BC Ferries plans to cut up to 400 sailings a year and lay off some staff on its major routes to cope with its growing budget deficit.

CEO David Hahn made the announcement while talking to reporters following the Corporation's annual general meeting on Wednesday morning in downtown Vancouver.

He said the bulk of the reductions would come from the Friday and Sunday extra sailings, but only during the off season, and there are no plans to reduce service on shorter routes such as to the Gulf Islands, he said.

Layoffs are also planned to reduce the pool of on-call workers used to crew those extra sailings, but the ferry corporation will work to minimize their impact by instituting a hiring freeze and promoting early retirement plans, he said.

"The impact would probably be on the casual staff and what we want to do is minimize that [so] that they can stay current.  And that's why it gets tough to answer specific questions like how and when because we want to balance it out to hopefully keep the damage to the employees as little as possible," said Hahn.

The plan still needs the approval of the provincial government. BC Ferries is required to provide about 10,000 sailings a year under its service contract with the provincial government, he said.

The provincially owned ferry corporation is forecasting a deficit of nearly $35 million this fiscal year. Earlier estimates put the projected deficit at about $20 million.

Hahn blamed the growing deficit on rising fuels costs and on a steep decline in vehicle and passenger trips linked to a drop in tourism. Passenger trips are at a 20-year low due to the slowing economy and a strong Canadian dollar that is keeping U.S. tourists away, he said.