The Slow Lane: could The Ferry Announcement be more succinct?

Marcus Hondro thoroughly deconstructs the speech every Bowen Islander knows off by heart.

Let’s start here: the Departure Announcement (upper case to denote import) BC Ferries plays upon our beloved Queen of Capilano could never be characterized as succinct.  Brevity is not a virtue it possesses and, like the Marcel Proust tome In Search of Lost Time, it fails at being concise.

Rather the Departure Announcement could be deemed – sound familiar, deemed? (more later) – as…oh – garrulous?  Or perhaps we should be charitable and go with exceedingly thorough.

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I spoke via email recently with Deborah Marshall, executive director of public affairs for BC Ferries, and she tells me ours is “generally the same as the rest of the departure announcements in the fleet.”

I told Deborah I’ve encountered islanders who find the Departure Announcement overlong (true).  She said the “announcements were lengthened to include information on how passengers can make sure they stay safe not just in emergency situations but when moving about the vessel as well.”

Further, she said it was deemed necessary the announcement, written by ferry staff in 2015 with updates since, include information on new “policies and regulations.”  It all adds up to a lot of verbiage for the (I assume) voice actor who got the gig (rats, forgot to ask for a name).

As Bowen is a short run, for us the length of the Departure Announcement is magnified.  It has 234 words and runs nearly one-and-a-half minutes and when you add the Arrival Announcement – now played on the heels of the Departure Announcement – I estimate us islanders are hearing an announcement for 13.8 per cent of our trip.

When extrapolated over the course of a 90-minute route, such as Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, it would be like listening to an announcement for 12.3 minutes.  To quote my teenage son “I suck at math (true),” but I stand by those numbers.

Clearly the Departure Announcement could be pruned and, not surprisingly, I have a few (or many) thoughts on the subject.  But first let us first look at the DA in its entirety (transcribed by myself, any errors are mine):

This is an important safety announcement.  To make your journey today safe and pleasant please take a moment to listen to how to be safe at sea.  There’s a lot of safety knowledge behind each BC Ferries crew member and all members of our crew are certified by Transport Canada and Marine Safety to deal effectively with emergency situations.

In the unlikely event of an emergency please stop what you are doing and follow directions from the crew.  They will guide you to the emergency assembly area, Marina evacuation system and lifejackets located on deck 3, the passenger lounge deck.  If it is deemed necessary a crew member will instruct you on how to put on a life jacket.

Remember you are on a vessel that can sometimes move unexpectedly so please use handrails, walk carefully, watch for high doorsills, be careful on outer decks that may be wet and watch out for strong winds that can knock you off-balance.  Help your fellow passengers stay safe by keeping luggage out of isles and off of seats.

BC Ferries is pleased to provide a smoke free environment.  Customers are reminded there is no smoking onboard vessels or anywhere on terminal property; this includes the use of e-cigarettes.  If you need any assistance during the voyage or when disembarking please identify yourself to a crewmember so we can help.  Thank you for sailing with B.C. Ferries.

Okay, to begin let’s cut the first two sentences and start with “Please listen to the following safety announcement.”  Period.  Simple.  Don’t need “pleasant” or to be asked to “please take a moment” and nor do we need “safe at sea” (which, as we are at sea, seems a given).

Still with that opening paragraph, saying the crew is certified etc. to “deal effectively with” etc., is unnecessary.  We already know Alan and Blaine and Sandy etc. weren’t just handed a safety vest and pointed in the direction of the car deck.

In short, we’re happy with our Q. of C. staff, though I’m glad the guy who over-disciplined my son over a vending machines incident 12 years ago retired.  I mean if you were 5 and heard a chocolate bar had fallen underneath one you, too, might crawl between the wall and the machine to find it.

In the unlikely event of an emergency please stop what you are doing and follow directions from the crew.  Firstly, we Bowen Islanders are not so frail that invoking the spectre of an emergency requires it to be preceded by the assurance that such an event is “unlikely.”

And were there an emergency we wouldn’t need to be told to stop what we’re doing.  After all, what could we be doing that’s more pressing than an emergency?  Talking about where we’re taking the kids swimming?  Trying to pull a child out from under a vending machine?

If it is deemed necessary a crew member will instruct you on how to put on a life jacket.  Along with ‘brandish’ and ‘druthers,’ ‘deemed’ is a favorite word of mine but here it seems superfluous.  Having said that, let’s keep it and go with:If it is deemed necessary that you require instructions on how to put on a life jacket then it might be best if you stayed home, locked the doors and took to using only plastic utensils.

There’s this: watch out for strong winds that can knock you off balance. Simply “watch out for strong winds” will do.  Or cut the line entirely and let people get blown around the deck.  Why?  Because as all parents know there is no better learning tool than natural consequences. (See vending machine above).

Okay, now this has gotten overlong but before stopping I shall pen my own version of the Departure Announcement.  After all, criticizing implies an ability to do better.  The following then is but 58 words, fully 176 words, and 45 seconds, shorter:

Hey, listen up.  In an emergency Alan and Blaine and Sandy etc. will help you put on a life jacket, though frankly that shouldn’t be deemed necessary.  Also, please take a moment to walk firmly and don’t throw your luggage just any old place at sea.  Oh, no smoking, which basically you should quit anyhow (true).  Peace out.

On second thought, probably best to stick with the Departure Announcement we’ve got.

(True).

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