Washington State Ferries

Washington State Ferries (WSF) is a government agency that operates automobile and passenger ferry service in the U.S. state of Washington as part of the Washington State Department of Transportation. It runs ten routes serving 20 terminals located around Puget Sound and in the San Juan Islands, designated as part of the state highway system. The agency maintains the largest fleet of ferries in the United States at 23 vessels, carrying 24.2 million passengers in 2016.[1] As of 2016, it was the largest ferry operator in the United States,[2] and the fourth-largest ferry system in the world.[1]

Washington State Ferries
WaterwayPuget Sound, Salish Sea
Transit typeFerry
OwnerWashington State Department of Transportation
OperatorWashington State Department of Transportation
Began operationJune 1, 1951 (1951-06-01)
No. of lines10
No. of vessels23
No. of terminals20
Daily ridership61,745 (2013)


The ferry system has its origins in the "mosquito fleet", a collection of small steamer lines serving the Puget Sound area during the later part of the nineteenth century and early part of the 20th century. By the beginning of the 1930s, two lines remained: the Puget Sound Navigation Company (known as the Black Ball Line) and the Kitsap County Transportation Company. A strike in 1935 forced the KCTC to close, leaving only the Black Ball Line.[3]

Toward the end of the 1940s the Black Ball Line wanted to increase its fares, to compensate for increased wage demands from the ferry workers' unions, but the state refused to allow this, and so the Black Ball Line shut down. In 1951, the state bought nearly all of Black Ball's ferry assets for $5 million (Black Ball retained five vessels of its fleet).[4] The state intended to run ferry service only until cross-sound bridges could be built, but these were never approved, and the Washington State Department of Transportation runs the system to this day.

In 2017, the Senate Labor, Commerce and Sports Committee held a fact finding hearing in Olympia in response to a report from KING-TV which analyzed the past five years of WSF financial data obtained through a request for public records. Transportation officials issued a statement saying, "the cash-strapped ferry system was cutting out excessive forms of compensation for many of its workers and saving millions of tax dollars in the process," while KING 5 Investigators showed WSF has been spending more on labor costs every year since 2012. Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, chair of the committee, said, "the most troubling portion of the report centered on how types of compensation that were eliminated by the legislature and WSF management were quietly added back on, which led to the soaring labor costs." Baumgartner stated plans to introduce legislation that would make negotiating contracts an open process in the future. He cited a conflict of interest in the current protocol as labor unions are perennial supporters of the governor.[5][6]


Route name Terminals State route designation[7] Annual Ridership[8] Annual Vehicles Carried[8] Notes
Anacortes–Sidney BC Sidney, British Columbia Friday Harbor, San Juan Island Anacortes
SR 20 Spur
123,001 42,589
  • Reservations recommended
  • Only route that operates internationally
  • Route does not operate in Winter (open mid-March to mid-December)
Anacortes–San Juan Islands Friday Harbor, San Juan Island 2,009,438 947,064
  • Reservations recommended
  • Not all trips serve all island terminals.
Lopez Island
Shaw Island
Orcas Island
Interisland Friday Harbor, San Juan Island Orcas Island Shaw Island Lopez Island
  • Walk-on and vehicle passengers are not charged a fare on this route.
Port Townsend–Coupeville Port Townsend Coupeville, Whidbey Island SR 20 819,285 372,130
  • Reservations recommended
Mukilteo–Clinton Clinton, Whidbey Island Mukilteo SR 525 4,073,761 2,234,650
Edmonds–Kingston Kingston Edmonds SR 104 4,114,181 2,127,315
Seattle–Bainbridge Island Winslow, Bainbridge Island Seattle (Colman Dock) SR 305 6,429,853 1,929,617
Seattle–Bremerton Bremerton Seattle (Colman Dock) SR 304 2,739,926 673,815
Fauntleroy–Vashon Vashon Island West Seattle (Fauntleroy) SR 160 3,059,587 1,738,721
  • All three services operated together as a "triangle route."
Fauntleroy–Southworth Southworth West Seattle (Fauntleroy)
Southworth–Vashon Southworth Vashon Island 200,672 109,548
Point Defiance–Tahlequah Tahlequah, Vashon Island Tacoma (Point Defiance) SR 163 812,786 473,924


As of July 1, 2019, there are 22 ferries on Puget Sound operated by the state.[9] The largest vessels in this fleet carry up to 2500 passengers and 202 vehicles. They are painted in a distinctive white and green trim paint scheme, and feature double-ended open vehicle decks and bridges at each end so that they do not need to turn around.[10]

The ferry fleet consists of the following vessels:[9]

