Communications lessons from a ferry parking aide

Scores of vehicles on a huge boat heading to multiple destinations. Recipe for disaster? Not if they’re handled smartly. Here are some takeaways from a car choreographer.

Where I live, in British Columbia—Canada’s Pacific Northwest—ferry rides are a delight.

The boats are big and clean and mostly on time. Food is decent—hamburgers and fries in the cafeteria, with salmon and roast beef in the chi chi lounges. Best of all, you can even make a reservation for an affordable fee ($15 to $19 depending on the route) sparing yourself a long wait in the terminal.

A recent trip to the San Juan Islands in Washington State gave me one more reason to appreciate B.C. ferries. The traffic officials here know how to communicate.

Is there a more onerous communications challenge than filling a ferry with cars heading to four different islands? It’s like choreographing a ballet with a bunch of rhinos.

Which vehicles do you direct to the upper deck, parked precariously on a downhill slope (pointing directly at the ocean)? How close to the white Lexus convertible should you send the mud-covered camper van? How do you communicate to drivers that you want them to change lanes as you’re waving them onto the ferry?

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