TransLink Podcast: The one where we ride the SeaBus

TransLink Podcast: The one where we ride the SeaBus

Jag Gill
Jag Gill, director of SeaBus at Coast Mountain Bus Company, which operates the SeaBus for TransLink.

Come behind the scenes with us as What’s the T: the TransLink Podcast with Jawn Jang reveals the voices and stories that drive Metro Vancouver’s transit system forward. Subscribe and listen everywhere you get your podcasts, including SpotifyApple PodcastsPocket Casts, and Google Podcasts!

On this episode, we’re going where very few people have gone before: the captain’s chair, perched high atop the SeaBus vessel. We speak to Jag Gill, director for SeaBus at Coast Mountain Bus Company. The company operates the SeaBus for TransLink. Hop on board with us! 


HOST JAWN JANG: Hey, welcome to What’s the T, the TransLink podcast. Here’s what we’re exploring on this episode.

[I’M ON A BOAT BY THE LONELY ISLAND FT. T-PAIN PLAYS]: I’m on a boat! I’m on a boat! I’m on a boat! Everybody look at me, cause I’m sailing on a boat.

JAWN: We’re learning all about the SeaBus. Let’s tap into What’s the T.


VOICEOVER 1: The next station is…

VOICEOVER 2: Welcome to What’s the T, the TransLink podcast.

JAWN: The work we do at TransLink involves moving thousands and thousands of people across the region every single day and all throughout the day. And that’s covering roads, rails, bridges, tunnels and also the sea.


JAWN: Let me introduce you to the bus that floats, or as we call it, the SeaBus. It connects the North Shore to the rest of the transportation network via Waterfront Station, which provides access to the busses, SkyTrain and West Coast Express, all in one stop.

JAWN: The SeaBus is one of the most consistent and reliable modes of transportation in Metro Vancouver and arguably one of the most picturesque experiences you’ll find anywhere. With 12 minute turnarounds, the views are nearly impossible to beat with spectacular sights of the North Shore mountains, the city skyline of downtown Vancouver, or beautiful Stanley Park to choose from.

JAG GILL: I think one of the best feedback I ever got from a couple, they were visiting Canada from Norway and they said, “We’ve been here for 14 days and this is the best $3 they have spent.” So, you know, that was amazing.

JAWN: This is Jag Gill, the director of SeaBus at Coast Mountain Bus Company. To put it simply, he is Mr. SeaBus.

Let’s pretend I am from out of town. I’ve never been to Vancouver before. How would you describe what the SeaBus is to somebody like me?

JAG: So SeaBus, as I always say, is probably one of the best ferry systems in the world. It’s incredible the, the efficiency of the system for the people who don’t know. The crossing is 12 minutes and we serve the communities of North Vancouver and Vancouver. And it’s, it’s amazing that our capacity of our vessels is around 385 people per vessel per sailing.

And within 3 minutes we can embark 400 people and disembark 400 people. So that is 800 people going up and down the vessel in 3 minutes. I myself, you know, long time marine career, I don’t know any other ferry system where we can accomplish that. So, it’s an amazing system where we do more than 50,000 sailings every year, you know, and it’s just, just amazing how the system is whole built up and it’s just a connecting, you know, North Shore and south shore via water.

JAWN: To your point about it being quite like unique and one of a kind, I was going to ask like, is there a different ferry system or company that replicates the kind of work that SeaBus does every single day? I can’t really think of one that immediately comes to mind in terms of how quick the turnaround trips can be.

JAG: No, I think in that matter just how the SeaBus vessels are built, they are unique. So, we have one passenger deck, and we have 12 doors like, you know, you can compare to any ferry or BC Ferries, yhey have like, you know, two decks and one passenger door. So, we have like, you know, 12 doors and all, all can be opened that same time and people can come in and go out.

