The Washington State Ferry System - 2006


Washington State Ferries operates the largest ferry fleet in the United States. Twenty-eight ferries cross Puget Sound and its inland waterways, carrying over 26 million passengers to 20 different ports of call. From Tacoma, Washington, to Sidney, British Columbia, we travel up and down the Sound, acting as a marine highway for commercial users, tourists and daily commuters alike. 

There are over 1800 dedicated employees who have made Washington State Ferries the most popular tourist attraction in the State. 

In the fleet, the Captain (or Master) supervises the entire ship's operation from the pilothouse, which is the communications and navigation center of the ship. The Chief Mate assists the Captain with the operation of the vessel, often including loading and unloading operations. Except when docking or in tight quarters, the steering of the ship is generally left to the quartermaster who follows the directions of the bridge officer. Able-bodied Seamen (AB) and Ordinary Seamen (OS) work as deckhands, directing vehicles, securing lines when the ship docks, acting as lookouts, patrolling the vessel for safety hazards, and cleaning the vessel. 

Beneath the car deck, the engine room and control center are supervised by the Chief Engineer, who oversees repairs and maintenance to the vessel's mechanical and electrical equipment. The Chief Engineer and the Assistant Engineer also monitor all the control systems and in some instances, control the speed and direction of the vessel, following the Captain's commands. The Oiler assists the Engineers by circulating through all the machinery spaces, ensuring that everything is operating correctly.

Chinook Fast Ferry

MV Chinook   MV Snohomish
Vessel Information
Class: Passenger-Only Fast Ferry Type: Passenger-Only
Length: 143ft. 3in. Engines: 4
Beam: 39ft. 4in. Horsepower: 7,200
Draft: 5ft. 0in. Speed in Knots: 38
Max Passengers: 350 Propulsion: Diesel-Waterjet
Max Vehicles: 0 Gross Net Tonnage: 99/97
Max Commercial Vehicles: 0 City Built: Anacortes

Evergreen State

MV Evergreen State   MV Klahowya   MV Tillikum
Vessel Information
Class: Evergreen State Class Type: Auto/Passenger Ferry
Length: 310' Engines: 2
Beam: 73' Horsepower: 2,500
Draft: 15' 10'' Speed in Knots: 13
Max Passengers: 981 Propulsion: Diesel-Electric
Max Vehicles: 87 Gross Net Tonnage: 2041/1017
Max Commercial Vehicles: 30 City Built: Seattle


MV Hiyu
Vessel Information
Class: Hiyu Type: Auto/Passenger Ferry
Length: 162' Engines: 2
Beam: 63' 1'' Horsepower: 860
Draft: 11' 3'' Speed in Knots: 10
Max Passengers: 200 Propulsion: Diesel
Max Vehicles: 34 Gross Net Tonnage: 498/338
Max Commercial Vehicles: 12 City Built: Portland


MV Spokane   MV Walla Walla
Vessel Information
Class: Jumbo Class Type: Auto/Passenger Ferry
Length: 440' Engines: 4
Beam: 87' Horsepower: 11,500
Draft: 16' Speed in Knots: 18
Max Passengers: 2000 Propulsion: Diesel-Electric(DC)
Max Vehicles: 188 Gross Net Tonnage: 3246/1198
Max Commercial Vehicles: 60 City Built: Seattle

Issaquah 100

MV Sealth
Vessel Information
Class: Issaquah 100 Class Type: Auto/Passenger Ferry
Length: 328' Engines: 2
Beam: 78' 8'' Horsepower: 5,000
Draft: 15' 6'' Speed in Knots: 16
Max Passengers: 1200 Propulsion: Diesel
Max Vehicles: 90 Gross Net Tonnage: 2477/1772
Max Commercial Vehicles: 30 City Built: Seattle

Issaquah 130

MV Cathlamet  MV Chelan  MV Issaquah  MV Kitsap  MV Kittitas
Vessel Information
Class: Issaquah 130 Class Type: Auto/Passenger Ferry
Length: 328' Engines: 2
Beam: 78' 8'' Horsepower: 5,000
Draft: 16' 6'' Speed in Knots: 16
Max Passengers: 1200 Propulsion: Diesel
Max Vehicles: 124 Gross Net Tonnage: 2477/1722
Max Commercial Vehicles: 26 City Built: Seattle

