IT is a familiar sight to the millions of passengers who use Scotland’s ferry network every year.

Crew members lined up at either end of the vessel as it docks in port, before throwing ropes over the side for colleagues ashore to tie up the vessel and allow passengers on and off.

But this could be consigned to history under radical plans to transform Scotland’s ferry network which are detailed in a blueprint which will go before MSP’s this week.

Under the proposals, the current model of serving island communities will be ripped up and instead will be based on the Norwegian system of smaller ferries covering shorter routes.

The move aims to increase capacity with more ferries and in some cases journeys being broken up using islands as "land bridges" to reduce journey times.

It would see islanders in the Outer Hebrides able to do business on the mainland in a day and return home without an overnight stay.

According to the expert behind it, it would also help repopulate islands as crew would live on the islands they serve rather than on board and staffing costs would be reduced.

Perhaps crucially, it would also dramatically reduce the annual subsidy paid to ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne to run the service.

The blueprint for the future of the network will go before Holyrood this week and comes as CalMac has been heavily criticised after a summer of disruption across the network due to breakdowns of the ageing fleet.

Transport expert Roy Pedersen, who spent 30 years in Highlands and Islands development, has submitted evidence which he says would radically reform the network and save the taxpayer millions of pounds in subsidies paid to CalMac.

According to the proposal, the current level of investment is well in excess of other countries but productivity is “extremely poor and deteriorating”.

Under his plan, a new fleet of around 10 smaller, more efficient ferries would be built with the total bill of around £280 million. Upgrades to the ports they would serve will cost another £20m.

Pedersen points out that Andrew Banks, owner of Pentland Ferries, is awaiting delivery of a new 100-car capacity ferry at a cost of £14m, compared with £50m-plus for the new hybrid green ferry MV Glen Sannox currently being built at Ferguson's.

One of the main points in the paper is reducing the number of staff required for each journey and ending the practice of ferry staff staying on board which adds to the operating costs.

Ferries would be crewed by a staff of around 12 to 14 as opposed to the 30-plus currently used.

This would allow staff to work shifts similar to other operators and in Norway, and enable more ferries to run during the day and extend the timetable with services starting earlier and finishing later.

Staff would also live in the communities they serve which, it is argued, would help boost the populations of remote island communities as the smaller ferries would be based in the island ports and not on the mainland.

Pedersen said: “The alternative of crew living ashore on island communities served would contribute to the government’s objective of boosting island economies and reduce ship capital and operating costs.

“For the larger CalMac vessels it takes nine personnel to berth and cast-off a ship, this is done in Norway with just one hand due to efficient “lock-on” linkspan design.

“Thus, if more cost-effective policies and practices along Scandinavian lines were adopted, much improved and higher capacity services could be provided for less public money.”

Lock-on linkspans are already used in Scotland at the ports served by Western Ferries at Hunter’s Quay, near Gourock and on Shetland’s inter-island ferries.

Western Ferries carry more passengers and vehicles than the CalMac competition on the routes but receives no public subsidy. Each lock-on linkspan would cost around £1.5m to install at each of the 10 large ports that CalMac would serve with the new ferries.

But while the installation costs of around £15m seems expensive, the cost of the vessels themselves add another £280m.

However, two new hybrid ferries being built to ease pressure on the network, the MV Glen Sannox and its sister ship, cost nearly £100m. But the bill is set to be much higher as both are currently delayed until next summer at the earliest after hitting design problems at the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow which has heaped more pressure on the ageing fleet.

The delays come amid concerns that a recent significant increase in traffic is causing severe problems for island communities. Tourism bosses on the Outer Hebrides have already warned the disruption has cost them millions of pounds this year.

Now CalMac’s own community board has condemned delays in new ferries and is demanding action. It was formed as part of CalMac’s successful franchise bid for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service in 2016.

At a recent meeting of the board in Mallaig, “disappointment and frustration” was reported from all parts of the network at the continuing delays in the delivery of the overdue vessels under construction, said chairman Angus Campbell.

He added: “At a meeting, also attended by CMAL and Transport Scotland, strong reservations were expressed at the apparent lack of a coherent long-term vessel replacement plan and the funding commitments necessary to provide both an improved fleet and the port improvements needed.

“The board also urged the operator to improve communication with communities and stakeholders affected by disruption and stressed the need to minimise the effects on island economies and people’s lives.

“The board feel they can work alongside the operator to help improve information quality and timing including maximising local knowledge.

“The communities board are keen to work positively with all parties to produce a more resilient and ambitious future for our ferry services resulting in better economic benefits for all that they serve but feel there is a real need for action now.”

Critics say the current problems has been a generation in the making. Scotland’s islands are getting record numbers of visitors but the boats and port infrastructure carrying them are old and are struggling to cope.

The average age of a ship is 22 and in the early 1990s, the last time Scotland had a major burst of ferry-building with 7,000 tonnes worth in 1994 alone, the average age was just 12.