So, that makes this this whole operation so unique that we have that kind of efficiency. It comes with this challenges, right? You know, when vessel is delayed, in the harbor with the traffic and all that. So, we have to do, you know, cover up and all that. So the system is so fast, so efficient that it creates its own challenges in making sure we deliver that service to our customers.

JAWN: Okay. Well, on that note about delays, I work in the Media Relations position here at TransLink. So, when there is a big delay, whether it’s the SkyTrain or a bus or the SeaBus or the West Coast Express, our team gets notified so that we know like, “Hey, there seems to be an issue.” If there’s something we need to know about, or we can call and contact the right people, probably someone like yourself and get information so that we can relay to the public if necessary.

But I’m telling you, Jag, since I started at TransLink back in November of 2022, I’ve barely seen SeaBus Delay reports come up. So maybe talk to us about like the performance rating of SeaBus because it just seems to be so darn reliable. Yeah.

JAG: That’s one of my favorite topics to talk about. And, and I will start off with the giving the credit where it is due is, is making sure that our vessels are ready for service. Right. So, a lot of work goes behind the scene by our maintenance staff to make sure the vessels are ready and they foresee their planned maintenance and all that.

And then to our officers, you know, there’s so much of ownership in what they do and making sure vessels depart on time, vessels arrive on time. And then the last aspect of all this is, of course, the system we have, you know, the terminal attendants, they work with officers on the vessel. And yeah, so, we have to your point, yeah, we have 99.5% 6% accuracy.

And I think the sailings which we do miss, majority of them are unfortunate events due to an medical emergency on board where we have to wait for paramedics. So those are the situations where we do have delays. But other than that, mechanical failures or crewing issues, they are non-existent or very minimal.

JAWN: Yeah, very far and few between seems to be what I’m picking up again, just in my short time here as a Media Relations Advisor at TransLink. But that’s the truth. We do see delay reports coming in. Of course, there’s way more, more busses, traditional busses and there are SeaBus. So of course, the chances and likelihood of delays does increase. But goes to your point, SeaBus is reliable. That’s it. That’s the selling point.

JAG: Yeah. Knock on wood, and we would hope to maintain that and we are working hard to do that.

JAWN: Absolutely. Now you mentioned challenges. When you look out in the map and right behind you, there’s a beautiful sort of overhead map that just kind of just shows you the entire sound, the Burrard Peninsula, if you will. And so, it looks like a simple enough job, right? You take the SeaBus from either Lonsdale and then you bring it to Waterfront or it’s vice versa.

But, it’s really not that easy because maybe people don’t realize how busy that crossing can be. We’re talking like, especially during the summer, Jag, cruise ships, cargo ships, private personal yachts, and boats of all different kinds of things. And did I mention there’s Harbour planes? There are literal planes flying in and out of this place!

JAG: Yeah.

JAWN: What is that challenge like?

JAG: It’s busy. It’s a very, very busy harbour. Probably the busiest in Canada. I know in the West Coast, Burrard Inlet is a busiest traffic as far as deep seas is concerned. We do have our challenges for the people who don’t know, like, we are the only service, I think, which is going north, south. Rest, all the traffic is going east west, you know, inside the Burrard Inlet and going out to the Strait of Georgia and so we are crossing traffic all the time.

And it is, we have to maintain schedule, which is a pretty tight one. And then, we have to, like you mentioned, there is, you know, cruise ships and it’s a very tight we have a lot of neighbours. So, we have to be mindful of the wake we generate with our vessels. So, there are a lot of limiting factors. But as I mentioned before, our officers, they do a great job in making sure they plan our terminal staff is supporting them, make sure the vessels leave on time. So, a lot goes on to make sure that system work the way it is working.

JAWN: Visually, I imagine, do you remember the game Frogger?

JAG: Yeah.

JAWN: Like how you have to cross the busy highway? Like, imagine a like, an aquatic version. And that’s kind of what SeaBus is dealing with. Although it’s not as hectic and it’s not as chaotic, but it’s that busy lanes of traffic, a lot of vessels going east to west and SeaBus has to stay steady, going north and south.

