FERRY ALERT: Washington State Ferries downsizes schedules to deal with crew shortages

(Ferry near Fauntleroy dock, photographed by Theresa Arbow-O’Connor)

After dealing with spot service reductions during weeks of crew shortages, Washington State Ferries is downsizing schedules until further notice, starting this Saturday. That includes the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route. Here’s the WSF announcement:

Beginning Saturday, Oct. 16, Washington State Ferries will temporarily operate reduced schedules on most routes to provide more predictable and reliable travel. The change comes as the system is exercising maximum effort to crew its sailings in the face of a global shortage of mariners that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The severe staff shortages are also due to many other variables including an aging workforce, COVID-19 cases, and quarantines. Given what has happened to the response to calls to fill positions on recent weekends, WSF feels there is too much uncertainty to continue the schedule at this moment. WSF will continue to evaluate and strive to return additional boats back into service on a daily basis. Ferry customers are encouraged to monitor the agency website, the WSDOT app and social media channels for updates.

Route-by-route schedule changes

Starting Saturday, Oct. 16, the following sailing schedules will be in operation:

Seattle/Bainbridge, Edmonds/Kingston and Mukilteo/Clinton: One-boat service instead of two
Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth: Two-boat schedule instead of three
Anacortes/San Juan Islands: Three-boat schedule instead of four with temporary suspension of vehicle reservations
Seattle/Bremerton: Continued reduced one-boat service instead of two
Point Defiance/Tahlequah: Continued one-boat service as normal
Port Townsend/Coupeville: Continued one-boat service with vehicle reservations as normal for this time of year

“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.”

Recruiting new employees

Although COVID-19 has not allowed WSF to hire or train new recruits at the same rate as prior to the pandemic, more than 150 new crewmembers have been brought on this year. Prior to COVID-19, WSF hired new crewmembers once a year leading into the busy season. The system is now continuously recruiting new employees, but is struggling to find qualified mariners. WSF is also expanding its recruitment efforts with maritime academies across the country.

8 Replies to "FERRY ALERT: Washington State Ferries downsizes schedules to deal with crew shortages"

  • HS October 13, 2021 (7:46 pm)

    Such a great photo!!!

  • Just wondering October 13, 2021 (9:07 pm)

    Bring a book!

  • Carl October 14, 2021 (9:35 am)

    Interesting statement from WSF about more than 150 new crewmembers in 2021. Unless they give us the stats for 2020 and 2019, that statement is worthless. I’m extremely skeptical.

  • Wseatteite October 14, 2021 (10:52 am)

    Government pays people to not work Government tells people they do not need to pay rentGovernment fires people who elect to make their own decisions about what goes in their bodyGovernment has worker shortages  

  • Jim October 14, 2021 (11:55 am)

    How many people are employed as crew on our ferries  – 150 appears to be quite high for a turnover in one year. How much do we pay these crew people.

    • MSW October 15, 2021 (6:25 am)

      The entry level job in engineering is the on call oiler position. They usually hire 15 at a time as that is the approved class size for new hire engine room training. Last time about a month ago they could only get 3. Compared to other jobs in maritime for the same ratings/endorsements the pay is quite low, and the on call working conditions are not good. Those exact pay amounts are available on the wsdot website. You may have to search diligently. Info on typical web employment pages is no good info. 

    • BeachedSailor October 15, 2021 (11:51 am)

      The union contracts are public record. It’s a bloated slog of a read. Easier to look up http://www.fiscal.wa.gov/salaries.aspx

  • Ex-Westwood Resident October 14, 2021 (3:33 pm)

    It takes a MINIMUM of four (4) engineers and 10 deckhands, which include the bridge crew, line handlers, stewards. For EACH sailing of a boat.

    USCG Regulations set the minimum crewing for the Ferries.

    Figure 2 boats per run, that’s 14 crews, that’s roughly 140 personnel per shift, per day. That does not include the crews at the terminals.

    Maritime rules are much like airline rules as workers can only work a max amount of hour per day.

    The salaries start at over $20.00 an hour for a novice deckhand, and goes up from there.

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