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24hr Ferry Cancellations

We were recently approached by two members of the community to speak to CalMac about the policy of cancelling sailings up to 24 hours in advance. There was concern that these cancellations are made without allowing for the fact that weather may improve. The correspondence is below.

Dear Sirs,
I am writing on behalf of the Tiree Community Council regarding concerns raised by members of the community, and brought to us at our last meeting on Wed 4 May.

The ferry to Tiree on Wed 4 May was cancelled the day prior to sailing due to adverse weather conditions.

The community members felt that the weather on the day was no worse than many a time the ferry sailed, and indeed docked, during the winter.

Whilst we are certainly not in the business of second guessing operational or skipper led decisions on the basis of safety, we, as a community, and as an elected Community Council would be interested in receiving a copy of the criteria used to judge that a sailing should be cancelled the day prior to sailing.

In the past, it was rare for a ferry to be cancelled the day before. We are well used to the amber warning system, and regard ferries cancelled due to weather to be part of island life.

However, there appears to have been an emerging pattern over the last year of ferries being cancelled the day before. This doesn’t allow for the possibility of the forecasted weather improving, nor does it take into account weather improving later in the day. With a dedicated boat for Tiree now available, it does not seem outwith the realms of possibility that a ferry could be delayed until weather improves. The weather on Wednesday evening for example, was a vast improvement on that which was present in the morning.

Would you be willing to provide us with a copy of the criteria for such early cancellation? Furthermore, are you able to tell us whether there has been a change in policy which has resulted in early cancellations becoming normal practice?

We do appreciate your time, and thank you in anticipation of a response

Yours faithfully,
Rhoda Meek
Tiree Community Councillor

And the response:

Dear Rhoda

Thank you for your email regarding what your Community Council regard as an increase in forward cancellations over the past year.

Although we do not have a written protocol on this which we can send you, as it is up to the judgement of each individual Master, you would be right in saying this type of bad weather management is becoming increasingly used to improve the public’s experience of travelling with us.

With improvements in weather forecasting and our ability to make decisions based on best possible information, our Masters are now able to make better evidence based decisions on the likelihood of a vessel sailing or not the following day.

Our Masters will always appraise the various weather forecasts in advance and where conditions are marginal they may well attempt the passage, however, where the weather forecast is significant they will consider cancelling sailings earlier.

The feedback we have from customer focus groups consistently says passengers prefer to know for certain whether a vessel will sail or not, with as much forward warning as possible. Then at least alternative arrangements can be made if a sailing is to be cancelled.

That is why you have seen an increase in sailings being cancelled 24 hours in advance. These cancellations are made on the best possible information available but you will appreciate that no system of weather forecasting is 100% accurate. There may be odd occasions when a sailing is cancelled in advance of a weather warning and the conditions are then not as severe as forecast.

We appreciate this may cause frustration for people who have had to change their plans, but our customer intelligence tells us this is the least worst option in the event of possible disruption of service.

Having up to date accurate passenger information is one of the key areas we get the most feedback on and we have taken major steps forward in improving this recently. A clear focus on getting information out through social and other media along with the introduction of an extra ‘traffic light’ in our disruption warning system now allow passengers to make travel decisions based on the best possible information.

The introduction of more planned cancellations is part of this move towards a more consistent approach to cancellations.

No system relying on weather forecasts can be foolproof, but we are trying to give us much certainty to our customers as possible.

I hope this answers your query but please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to find out more.


Martin Dorchester
Chief Executive
CalMac Ferries Ltd