So tell us then a little bit about like the communication that is required, working with all these different teams and all these different, I’m sure, there’s like a Transportation Canada team that also you have to communicate with just to make sure like, Hey, SeaBus needs to go here. Are there any vessels approaching that we need to know about?

JAG: Yeah, so a lot of communication and to begin with, all of all the vessels in Burrard Inlet, where we sail, have to be on radio at all times on channel 12.

JAWN: And that includes like even small boats, right?

JAG: Every vessel. Every vessel. Not, not the pleasure craft maybe, but any commercial vessel, small or big, have to be stand by on that. So that’s where all the vessels in the harbour, they communicate with each other. And over the years, SeaBus has, you know, as I mentioned before, a real goodwill with all our neighbours. So, you know, they understand SeaBus operations. We understand their operations. So, there is a lot of, you know, there is a lot of understanding goes in making sure that everything is smooth. The other aspect of communication is with the boat, the terminals. So, when the vessels, they are running a little bit late. For example, they give a heads up to the terminals, right? So, the terminals are aware to make sure to, you know, open the doors on time, make sure the vessels close on time, the doors and the vessel is on its way, on time.

So, yeah, a lot of collaboration, communication goes between the terminals in-house with the traffic and with all the vessels in the harbour.

JAWN: Sure. Yeah. And again, it’s a lot of work, but it happens so quickly and happens every single day, every hour, in order to make sure that those crossings are being done. They’re being delivered. I want to talk a little bit about the customers, because the SeaBus is a very unique method of transportation. And so, every single day, Monday to Friday, you’re going to have the same groups of people, whether they’re going to work or maybe going to school, that probably have built their schedules day to day to make sure like I’m on the same SeaBus at every day at the same time.

So, to your point about customer satisfaction and performance ratings, that’s what you’re trying to deliver, trying to make sure that people can stick to the schedules that they have already rigorously built and are trying to live every single day.

JAG: Right. And I think that’s the key to the operation. And that’s where our focus also is, that customers safety and then customer experience. So those are two things we focus on and how do we do that is, making improvements and what customers want. And secondly, delivering that service on time. And we have to make sure that we provide that service when the customer comes, they know, SeaBus are going to depart on time, SeaBus is going to arrive on time, They’re going to make their connections. So yeah, so we do that to make sure that customers, they, you know, arrive happy and they leave happy.

JAWN: And, you know, again, I was kind of doing a hypothetical scenario of what it would be like to be from out of town. Truthfully, I can’t imagine a better view if you are departing Lonsdale and you’re heading south to arrive at Waterfront Station. That view of downtown Vancouver is truly breathtaking. Like, obviously you don’t serve as a captain anymore these days, but when you were working in the ships like that, Jag, did you hear comments from tourists and visitors being like, “This is a truly amazing place.” Like, this is what you get to see every day?

JAG: Yeah, lots of them. Lots of them. And you know, passengers, they when they are on that vessel, they are so happy. Kids, they love it. And I think one of the best, best feedback I ever got from a couple, they were visiting Canada, from Norway, and they said, “We’ve been here for 14 days and this is the best $3 they have spent.”

So, you know, that was amazing. And it’s just been years. They said that it still and I think that’s that’s bang on. The service we provide, and if you look you know you’re coming to North Shore, you have a view of the mountains. You are, you know, going Waterfront, you have a view of this, you know, beautiful buildings, you know, daylight, nighttime, you see those beautiful lights of city. It’s amazing. You know, in a few months we’ll have snow and the mountains all covered with snow. It’s amazing.

JAWN: That’s right. And not to mention Stanley Park. How could we forget, like, Stanley Park on the other side?

JAG: I think it’s probably the best 15 minutes you will spend crossing Burrard Inlet and just absorbing everything.

