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23 February 2023

Ferry cancellations and delays: Your rights

Everything you need to know about your ferry rights.

After a number of delayed and cancelled ferry sailings across the Cook Straight recently, you might have been left in the lurch. We explain your rights when it comes to ferries.

Image of a ferry

My sailing is cancelled (or substantially delayed) because of a mechanical failure, what are my rights?

Both the Interislander’s and Bluebridge’s terms and conditions state they aren’t liable for any loss suffered by passengers when their ferries are cancelled or delayed due to mechanical failure.

Yet, under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA), service providers, like Interislander and Bluebridge, must provide their services using reasonable care and skill. The services must also be fit for their intended purpose. Providers can’t dodge these obligations, no matter what the contract says.

If there’s a mechanical failure, we think one, or both, of these guarantees has been breached. Unless the operator can prove the failure was entirely beyond human control - which we think is unlikely - passengers will be entitled to rely on the CGA. This means impacted passengers are within their rights to ask for a refund of their ticket.

They can also claim damages for any reasonably foreseeable losses that result from the failure, such as finding alternative accommodation or transport.

The same rules apply if your ferry is cancelled or substantially delayed for any other reason that is within the operator’s control, such as staffing issues.

My sailing is cancelled (or substantially delayed) because of bad weather, can I get a refund?

You’re not covered by the CGA when your sailing is cancelled or delayed due to bad weather. This is because it’s out of the operator’s control.

However, Bluebridge’s website says it will book you on the next available sailing or fully refund you. Interislander’s website says customers are eligible to change their sailing to a different time or date, free of charge.

We think that if your ferry is cancelled, you should be able to request a refund if another sailing doesn’t suit you.

How do I make a claim?

Contact the company directly and ask for a refund and reimbursement for any other reasonably foreseeable costs. If you’ve already spent money on accommodation, for example, be sure to include the receipt.

If the operator refuses, consumers can file a claim under section 32 of the CGA at the Disputes Tribunal. Section 32 outlines the options consumers have when services don't comply with guarantees and sets out the right to claim for other reasonably foreseeable costs, like accommodation.

We recommend you reference sections 28 (guarantee as to reasonable care and skill) and 29 (guarantee as to fitness for purpose) of the CGA. These sections contain the guarantees you should claim have been breached by the operator.

We also recommend referring to this overview of the law by Kate Tokeley. You can attach it as additional documentation to support your claim.

Update: Consumer NZ has lodged a formal complaint to the Commerce Commission about Interislander and Bluebridge under the Fair Trading Act, alleging both are misleading passengers about their rights under the CGA.

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