Washington ferry staff shortage could lead to longer wait times over Labor Day weekend

Residents of western Washington who want to take a ferry over the Labor Day long weekend should expect longer wait times and potential last-minute cancellations.

Faced with a staff shortage, Washington State Ferries (WSF) is warning passengers that they could encounter long boarding lines for vehicles and disrupted navigation schedules over the holiday weekend. In addition to difficulties in hiring crew, the agency is also facing staff quarantines due to confirmed cases of COVID-19, further straining staffing levels.

“Our dispatch team is working at full speed to equip our ships with a crew to be quarantined, with many crew members remaining and working beyond their scheduled shifts to keep our ships in service,” said said WSF Deputy Secretary Patty Rubstello in a Press release Tuesday. “In addition, like many industries, the maritime sector, both locally and internationally, faces a shortage of experienced employees and many shipping systems face understaffing. We continue to recruit new employees, but we are struggling to find qualified seafarers. “

The state’s ferry fleet stretched during the high-volume summer months after the Wenatchee, which can hold 202 vehicles, was decommissioned following a fire in the engine room in April. The loss of the Wenatchee had “cascading effects” throughout the system, resulting in fewer sailings and smaller vessels in operation.

Due to downsizing, passengers need to be prepared for longer waiting times to board the ferry and possible last minute sailing cancellations.

According to WSF, the following routes still operate on a modified schedule:

Seattle / Bainbridge, Seattle / Bremerton and Mukilteo / Clinton: Last daily round trip suspended.

Fauntleroy / Vashon / Southworth: Service to two boats instead of three on Sundays only; night crossings are suspended.

Edmonds / Kingston: Round trip final suspended on Fridays and Saturdays only.

Port Townsend / Coupeville: Service to one boat instead of two.

In addition, no new vehicle reservations will be taken during the weekend for the Anacortes / San Juan Islands or Port Townsend / Coupeville routes. Existing reservations should not be affected.

Passengers can reduce wait times during the busy holiday weekend by walking on the ferry or traveling early in the morning or late at night. The agency is currently predicting that the busiest crossings will be to the west or to an island from Thursday to Saturday. The eastbound routes will be busier than usual Sunday through Tuesday as people return from their travels.

The Seattle / Bremerton route will also undergo a schedule change after the vacation weekend ends. From September 7, the route will be reduced to a single boat service, the Chimacum to 144 vehicles making crossings no.2 on the route schedule.

Service on the WSF Sidney / Anacortes ferry remains suspended and will not resume until spring 2022. The WSF said the addition of an international service “would put more emphasis on the already strained domestic service which affects Washingtonians still sailing past COVID. “

In addition to the longer wait times, Washington ferry passengers are expected to be prepared to pay more for the crossings starting next month. Last month, the Washington State Transportation Commission approved a 2.5% fare increase for vehicles and foot passengers starting in October. Fares will rise another 2.5% in October 2022. In total, drivers will pay 80 cents more in fares by the end of the two-year period, while foot passengers will pay an additional 40 cents.