JAWN: Right. Is there like a sense of familiarity you think, like, regular customers who over the years have gotten to know, like some of your staff members and maybe like, just get into the habit of like, “Hey, like, how are you?” Like, “I haven’t noticed… maybe you were away on vacation for a couple of weeks.” You know, “It’s nice to see you again!”

Like, do you think there’s something like that here?

JAG: Yeah, I think the majority of our customer base are, you know, the people who live on the both side of our terminals, right. The community of North Shore and on the waterfront side. So that’s what we do. We are transit, you know, part of the transit company. And you know, we move people. And yes, I think the more than the office staff, the people on our front line, they know many of them by their names and they say hello in the morning, “How was your day?” So, yeah, so a lot goes on and that’s part of our customer, you know, providing customer service. Many of them, they know our staff and our staff know a lot of them who are regular. They’ve been coming here for years.

JAWN: Let’s stay with staff then and come full circle, if you will. If somebody is listening to this right now, Jag, and they’re thinking, you know what, like, that sounds like a great job. I want to be the captain of a SeaBus one day. What are the steps you think they should follow in order to accomplish that kind of a dream?

JAG: Right. So we have, for on the operations side, we have two different streams. And so back before 2014, we could not directly hire officers from outside because Transport Canada wouldn’t give us the sea time from our staff. But now, since 2014, what Transport Canada has done is our deckhands, we call them marine attendants. When they are on their vessel, they get sea time, so they are able to get sea time and they are able to go to Transport Canada and get their certification.

Many of our current officers, they were attendants and they worked their way through and they became officers and then they can become masters. And the second stream is that we, when the positions open up, if we have nobody in-house, we directly hire officers from outside.

JAWN: I see. Right. So, then I guess the next question is, what keeps you going? What motivates you every single day to be like, “You know what? I get to work at SeaBus and that’s the best feeling ever.” Like what is it about that?

JAG: There’s few things which come to my mind and the number one is, is of course, the team we have. I think I’m happy with, with the team we have in the office. I’m very happy with the frontline people who are so passionate about the job, the, our maintenance, the engineers, the work they do behind the scenes to make sure the vessels are ready to go, service every day. The officers who want to make sure that there is no incidents, the vessels leave on time, arrive on time. So, I think everybody works like a family and that what makes me happy to be part of that.

JAWN: To your point about maintenance and engineering, yeah, it’s a thankless job because when they’re doing a good job, nobody notices. And that’s a sign of a good thing.

JAG: That is that is totally I was going to say that I if, if the you know, there’s no news that means they are doing a fantastic job.

JAWN: Right.

JAG: Right? And for people who don’t know this, we do majority of the work in-house. All the maintenance is done in-house, all the engine changes, or ad changes, you name it all the planned maintenance schedule, except of course, the work which is underwater when we have to go to drydock. But other than that, all the work is done by our marine engineers in-house.

JAWN: A lot of people have asked over the years like, why doesn’t the SkyTrain run 24 hours? And we actually answered that earlier in season one of What’s the T, the TransLink podcast. I’m wondering that, you probably know it’s coming, why doesn’t the SeaBus run 24 hours?

JAG: We would love to, but again, similar to SkyTrain, I think it comes down to the service window. So, each vessel when it goes out in the morning, when they come back, there is a few steps which our engineers have to do to make it ready for the next day. So right now, our system we have set is the first vessel comes at 7 p.m. and our engineering staff, the service, which vessel with takes around 2 hours if it’s in full refueling, cleaning and other things, right?

And then the next vessel comes out at 9 p.m. and our staff services that vessel and the last vessel which comes out around 2 a.m. in the morning, they service that vessel and by the time they are done at 5 a.m. next day morning, they have to start the vessels for getting ready for service. Our first departure is at 6 a.m. so it’s a clockwork and our window is very small.

JAWN: Right.

JAG: And that’s the reason to answer your question.

JAWN: And so it’s kind of like a race against time just to make sure that the early morning customers, they know that they’re going to have a full complement of SeaBusses ready to go to get them where they need to go.