Jumbo Mark 2

MV Puyallup   MV Tacoma   MV Wenatchee
Vessel Information
Class: Jumbo Mark II Class Type: Auto/Passenger Ferry
Length: 460' 2'' Engines: 4
Beam: 90' Horsepower: 13,200
Draft: 17' 3'' Speed in Knots: 18
Max Passengers: 2500 Propulsion: Diesel-Electric(AC)
Max Vehicles: 202 Gross Net Tonnage:
Max Commercial Vehicles: 60 City Built: Seattle


MV Rhododendron
Vessel Information
Class: Rhododendron Type: Auto/Passenger Ferry
Length: 227' 6'' Engines: 2
Beam: 62' Horsepower: 2,172
Draft: 10' Speed in Knots: 11
Max Passengers: 546 Propulsion: Diesel
Max Vehicles: 60 Gross Net Tonnage: 937/435
Max Commercial Vehicles: 15 City Built: Baltimore


MV Kalama   MV Skagit
Vessel Information
Class: Skagit / Kalama Type: Passenger-Only
Length: 112' Engines: 4
Beam: 25' Horsepower: 2,840
Draft: 8' Speed in Knots: 25
Max Passengers: 250 Propulsion: Diesel
Max Vehicles: 0 Gross Net Tonnage: 96/65
Max Commercial Vehicles: 0 City Built: New Orleans

Steel Electric

MV Illahee   MV Klickitat   MV Nisqually   MV Quinault
Vessel Information
Class: Steel Electric Class Type: Auto/Passenger Ferry
Length: 256' 2'' Engines: 2
Beam: 73' 10'' Horsepower: 2,896
Draft: 12' 9'' Speed in Knots: 12
Max Passengers: 616 Propulsion: Diesel-Electric(DC)
Max Vehicles: 59 Gross Net Tonnage: 1369/931
Max Commercial Vehicles: 24 City Built: Oakland


MV Elwha   MV Hyak   MV Kaleetan   MV Yakima
Vessel Information
Class: Super Class Type: Auto/Passenger Ferry
Length: 382' 2'' Engines: 4
Beam: 73' 2'' Horsepower: 10,200
Draft: 18' 9'' Speed in Knots: 20
Max Passengers: 1076 Propulsion: Diesel Electric(DC)
Max Vehicles: 144 Gross Net Tonnage: 2813/1322
Max Commercial Vehicles: 30 City Built: San Diego


Early Ferry Service
Washington State Ferries came into existence with the state’s buyout of Puget Sound Navigation in 1951. Ferry service around Puget Sound has changed tremendously over the course of the last century.

Originating in the early 1900s, Puget Sound ferry service was initially provided by a number of companies using small steamers known as the “Mosquito Fleet.” By 1929, the ferry industry had consolidated into two companies: Puget Sound Navigation Company and Kitsap County Transportation Company. A strike in 1935 forced Kitsap County Transportation Company out of business and left the Puget Sound Navigation Company, commonly known as Black Ball line, with primary control of ferry service on Puget Sound.

After World War II, increasing labor costs made private operation of the ferry system increasingly challenging. In the late 1940s, ferry workers’ labor unions succeeded in securing higher wages from the Puget Sound Navigation Company. The ferry service provider petitioned the State Highway Department to allow a 30% fare increase to meet new operating costs. When the State refused its request, the Puget Sound Navigation Company tied up its boats, bringing much of cross-sound ferry service to a halt.

Creation of WSF
Washington State recognized that the ferries were a life line for many communities and there was a need for reliable ferry service to meet growing demand. In 1951, after numerous discussions with the State Legislature over fares and service, the Puget Sound Navigation Company sold all of its terminal facilities and ferries (with the exception of the Seattle/Port Angeles/Victoria, B.C. route) for $5 Million to a newly created Washington Toll Bridge Authority, now known as Washington State Ferries (WSF).

The ferry system was originally intended to provide temporary service until a network of bridges could be built connecting the west and east sides of Puget Sound. In 1959, however, the legislature rejected the plan to build numerous cross sound bridges. At that time, the responsibility for managing the ferry system was shared by the Toll Bridge Authority and the State Highway Commission.

The Toll Bridge Authority set fares and controlled the system’s finance, including long-term indebtedness, while the operation of the ferry system was controlled by the Highway Commission. In 1977, the two agencies were combined under the existing Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Development of the Fleet
In its first year of service, the State operated ferry system carried approximately four million passengers. The boats the State purchased from the Puget Sound Navigation Company included a number of steel diesel-electrics from San Francisco, the Illahee, Klickitat, Nisqually, Quinault, Enetai, and Willapa; wooden diesel-electrics including the Chetzemoka, Kehloken, and Klahanie; steamers such as San Mateo and Shasta; wooden diesel-powered boats built in the Northwest such as the Rosario, Kitsap, Crosline, Leschi, Skansonia and Vashon; and a former great Lakes steamer, the Chippewa.