Between January and the end of July this year, 2,326 out of 79,203 CalMac scheduled sailings were cancelled. Of these, 327 were for mechanical reasons. Most of the rest were because of bad weather.

The figure for cancellations for problems with the ferries looks low, not least because CalMac will stress that it laid on more than 900 extra sailings to compensate for some of them.

But when a boat breaks down, a replacement has to come from somewhere else. Somebody always loses. CalMac does not have a spare vessel, crewed and fuelled ready to move in and act as relief.

Even if it did have a spare, CalMac could far from guarantee it could use it because every port is different, whether it be an ageing linkspan or unusual tide, making it difficult for ferries just to slot in.

However, if every port was fitted with the same locked-in linkspan and ferries were smaller and more versatile then they could be moved around the network more easily to cover any breakdowns, according to the blueprint.

The blueprint also outlines how routes could be shortened and slash journey times.

In Norway, ferries tend to travel between the shortest points across the water, with islands themselves being part of the journey.

Rather than go round the islands, ferries will dock at the nearest point, passengers will travel across the island by road, before picking up a ferry at the other side to continue the journey by sea.

Under the new proposal, Mull and Jura could play vital roles acting as these “land bridges”, slash journey times and increase service frequency to Islay and the Outer Hebrides.

Ferries would dock at Craignure on Mull as normal, but Barra passengers would travel on to Tobermory where they would pick up another ferry to continue the journey.

New terminals would also be built at Glendale on Skye to shorten the crossing to Lochmaddy on North Uist and another at Kilmoluaig to Tarbert on Harris.

Likewise, Islay passengers would get a ferry from Keills on the mainland and travel to Lagg on Jura, before crossing to Islay. One other advantage is that carbon emissions would be greatly reduced without the need for hybrid fuel ferries.

Pedersen added: “Both are much shorter than the current Kennacraig to Port Askaig/Port Ellen service on Islay and would allow up to ten daily crossings and the option of direct bus services between the islands and Glasgow.”

Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “We are continuing to invest in new vessels and ferry infrastructure to renew the fleet in accordance with the published Vessel Replacement and Deployment Plan. Over £1 billion has been invested in ferry services across the Clyde and Hebrides routes, since 2007.

“Work is also already under way to appraise, and subsequently to deliver on, further improvements to the ferry services to the Western Isles.”

The majority of all visitors to the Outer Hebrides travel through Stornoway harbour, emphasising the importance of the CalMac ferry service to both the town and the wider islands.

The M.V Loch Seaforth, the biggest vessel in the CalMac fleet, sails between Ullapool and Stornoway three times a day, bringing with it up to 700 passengers, 143 cars or 20 commercial vehicles each time it arrives in Lewis.

Some 280,000 ferry passengers, 95,000 cars and 13,000 commercial vehicles a year come to Stornoway via the ferry.

Weekend crossings operate at full capacity and strong growth in tourism means that there are severe capacity constraints during the summer months.

Stornoway Port Authority, which has ambitious plans to develop the harbour as part of a 20-year Master Plan, is developing proposals to ensure the Port is able to accommodate the freight ferry which will likely be deployed to the route over the next few years.

Alex Macleod, the authority’s chief executive, said: “The existing ferry provides a good service which is an absolute lifeline for the community. But the risks in being dependent on a single vessel underline the need for additional capacity to cope with existing requirements and future needs.

“The projects we are developing in the Master Plan will help stimulate further economic growth but capacity limitations on ferries could have an impact on that potential growth.

“There will always be difficulties with ferry traffic in such a weather-affected part of the world, and as we have done for over 140 years, we will continue to work very closely with Calmac ferries to assist with the delivery of a robust and flexible service. Liaising closely with Calmac Ferries we will work together to find solutions for the good of the islands and everyone who uses these essential ferry services.”

HebCelt relies heavily on CalMac ferry services to bring thousands of music fans to Lewis each summer.

The event is a huge economic driver for the islands, generating more than £2 million a year and filling hotels, guest houses and campsites. Half the festival audience comes from outside the islands and the ferry route from Ullapool to Stornoway is the main gateway to the Outer Hebrides for these visitors.

HebCelt is also a catalyst for many island-hopping holidays with festival-goers using it as the start of a tour of Lewis, Harris, the Uists and Barra which also depend on CalMac services.

Such is the demand during HebCelt that ferry services have been extended in recent years around festival time to ensure fans are able to get to and from the islands.

Festival director Caroline Maclennan said: “We have a really close relationship with CalMac and appreciate many of the difficulties and challenges it faces.

“CalMac is doing its best with an ageing fleet. The real conversation taking place just now is the frustration over the lack of investment in our lifeline services by successive governments.

“It’s easy to criticise the service when things go wrong, but there are many sides to it.

“We have a very constructive dialogue with the company which helps us effectively address issues, not just those directly affecting ferry services, but also travel to ports and connecting services which can affect both regular travellers and visitors.”