JAG: Yeah, and even though we started the our first sailing, I mentioned at six our captains, they come at 5:30, vessels are ready for them at 5:30. Engineers have done their check, the masters go do their check. The rest of the crew arrives at 5:45 and then the attendants to their check. Our mates do their check. So just to make sure the vessel is ready to go in service at 6 a.m.

JAWN: And again, this is to your point, all the maintenance is done in-house.

JAG: All the maintenance is done in-house. We do their daily maintenance, your planned weekly maintenance plan maintenance or any reactive maintenance. So, it’s all, everything is done in-house unless it is something under the water.

JAWN: On that note, I was wondering too, and I didn’t get to ask this earlier, but you know, the Burrard Inlet, there’s a lot of debris that kind of floats around, too. It’s not just smooth waters all the time. So, what is the challenge like to try and navigate when you see obstacles? Because sometimes and, I heard this from a friend, but the reason why the Harbour planes don’t run at night is because the pilots can’t see what’s on the water. And so it’s dangerous for them to attempt the landing, which is why they don’t do evening flights. Is it the same thing for SeaBus? Because visibility is probably a big concern there.

JAG: Same same thing for here. We do had logs from time to time, deadheads, we call them. Those are the more dangerous one. The vertical logs in the water. And yes, fog is one of the biggest challenges and also nighttime. So, you know, our officers, they do try it in a white as much as they can. But there are times when, you know, we hit a log and to an extent, one of the good, good things, what we have is a little bit of, you know, safety net, if you will. And what happens is each SeaBus has four engines and in case there’s an incident and we have hit a log with one of the engines, our officers, they can shut that engine down and we can provide our service speed, which is around 12 knots with three engines in the meantime. And our engineering staff will board the vessel, they look at the problem and they will try and fix the vessel.

JAWN: Wow. And that’s while the vessel continues to operate with three engines?

JAG: That’s correct.

JAWN: Last question, Jag. You mentioned you arrived at SeaBus shortly before the Olympics. The Olympics were one of the best moments of my life. Like those two weeks were just amazing to me, I’ll hold those memories forever. Correct. What was it like working at SeaBus during the Olympics?

JAG: It was amazing to me. And like I said, it’s also it it’s been 13 years now? 14 years? But it seems like…

JAWN: I’m feeling old when you say that!

JAG: It happened yesterday, and I was a new officer at the time and the preparations which went through, it team like the whole world came to Vancouver, right? And that was the first time we received a new vessel. At that time we had two original vessels from ‘77, so we just received the Burrard Pacific Breeze for Olympics. That was the first time we ran three vessels in service moving people.

Our normal average boarding is around 15,000 to 20,000 a day. During the Olympics we moved 50,000 people a day, so it, by any means it was by far the best memories I have, right?

JAWN: Busy, stressful, but probably so rewarding because you get to see like the delight and the smiles of everyone. And probably you heard so many versions of “O Canada”. I’m sure that was a happy time.

JAG: Yeah, it was amazing. It was amazing. Happy people, A lot of waiting. We were running full, full load ceiling, which is 400 passenger each sailing, every 10 minutes. You know, throughout the day. But people were happy singing long lineups. But it was amazing.

JAWN: Yeah, I wish we could have that energy all the time. Line ups? No problem! I’m going to start singing “O Canada”! That’s what I’m going to do, right? If only we lived in a world like that.

JAG: No, but overall, it’s good. It’s amazing. You know, it’s a great transportation system we have, proud to be part of TransLink and providing service to passengers through water.

JAWN: The life aquatic with Jag Gill is a fascinating one and has provided me with a newfound admiration for the SeaBus and its crews. But when we come back, we’ll get a chance to do something that very few people ever get to do, and that’s climbing up into the wheelhouse of a SeaBus, where the vessel is driven.

JAWN: You’re listening to What’s the T, the TransLink podcast.