The new ferry system’s first challenge was to add boats to meet growing demands for service, relieving backups that had started occurring at terminals. Two ferries were purchased from Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, the Rhododendron and the Olympic. In 1953, the State commissioned the Puget Sound Dredge and Bridge Company (subsequently Lockheed) to build the first Evergreen State-class vessel, which could carry 100 vehicles and 1000 passengers. Over the next 13 years, the ferry system responded to growing demand by rebuilding and expanding the existing fleet. However, the Evergreen State-class ferries could not keep pace with the demand. The Super-class ferries Hyak, Kaleetan, Yakima and Elwha were built in 1967, each able to carry 160 cars and 2500 passengers. Within several years even the Super-class ferries were unable to handle the demands of the system. To meet this need, the Jumbo-class Spokane and Walla Walla ferries were built in 1973 with a capacity of 2000 passengers and 206 vehicles. The Issaquah-class Issaquah, Kittitas, Chelan, Kitsap, Cathlamet and Sealth ferries were added in the early 1980s to improve operations and replace aging boats. These ferries each carry 1200 passengers and 100 cars (five have since been modified to carry 130 cars).

The fleet expanded during the 1997/99 biennium with the arrival of the Jumbo Mark II-class vessels, Tacoma, Puyallup and Wenatchee. These vessels, built by Todd Shipyards in Seattle came into active service in the 97/99 biennium. Each vessel carries 2500 passengers and 212 vehicles. Construction of a new high-speed passenger-only class ferry, the Chinook, was also completed this biennium. The Snohomish, the Chinook's sister ship, was received in the 1999/01 biennium.

Financial History
When the ferry system was first purchased by the State from the Puget Sound Navigation Company, it was intended to finance itself solely through the fare box (revenues). The original bonds issued by the Toll Bridge Authority in 1951 required that the system generate net revenues. The ferry routes sustained revenues in excess of operating expenses until 1960. The entire ferry/bridge system generated net revenue until 1974 because of the financial success of the Hood Canal toll bridge.

Tax support of the ferry system began in 1957 when the State Legislature brought ferry system employees into the State Retirement System. In 1959, the State Legislature created an account, funded by 0.25 cents per gallon of the State’s gasoline sales tax, to help pay debt service on revenue bonds issues by the Toll Bridge Authority if costs exceeded revenues. In 1960, the ferry system failed to meet the annual debt service requirements, and the ferry system received $672,000 from the State’s motor vehicle fuel tax to cover the bond payments. Additional ferry system/Hood Canal Bridge bonds were issues in 1963. However, since the early 1970s, all of the debt service payments for the ferry system bonds have come from motor vehicle fuel taxes, not from ferry system operating revenues.

Over time, Washington State has continued to provide tax support for ferry system operating and capital costs as a supplement to WSF-generated revenues from fares and other miscellaneous income. Since the 1970s, State tax sources have included a gasoline sales tax, motor vehicle registration fees. Additionally, WSF pursues federal and local funds for specific projects. The use of public funds for ferry system purposes is strictly regulated, and taxes imposed for operating and capital expenses are levied and tracked separately. The taxes used to fund operating and capital expenses have been raised over the years in order to cover growing operating and capital costs. In fiscal years 1998 and 1999, the ferry system generated revenue to cover 65% and 66% of its operating costs, respectively. The Washington State Transportation Commission mandates that the ferry system fare box generate a minimum of 60% of the system’s operating expenses. The remaining percentage is provided by tax support from the State.

WSF has been involved in the on-going assessment of fares since 1991. Fare changes during the 1997/99 biennium have included across-the-board fare increases of 2.3% and 2.2% in FY 1998 and FY 1999, respectively, to adjust for inflation and several fare policy changes such as fare rounding, revised commuter discounts, and a revision to the peak season vehicle/driver surcharge.

WSF Today
WSF is the largest ferry system in the United States, serving eight counties within Washington and the Province of British Columbia in Canada. Counties served include Pierce, King, Snohomish, Kitsap, Skagit, Island, San Juan, and Jefferson Counties. WSF’s existing system has 10 routes and 20 terminals that are served by 28 vessels. In fiscal year 1999, WSF carried over 11 million vehicles and 26 million people—over one million more walk-on and vehicle passengers and 500,000 more vehicles and drivers than in fiscal year 1997.

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