Inside of ferry

Any volunteers?

Labor shortages are affecting many industries right now, but Washington State Ferries has long seemed particularly ripe for a staffing crisis. As recently as 2019, half of its employees were over 55, with certain positions requiring thousands of hours at sea. They're not easy covers. Pair this specialization with a pandemic that the agency says has hindered its hiring and training for entry-level jobs, and you have a gaping hole on your deck.

Ferry riders need no reminder of this, as they've felt the effects of this labor shortage for a while now. Trip cancellations have rocked the ferry system over the past several weeks. Last Friday, a whopping 140 or so sailings were scrapped as the agency struggled to find workers to fill in.

On Wednesday, Washington State Ferries announced a new plan to combat cancellations: simply sail less. Beginning Saturday, the agency will cut back on the number of boats servicing Seattle and other parts of the Puget Sound region. 

  • The Seattle-Bainbridge Island, Edmonds-Kingston, and Mukilteo-Clinton routes will drop from two-boat service down to one.
  • Two boats, not three, will serve the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth corridor.
  • And trips between Anacortes and the San Juan Islands will be on three boats instead of four, with no vehicle reservations permitted.

The agency says the reduced schedule is temporary, but it also hasn't offered a date for a return to normal. Some have speculated that crew absences may be related to governor Jay Inslee's vaccine mandate for state employees. Washington State Ferries has stuck to a broader narrative for the staffing scarcity. It says the schedule change is necessary to "help offer more predictable and reliable service systemwide in the face of crewing shortages due to a global shortage [of] mariners that has been worsened by the pandemic."

We'll have more clarity next week. The vaccine verification day for state workers is Monday.