West cost ferry operator CalMac is making some significant fleet improvements during this year’s dry docking maintenance programme.

Every year each of the company’s 34 vessels, ranging from the 8600 tonne Loch Seaforth, to the 11 tonne Carvoria, all have to have a period of maintenance to ensure continuing seaworthiness.

This presents the company with a complex logistical problem to keep all of its lifeline services running with minimal disruption.

‘Organising time for each vessel to enter dry dock while keeping services running is a real challenge for us that requires detailed planning. When the weather is taken into account this can be real test keeping communities connected,’ said CalMac’s Director of Operations, Robert Morrison.

‘Above and beyond the normal bow to stern servicing to ensure they are fit for another year’s service, there are some major projects planned this year to improve comfort and resilience on a range of vessels.’

Loch Seaforth is having a further 40 internal seats fitted and improved Fast Rescue Craft and cranes are being added to  Hebrides and Isle of Lewis which are also receiving new disabled bathroom and changing facilities.

The passenger lifts onboard Hebrides, Isle of Arran, Isle of Mull and Lord of the Isles are to be upgraded to improve reliability.

Lochinvar and Lord of the Isles are having lighting upgrades with fluorescent tubing being replaced by LED lighting

On Caledonian Isles, Loch Shira, Isle of Mull and Coruisk are all to be fitted with improved CCTV systems to assist in ensuring the safety of the passengers and crew.

There are also a number of upgrades to improve fleet resilience. Loch Portain is to have an upgraded pitch control and steering system. The hydraulic control gear for the bow visors on Clansman and MV Hebrides are being upgraded and navigation radar upgrades are taking place on Argyll Flyer, Caledonian Isles, Lochnevis, Loch Tarbert and Lord of the Isles. A new set of stabiliser control equipment is also being fitted to Hebrides.

This year’s dry dock schedule was planned with public consultation to minimise disruption to communities where possible.

This included a decision to defer the departure of Caledonian Isles until well after New Year to allow festive revellers to leave the island and included switching the relief vessel on Raasay to the larger Tarbert rather than the smaller Loch Linnhe.

‘While we recognise the annual overhaul replacement vessel deployments might not fully meet the aspirations of communities served, we are tightly constrained by the availability of vessels and need to work within the resources we have available.

‘Where we can we try to provide as seamless a service as possible during this period, matching suitable vessels to cover routes to keep inconvenience to a minimum. We appreciate the travelling public’s patience during this time,’ added Robert.

Last year CalMac carried more than 5.6 million passengers and 1.4 million vehicles. Its fleet serves 28 routes to island and remote mainland locations.