Alcohol on BC Ferries: dangerous or delicious? Critics and advocates weigh in

The announcement that BC Ferries will serve beer and wine on certain sailings as part of a pilot project this June has been met with concern by some questioning whether it creates the potential for increased impaired driving.

Tracy Crawford, Western Canada general manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), says BC Ferries' rules aren't strong enough.

As part of the pilot, beer and wine can only be purchased with a meal, with a maximum of two drinks per passenger and sales will only start after 11 a.m. Also, passengers will only be able to buy drinks inside the Pacific Buffet, available on certain ships travelling between Tsawwassen, south of Vancouver, and Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island.

Extra training needed

Crawford recognizes BC Ferries has set out some good regulations, but says it can go further.

"They need to make sure that they have trained staff … in the service of alcohol," said Crawford, adding that Serving It Right certification should be paired with ship-specific training.

"It [the ship] is a different entity because you're on open waters," she said.

Monty Kruger/CBC

She says more measures need to be enacted because passengers are in a confined area and there is no police enforcement on-board.

Crawford also questions how staff will enforce a two-drink maximum, as well as how they'll deal with passengers who are intoxicated and attempt to drive.

There are a number of things 'still being worked out'

CBC News spoke with BC Ferries to answer some of the questions being raised, but in an interview Thursday afternoon, the media team was short on answers.

When it comes to enforcing the two-drink rule, BC Ferries spokesperson Astrid Braunschmidt said it is 'still being worked out."

As for how staff will be trained, Braunschmidt confirmed they are currently undergoing Serving it Right certification, a self-study program required for people who serve alcohol in B.C.  

 However, she did say they are prepared if people attempt drive drunk.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy for impaired driving and we do have good relationships with RCMP," said Braunschmidt.

"If we do suspect someone is intoxicated, we do communicate with them [the police]."

BC Ferries

Alcohol on ferries in Washington

In Washington State, beer and wine sales have been permitted on its ferries for decades, according to Washington State Ferries spokesperson Ian Sterling.

"There is certainly demand from our passengers for it," said Sterling. "If we were to try and remove it ... we'd probably face some sort of mutiny."

They have the same safety concerns as B.C., he added.

 If people are intoxicated and attempt to drive, staff are trained to contact local police.

"The police are called and they meet the person as they exit the ferry boat," he said, adding that it's a rarity.

On Washington State Ferries, there is no drink maximum or requirement for it to be consumed alongside food, but passengers are only allowed to have alcohol in the galley area. 

Sterling says they do encounter intoxicated people on their ferries, but most commonly they are coming from events in Seattle and already inebriated before they board.

He adds that staff is trained to recognize intoxicated passengers and use their judgement when serving alcohol.