This summer has not been a good one for the Washington State Ferries or their customers.

Plagued by mechanical breakdowns and accidents, many routes have been impacted with boats being taken out of service.

The Fauntleroy (West Seattle)/Vashon/Southworth route usually runs with three boats. However, due to issues on other routes, the third boat has been rerouted to other areas of Puget Sound.

WSF responded in a letter to riders Tuesday afternoon:

Dear Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth Passenger:

Washington State Ferries apologizes for the service delays and disruptions you are experiencing.

This has been an extraordinarily difficult summer for Washington State Ferries (WSF). Since Memorial Day, five of our 22 vessels have undergone extended, unplanned repairs. Currently, four of those 22 vessels are out of commission, leaving only 18 boats to operate a summer schedule requiring 19 boats to run at full capacity. One of those 18 boats (the 50-year-old Kaleetan on the Seattle/Bremerton route) is running at half-power because of a problem with one of its propulsion generators. Rather than remove the boat from service completely, WSF has decided to continue the Kaleetan’s service on the route because no replacement vessel is available.

As you can imagine, this has taken a toll on the entire ferry system, not just the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth (triangle) route. In July, the Anacortes/San Juan Islands route was on an alternate four-boat (from its normal summer five-boat) service for two weeks, and then again from five to four boats for several days in August, during some of the route’s busiest travel times. The Salish, assigned to the Port Townsend/Coupeville route, experienced a soft grounding in Coupeville on August 8 and while investigating the cause, a crab pot line was found around its propulsion shaft, taking it out of service until it can be repaired in dry dock. Last week, the Hyak, assigned to the San Juan Islands, experienced a leak in one of the ship’s generators, necessitating it being taken out of service.

Only 18 vessels are currently available for service and the San Juan Islands, Mukilteo/Clinton, and Port Townsend Coupeville routes have already been run on reduced capacity this summer – the latter of which causes more traffic to divert to Edmonds and Kingston, resulting in two to three-hour waits during that route’s evening commutes. Rather than put the Anacortes/San Juan Islands routes on a reduced schedule for the third time this summer, WSF made the difficult decision to reallocate its fleet so their five-boat schedule can be maintained and two-boat service could be restored on the Port Townsend/Coupeville route for two weeks during a very busy travel time. This means putting the triangle on a two-boat schedule and longer waits for passengers on your route, as the burden of a smaller fleet is spread over the entire ferry system and maintains as much service for as many people as possible. WSF operates within a network of ferry-served communities, and WSF does not always have the vessels necessary to meet demand across the entire system.

With passenger and vehicle ridership up by 35% and 30% respectively in August over January, we know the two-boat schedule causes long lines and frustration. Several passengers have asked why boats are sailing without being full. As with the three-boat schedule, once the dock is cleared, we try to get as many passenger vehicles as possible through the tollbooths and onto the waiting vessel. However at some point, if we leave the boat at the dock and wait to fill its remaining spaces, it gets behind schedule. As the day goes on, a boat will become so late it laps itself, causing us to cancel a sailing. In other words, if we leave a boat idling waiting to fill its last 20 spaces, later in the day it leads to cancelling an entire 120-car sailing, meaning people get home even later. This is one of the constraints of having bigger vessels with more vehicle capacity on the route, a dock that is too small to hold a full boat’s worth of vehicles, intricate and time-consuming loading processes for multiple destinations, and a schedule designed for the smaller vessels of the past.

Multiple teams are working hard to repair vessels quickly, review schedules, streamline operations, and communicate with customers. Thanks to our hard working maintenance crews, these efforts are paying off and we hope to have restore the route to three boats by Friday. We thank you for your continued patience and understanding during these difficult circumstances.

Washington State Ferries

Before WSF apologized, upset ferry riders had taken to social media to voice their frustration: