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Washington State Ferries starts operating on reduced schedule due to 'severe' staff shortage

Most routes are down a vessel, and vehicle reservations are suspended on the Anacortes/San Juan Island route until further notice.

SEATTLE — Washington State Ferries (WSF) will operate on a reduced sailing schedule until further notice due to “severe” staff shortages.

The new schedule began Oct. 16 and is intended to "provide more reliable travel" after weeks of sailing cancellations that have frustrated riders.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve worked hard to maintain reliable service, completing the vast majority of sailings,” said Patty Rubstello, head of WSF. “However, to better reflect the service we can currently provide and to minimize last-minute cancelations due to a lack of crew, we made this difficult decision to adjust our schedules.” 

Starting Saturday, Oct. 16, the route-by-route schedules are as follows: 

  • The Seattle/Bainbridge, Seattle/Bremerton, Edmonds/Kingston and Mukilteo/Clinton routes will operate with one-boat service instead of two. 
  • The Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth route will operate with two boats instead of three. 
  • The Anacortes/San Juan Island route will operate with three boats instead of four with a temporary suspension of vehicle reservations.
  • The Point Defiance/Tahlequah and Port Townsend/Coupeville routes will continue with one-boat service as normal.

WSF said passengers are encouraged to monitor the agency’s website, the Washington State Department of Transportation app, and social media pages for updates. Click here to see the current WSF sailing schedule by route.

WSF cited an aging workforce and COVID-19 cases and quarantines for the staffing shortages.

The ferry system is also having to grapple with Washington's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which requires all state workers to provide proof of vaccination by Oct. 18 or risk losing their jobs. 

One other element compounding the problem is a worldwide shortage of qualified mariners. WSF has moved from a once-a-year hiring schedule to continuous recruitment of new employees to try and bring more boats back into service. The ferry system said it is expanding its recruitment efforts with maritime academies across the country.