Two of the ferries will be designed to carry 145 cars and 600 passengers on each of the routes. A third smaller ferry, designed to carry 125 cars and 600 passengers, will be used to add extra sailings to the Southern Gulf Islands route during peak times, and to provide refit relief for the two larger ferries.
The two main vessels will be smaller than those they are replacing. The Queen of Burnaby and Queen of Nanaimo, which were built in 1965 and 1964, both carry 192 cars and 996 passengers and crew.
The smaller size of the two main ferries will help cut costs during the winter months, while the third ferry will provide even greater capacity on the Southern Gulf island route in the summer.
The provincially-owned ferry corporation says Canadian and international shipyards will be invited to bid on the contracts to design and build the ships, and the contract will be awarded in January.
The first two larger ferries are expected to be in service in 2016, with the smaller ship arriving in 2017.
Vessels could be fueled by LNG
BC Ferries is still considering if the vessels will be powered by liquefied natural gas.
"While BC Ferries intends to acquire LNG-fuelled vessels, further technical and financial analyses will be required before a final decision is made," CEO Mike Corrigan said in a written statement.
"These analyses very much depend on the responses to the Request for Proposals. While vessels fuelled with LNG are expected to have a higher initial capital costs than those fuelled with diesel, they are expected to have lower overall life cycle costs, which would have a positive impact on fares."
Corrigan says one aim is to reduce costs by standardizing the vessels in the fleet.
"Improved operational efficiencies are also expected including lower crew training costs with standardized bridge, engine room and accommodation layouts, and lower maintenance costs with standardization of parts and equipment."