Breaking News
More () »

'The Super Bowl for the ferry system': Washington State Ferries getting ready for summer season

The ferry system is still grappling with a shortage of experienced mariners. Many of the positions that need filling take months to years to qualify for.

SEATTLE — The summer ferry travel season will kick off this weekend.

This spring has come with canceled routes and boats out for repair. Washington State Ferries started its six spring community meetings to discuss its service restoration plan and ask for community input.

Community members questioned crew staffing and the number of vessels in the fleet. Those questions come as 300,000 people are expected to travel by ferry for Memorial Day Weekend.

"Summertime is the Super Bowl for the ferry system," said Ian Sterling, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries. "We carry twice as many people in the summer months as the winter months." 

This comes as the ferry system has been battling staffing shortages that lead to recent cancellations and reduced schedules.

"There's a worldwide shortage of trained mariners so that's what we're up against, we're hiring and triaging and promoting our people as quickly as we can," Sterling said.

The ferry system has been working to address the crew shortage by trying to get a younger generation interested in the jobs they're hiring for and widening its recruitment nationwide.

According to the ferry system, it lost 130 workers out of nearly 2,000 due to vaccine requirements, but the biggest impact is the aging workforce.

"We need to move our mates up to captains, our able-body folks up to the mate positions," Sterling said. "Where we're short right now is the deck officer position and it takes months and years to become a deck officer."

During a virtual community meeting the ferry system said it will need 100 new licensed deck officers by 2027, due to the number of officers eligible to retire.

The ferry system said it has made strides when it comes to crew staffing and restoring routes.

"We've been able to restore most of those but there are a few routes that are still down including the triangle route out of West Seattle and the Port Townsend/ Coupeville route which is popular for tourists," Sterling said.

As the summer season kicks off, the ferry system cites a boost in confidence with 95% reliability for routes that have been impacted the most like Anacortes/San Juans and Seattle/Bainbridge.

"Everybody in the state of Washington owns a piece of these boats so I say get out there and enjoy them," Sterling said.

Before You Leave, Check This Out