The Kennewick pulls into the Port Townsend dock Wednesday afternoon to wait for cars and walk-on passengers. The Port Townsend/Coupeville ferry route will continue to have one-boat service for the foreseeable future. (Zach Jablonski/Peninsula Daily News)

The Kennewick pulls into the Port Townsend dock Wednesday afternoon to wait for cars and walk-on passengers. The Port Townsend/Coupeville ferry route will continue to have one-boat service for the foreseeable future. (Zach Jablonski/Peninsula Daily News)

One-boat service to remain in place for Port Townsend-Coupeville ferry route

Hurdles: Staffing, vessels’ availability

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend/Coupeville ferry route will continue with only one-boat service for the foreseeable future, due to staffing and vessel constraints, Washington State Ferries has announced.

Officials with the state ferry system had planned to begin the summer schedule of two-boat daily sailings between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island this coming Sunday, but low staffing levels and a lack of available vessels has prompted the change to the continuation of the one-boat schedule as well as impacts to other routes, said John Vezina, government relations director.

“We have had to cancel several sailings over the last couple of weeks due to two constraints – vessel and crewing availability,” Vezina said in an email to the Jefferson County Ferry Advisory Committee on Wednesday morning.

“This was highlighted yesterday when we had to make the difficult decision not to add a second vessel to the Port Townsend/Coupeville route this weekend, as we’d planned, due to a lack of available crewing.

“Knowing we can’t consistently crew our current schedule, augmenting service would simply have led to additional cancelled sailings across the system, which would have been indefensible when we knew that impact in advance.”

Some of the service issues stem from lack of available vessels, as WSF has only 15 vessels available out of the 18 needed to run all routes at normal peak schedule.

A fire on the Wenatchee — one of the three largest ferries — in April removed the vessel from service for several months for repairs, Vezina said in a prepared brief.

In addition to the Wenatchee, Vigor, one of WSF’s major contractors, lost one of its two drydocks, causing further delays to state ferries being worked on in a shipyard.

The state has limited facilities with the capacity to work on ferries, Vezina added.

While the Port Townsend/Coupeville route is limited to one vessel, the Bremerton/Seattle, Bainbridge/Seattle, Mukilteo/Clinton and Anacortes/San Juan Islands routes are constrained to smaller vessels than usual due to the vessel availability, Vezina said.

The Kingston/Edmonds ferry route will be down 14 car spaces starting next week, as the Puyallup will be going into repairs for a couple of weeks, and the slightly smaller Spokane will be running the route instead, he said.

Vezina said several factors contributed to the system’s shortage of trained crew members: COVID-19 impacts on training and quarantines due to contract tracing, as well as an increase in retirements during the past year, Vezina said.

The engine rooms are experiencing the greatest losses, he said. Twenty-seven people have left during the past year, and seven more will leave at the end of this month.

Officials have hired 15 people in the past year, and recent recruitments have led to another 11 hirings, eight of whom are still being trained and will be ready to work in early July, Vezina said.

Twenty-nine deck officers have retired, and 75 unlicensed deck crew members have left during the past two years, he added.

Only five new deck officers and 13 licenced crew mates have been hired. Replacement unlicensed deck crew members have been hired, but due to delays caused by training class size restraints in spring due to COVID-19, officials are still catching up on training the entry-level unlicensed crew mates for the peak season, Vezina said.

Unlicensed crew are easier to hire than the licensed crew for the deck and engine teams, as WSF competes with other maritime industry employers for the higher-qualified staff members, Vezina said.

“We are working with our labor partners and crews to reinforce the importance of being able to fully staff our sailings and with our Human Resources and Training Departments to hire and train new employees,” said Vezina’s email.

“Like most of the country, there are lingering COVID impacts on our service – impacts we’re working diligently to address.”


Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at

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