There are several ways to travel to Vancouver Island by water.
A ferry is certainly a slower way to travel, but the scenery is worth it – plus … if you’re traveling with your vehicle it’s the only way to get here!
To & From the BC Mainland
The trip from Victoria-Vancouver takes approximately 1 1/2 hours and winds through the beautiful Canadian Gulf Islands. Because it’s so protected, the trip itself is usually quite calm and relaxing. (Although very windy conditions can cause delays – if you’re in doubt either call or check the website for up-dates).
The BC Ferries Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal, located 29 kilometres (18 mi) north of Victoria, has hourly (to semi-hourly in the winter) sailings to Tsawwassen on the mainland (a ferry terminal south of Vancouver). From Swartz Bay you can also catch sailings to many of the Gulf Islands.
There are also ferries running from the Tsawassen mainland terminal to Duke Point just south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and from the Horseshoe Bay terminal in Vancouver, crossing to Nanaimo about a 90 min drive from Victoria.
The ferries that run between Vancouver Island and the mainland are large, modern, multi-level ships. There are several ships making the run and are able to carry over 400 vehicles and 2,100 passengers and crew each.
It’s advisable to show up at least 1/2 hour before the scheduled departure time … and in the busy season or holidays I’d advise at least an hour before. If you know what time you want to travel, it’s sometimes advisable to make a reservation ahead of time. (there is a reservation fee) With a reservation you still need to show up 1/2 hour in advance of sailing but at least you know you’ll have a spot.
Reservations can be made either on-line or by phone – check their website for details.
Amenities on board include: an all-inclusive buffet, several cafes & a cafeteria-style restaurant; retail shops selling clothing, magazines, souvenirs and snacks; and an all-inclusive ‘quiet lounge’.
Other routes served by BC Ferries include the Cariboo-Chilcotin coast, Haida Gwaii and Northern British Columbia, leaving from Port Hardy at the north end of Vancouver Island. Check their website for schedules and prices.
V2V is the newest marine transporatation service running a daily 254-seat passenger only high speed catamaran between Victoria Harbour and Vancouver Harbour. Check their website for fares and sailing times: V2V
To & From Washington State, U.S.A.
Washington State Ferries
The Black Ball Line – MV Coho
In Victoria’s Inner Harbour, an international ferry terminal provides car and foot passenger ferry service on the Black Ball Ferry Line (M/V Coho) to Port Angeles, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. Check their website for details.
The Victoria Clipper
As well, many cruise ship companies pull into port in downtown Victoria as a stopover for a day or night – check your favorite cruise line for more information.
*Insiders’ Tip: If you’re traveling in an RV that is towing a vehicle … it’s quite a bit less expensive to un-hook and drive on separately. This seems to be the case for any of the car ferries. Check the websites of the individual ferry lines and do the math … you’ll be surprised!
For information on air travel to Victoria and Vancouver Island, click this link: Air Travel to Victoria