Queen of Capilano

Official No: 0812656
Place Built: Vancouver, BC
Builder: Vancouver Shipyards
Year Built: 1991
Date Commissioned: June 21, 1991
Vehicles: 85
Passengers: 458
Crew: 10-14
Length: 96.0 m
Breadth: 21.18 m
Gross Tons: 2,856
Service Speed: 14 knots
Horsepower: 7,305


An Intermediate-class ferry, the Queen of Capilano operates on the busy commuter and tourist route between Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver) and Snug Cove (Bowen Island). Despite being built 16 years ago (in 1991), she is still one of the youngest ferries in the fleet. And despite being a relatively new ferry, the Queen of Capilano is surprisingly prone to mechanical problems; partly due to her problematic unique Right Angle Drive (RAD) propulsion. The Queen of Cumberland which operates from Victoria to the Southern Gulf Islands, is the only sister ship to the Capilano in the fleet. Interestingly, the design of the new Intermediate Class ferry currently (2007) being built in North Vancouver is largely based on that of the Queen of Capilano .


As she has for the past 15 years, the Queen of Capilano plies the waters of Howe Sound between Horseshoe Bay and Snug Cove, Bowen Island. Most days, the ferry makes 16 rounds trips on the scenic 20 minute journey. In addition to being the sole vehicle connection to Bowen Island, a bedroom-community of Metro Vancouver, the Queen of Capilano is a school bus for Bowen Island high school students. The ship is crewed and based out of Horseshoe Bay. On weekday and Saturday mornings, the Queen of Capilano sails empty to Bowen Island to begin service with the 5:35 departure from Snug Cove. Rarely, the Queen of Capilano fills in on the Horseshoe Bay to Langdale route; usually when an extra late night sailing is needed to relieve backed up traffic on either side.

Although the Queen of Coquitlam is not a large ferry, she is very accessible and has more than basic amenities. The passenger lounges are located midship above the car deck. They are accessible by both stairs and elevator, and provide a very spacious and rarely crowded place to sit. The view from the passenger level is excellent, allowing panoramic views of the passing scenery. There is also a snack bar with limited food and drink selections. Above the lounges the outside deck provides another excellent platform for viewing the passing land and seascapes. There are also plenty of places to sit outside and enjoy the sun and fresh air.

The Queen of Capilano is powered by four unique RAD engines, one located in each "corner" of the vessel. This set up allows for excellent manoeuvrability in tight quarters as each RAD is controlled individually from the wheelhouse. However, these RAD's have also been the source of many of the ferry's problems. To say these RADS are unique is not an understatement; there are only 10 such models of the engines in the world and BC Ferries owns them all.

In the event of an emergency, evacuation of the vessel takes place from the upper outside passenger decks. Evacuation slide stations are located on both sides of the ship. The Queen of Capilano is equipped with life rafts and one rescue boat.


The $18 million ferry (although later reports put the cost at $25 million) was built at Vancouver Shipyards in 1991. The Queen of Capilano was the first new ferry built for BC Ferries since the Queen of Oak Bay and Queen of Surrey in 1981. Constructed in sections, the vessel's hull and superstructure were built separately and joined after the hull had been launched. The ferry was commissioned on June 21, 1991.

The Capilano was built for, and originally sailed on, the Jervis Inlet crossing between Earls Cove and Saltery Bay on the Sunshine Coast. The first months of service in the late-summer of was plagued with mechanical difficulties, partly owing to the RAD's hitting debris in the water. In the few months on the route the Queen of Capilano experienced numerable break downs and a grounding. At one point, it was reported that a tug boat had to stand by to prevent the ferry from grounding during docking proceedures ( The Province , Feb. 13, 1992. pg. A 33). By March of the next year, the ferry was drydocked for an extensive refit for major work on the 4 engines. The cost of repairs was paid for by the engine suppliers. Interestingly, this may have been Glen Clark's first "ferry fiasco"; he was then finance minister and minister responsible for BC Ferries.

After refit, the Queen of Capilano replaced the Howe Sound Queen on the Bowen Island run. However, the troubles continued. After less than a year on that route, the ferry was involved in another docking incident where the historic 67-year old cabin cruiser Wanderer was heavily damaged when it was hit by the Capilano leaving the Snug Cove dock. A few years later, in 1995, the ferry smashed a propeller on the rocks in Horseshoe Bay putting it out of service again. In 2001, the ferry tore out one of the wing walls that guide the ferry into Snug Cove. Numerous engine failures have put the ferry out of service numerous times. The fact that there are four propellers means the ferries can still operate with one engine down, which the Capilano and her sister ship the Queen of Cumberland were forced to do for most of the summer of 2005. On November 6, 2006, two engines failed as the ferry left Horseshoe Bay forcing an emergency drop of the anchors. Six days later an engine on the ferry leaked hundreds of liters of oil into Horseshoe Bay after hitting debris.

Despite its problems, the Queen of Capilano has been involved in a number of rescues; contributing to the safety of Howe Sound's waters. On Christmas of 2002, the crew of the ferry helped put out a fire on a sailboat in Snug Cove, rescuing a dog in the process. The next year, the Capilano helped prevent the Queen of Surrey fire from turning into a bigger disaster. On May 12, 2003, a fire in the engine room of the Surrey caused her to lose power and drift towards the shore of Bowen Island. The Queen of Capilano quickly responded and towed the Queen of Surrey to deeper waters. In another incident, on May 22, 2005, the Capilano responded when a small boat began floundering in heavy seas. The crew launched the rescue boat and pulled two boaters to safety.

In the spring of 2007, the Queen of Capilano underwent another refit. The work, done in Esquimalt, included replacing the RAD's with Rolls Royce thursters in an attempt to improve reliability. The ferry was also upgraded to "Baltic ice class" to better deal with the large amounts of debris often found in Howe Sound. However, following the refit, there were problems with the vessel including malfunctions in lighting, plumbing, the elevator, and the PA system. Early indications showed the new propulsion systems to be just as susceptible to debris damage and less fuel efficient.

Origin of Name

Queen of Capilano - Named after the North Shore's largest river, the Capilano River. The river, which divides North Vancouver from West Vancouver, was named after Squamish Nation, Chief Capilano who was a pioneer in spearheading Native issues and aboriginal land claims at the end of the 19th century. According to the Encyclopedia of British Columbia, Chief Capilano and "his wife Ellen were the first aboriginal people in BC to vote." ("Capilano, Joe" - Encyclopedia of British Columbia )

The Queen of Capilano is not the first "ferry" on the coast to take the Capilano name. The Capilano (1891-1915), the Capilano (II) (1920-49), and the Capilano (III) (1951-59), all served BC coastal communities in a variety of functions under the flag of the Union Steamship Company. Interestingly, the Capilano (II) largely served the Howe Sound and Bowen Island communities much like the Queen of Capilano does today.

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