do not have designated car decks.  Circumstances vary per operator which is why national rules providing guidance are needed.

Most ferries are different – can national measures work for them?

Like planes, there are small ferries and big ferries.  There are significant differences between ferries.  But rules addressing bans for people with COVID-19 symptoms to board ferries can be implemented throughout the sector.

To date, Transport Canada has been able to regulate the sector for safety and security, of passengers, irrespective of the diverse and provincial nature of the sector. This would be the first time that the federal government uses the diversity of the sector to shy away from implementing measures to protect passengers and crews.

Ferry traffic is down, doesn’t that enable the sector to provide adequate space for “social distancing”?

Traffic is down in most parts of the country.  But services are also reduced with cuts to routes and frequency of service across Canada.  But it only takes one infected passenger to spread the virus to crew members for the whole service to be shut down and completely cut off a community – which is what the association is trying to prevent by requesting that the government shows leadership and includes ferries in the new measure.

Ferries are the only way in and out of some communities – is a ban too radical?

Like airplanes and trains, ferries are the only transportation methods to reach some remote communities.  We fully expect that, due to emergencies (such as medical), some exceptions to the ban will be granted.  This would happen for the ferry sector in the same way it will happen in communities where planes are the only mean of access.  But inclusion of ferries is needed to help maintain the service.

Is this a provincial issue?

Ferries operate throughout the country.  Some cross rivers and cover short distances while other can represent voyages of ten hours or more.  There are municipal ferries and interprovincial ferries.  The sector is varied and national leadership is required. 

Are ferries not an extension of provincial highways?

No.  The operation of ferries across the country is diverse which is represented through the Canadian Ferry Association membership.  Some indeed are extensions of provincial highways - but others are municipal, governed by First Nations or privately, serving remote communities where no highways exist.


Economic impact

Ferry operators are expecting to lay off anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 employees across the country and lose between $300 and $600 million this year.  As recently stated by a provincial official in BC, this is far beyond the capacity of the provinces to deal with.

Ferries docked due to Transport Canada regulations

Annual inspections of ferries at shipyards and drydocks are required by Transport Canada.  The sector recognizes that this is part of the routine safety and security system for ferries in Canada.  However, with diminished shipyard capacity due to COVID-19, the sector is unable to get these inspections completed.  While Transport Canada is stating that case by case reviews will be conducted, the sector is asking for a one-year extension on ship certificates for ferries.  Without this extension, it is felt that some ferries will have to be put out of service and communities will find themselves without a crucial link.  Ferry operators recognize that the safety of passengers and crews is essential.  The measure would risk neither safety nor security of passengers and crews.