JAWN: Welcome back to what started the TransLink podcast. After wrapping up our conversation with Jag Jill, producer Allen and I climbed inside of the Burrard Beaver, one of the original SeaBus vessels from 1977. We opened the crew hatch and made our way up to the wheelhouse where Captain Jesse welcomed us in.


All right, Jessie, here we are inside. What do you call it? The cabin?

JESSIE: We call this the wheelhouse.

JAWN: The wheelhouse.

JESSIE: So this is pretty much, everybody starts from here. When you get trained, you get introduced to this equipment. And this is where you learn your first landing and all, and cross the harbour.


Fair enough. I was asking like, what’s the, what’s your favorite thing about working this job and being able to sit here in the wheelhouse of SeaBus like that?

JESSIE: Well, I started my career working on, working on deep sea that crosses the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and. So, you’re away from home. When you started that family, when you started to have a substantial amount of sea time under your belt, it’s just you feel. You feel tired. You know, you miss your family a lot and you wanted to start a family as well. So here I could go home, you know, enjoy the profession that I think I cherish, right? And then at the same time, go and see my see my family, my friends, and.

JAWN: Sleep in your own bed every night

JESSIE: Sleep in your own bed, in the comfort of your own home, right. And the second best thing is the people that I work with. We are on the role have the same, same common goal. It’s just fun and it’s like family here. Like someone, someone had a birthday or has a birthday, we buy cake for them and you know, something like that.

JAWN: It’s like your family away from family?

JESSIE: Yeah, that’s right. So, this is your second home, pretty much. And have you seen the movie “Fury”?

JAWN: I have.

JESSIE: And then they say like…

JAWN: The tank movie.

JESSIE: And say, “Best job ever!”

JAWN: Yeah.

JESSIE: So every night, like, after out shift, that’s pretty much what we say, “Best job ever.”


JESSIE: Because there is the, you know, some hardship that’s involved in this in this job.

JAWN: Right.

JESSIE: At the end of the day, you know, you work as a team and it’s fine.

JAWN: And I got to explain, just because the people listening probably won’t know. This entire time, basically, you’ve been you’ve been driving this bus and now we’re just we’re parking in Lonsdale right now.

JESSIE: Yeah. That’s right, in the North Terminal.

JAWN: It’s pretty great.

JESSIE: That’s pretty cool. And then since I don’t need to back up, so I’m just going to spin my chair. Yeah. Okay, so once they give me that, that, go ahead, clear, I’m going to stand up. Some people just sit and then turn. But I can’t, I’m a huge guy.

JAWN: Fair, yeah.

JESSIE: You go there and then that’s it. I think you can spin.

JAWN: Nice and easy, yeah.

JESSIE: So, and then I’m going to, then I’m going to do my 360 again. So, green, green, doors are closed. This is the horn. So, I just give them one condition, regulation.


CPT JESSIE: I have to do this one long blast.

JAWN: Fair enough. And that’s to let everyone around know that a SeaBus is coming?

JESSIE: Yeah, or because it’s a blind zone for us. So basically, it’s like a bend.

[RADIO]: One zero five, 105.

JAWN: And that is the passenger count, just now?

JESSIE: That’s the passenger count. So, North Terminal just gave us the passenger count.

JAWN: Simply put, with a service performance of over 99%, the SeaBus is steady, rain or shine, day or night, winter weather or summer skies. The SeaBus continues to serve an important role in connecting our customers across the Burrard Inlet each and every day. Its consistency is a source of great pride for its crew and a reliable means of transportation for you, the customer.

So the next time you get to hop on board the SeaBus, you’ll know you’re in good hands en route to your destination. My thanks to Jag Gill, Captain Jesse and the entire SeaBus crew for their help in putting this episode together. My thanks to producer Allen for sailing the seas with me, and you for listening and subscribing.

My name is Jawn Jang and until next time, have a safe trip.