Washington State Ferries Current fleet
Ferry NameClassYear Built (Rebuilt)Auto CapacityPassenger CapacitySpeed (knots)Notes
MV TillikumEvergreen State1959 (1994)87106113
MV KaleetanSuper1967 (2005)144200017
MV YakimaSuper1967 (2005)144200017
MV ElwhaSuper1967 (1991)144106920Upgraded to meet SOLAS standards for Sidney, BC.
MV SpokaneJumbo1972 (2004)188200018
MV Walla WallaJumbo1973 (2003)188200018
MV IssaquahIssaquah 1301979 (1989)124120016Auto capacity increased in 1989.
MV KitsapIssaquah 1301980 (1992)124120016Auto capacity increased in 1992.
MV KittitasIssaquah 1301980 (1990)124120016Auto capacity increased in 1990.
MV CathlametIssaquah 1301981 (1993)124120016Auto capacity increased in 1993.
MV ChelanIssaquah 1301981 (2005)124107616Upgraded to meet SOLAS standards for Sidney, BC route in 2005.
Auto capacity increased in 2001.
MV SealthIssaquah 100198290120016
MV TacomaJumbo Mark II1997202250018
MV WenatcheeJumbo Mark II1998202250018
MV PuyallupJumbo Mark II1999202250018
MV ChetzemokaKwa-di Tabil20106475015
MV SalishKwa-di Tabil20116475015
MV KennewickKwa-di Tabil20116475015
MV TokitaeOlympic2014144150017
MV SamishOlympic2015144150017
MV ChimacumOlympic2017144150017
MV SuquamishOlympic2018144150017

Retired vessels

Since the beginning of state-run ferry service in 1951, WSF has retired many vessels as they have become older, too expensive to operate or maintain, or have become too small to provide adequate ferry service. WSF owned passenger-only vessels between 1985 and 2009, but after discontinuing its two passenger-only routes in the 2000s, WSF has sold its passenger-only ferries to other operators.

Below is a list of ferries that WSF has retired since 1951. Unless otherwise noted, all vessels introduced in 1951 were acquired from the Black Ball Line when the state took over the company's routes and ferryboats in Puget Sound.

Washington State Ferries Retired fleet[11]
Ferry NameClassYear Built (Rebuilt)Year in serviceYear RetiredAuto CapacityPassenger CapacityNotes
MV ChippewaNone1900 (1928/ 1932)1951196452950Converted to a car ferry in 1926
MV LeschiNone19131951196740453Previously owned by King County and used on Lake Washington
SS San Mateo None19221951196950659Purchased by PSN in 1941
SS Shasta None19221951195855468Purchased by PSN in 1941
MV RosarioNone1923 (1931)1951195133312
MV Kitsap (1925)Anderson19251951196132325
MV CroslineNone1925 (1947)1951196730300Purchased by the state in 1947
MV KehlokenWood Electric19261951197250770Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV KalakalaNone1926 (1935)195119671101943Originally built as MV Peralta in 1926; rebuilt as Kalakala in 1935 using Peralta's hull
MV EnetaiSteel Electric192719511967901500Purchased by PSN in 1940 and converted to a single-ended ferry
MV WillapaSteel Electric192719511967901500Purchased by PSN in 1940 and converted to a single-ended ferry
MV Chetzemoka (1927)Wood Electric19271951197350400Purchased by PSN in 1938
MV QuinaultSteel Electric1927 (1958/ 1985)1951200759616Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV IllaheeSteel Electric1927 (1958/ 1986)1951200759616Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV NisquallySteel Electric1927 (1958/ 1987)1951200759616Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV KlickitatSteel Electric1927 (1981)1951200764412Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV KlahanieWood Electric19281951197250601Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV SkansoniaNone19291951196932465Operated under a state contract since 1940 after the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed
MV VashonAnderson19301951198050646
MV OlympicNone19381954199355605Purchased by WSF in 1954
MV RhododendronNone1947 (1990)1954201248546Purchased by WSF in 1954, sold to Atlantic Capes Fisheries in 2013
MV Evergreen StateEvergreen State1954 (1988)1954201687854
MV KulshanNone19541970198265350Purchased by WSF in 1970, sold in 1982 and renamed MV Governor
MV KlahowyaEvergreen State1958 (1995)1958201787792
MV HyakSuper1966196720191442000
MV HiyuNone19671967201634199
MV TyeeNone1985198520030250Operating as M/V Glacier Express in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska as of 2013[12][13]
MV KalamaSkagit/ Kalama1989198920090230Sold in 2011
MV SkagitSkagit/ Kalama1989198920090230Sold in 2011; capsized on July 18, 2012
MV ChinookPassenger-Only Fast Ferry1998199820080350Sold to Golden Gate Ferries, renamed MV Golden Gate
MV SnohomishPassenger-Only Fast Ferry1999199920080350Sold to Golden Gate Ferries, renamed MV Napa

Other ferries

There are several other publicly operated, private, and passenger-only ferries in Washington state.

See also


  1. "Washington State Ferries - Traffic Statistics Rider Segment report - Jan 1, 2016 thru Dec 31, 2016" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. January 23, 2017. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  2. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/61B38EF5-0E39-420D-84F8-582A6A6CF476/0/WSFFactSheet2016_FINAL.pdf
  3. History of Washington State Ferry system, wsdot.com, retrieved March 15, 2008
  4. Washington State Ferries begins operations on June 1, 1951, HistoryLink.org, retrieved March 15, 2008
  5. "Lawmakers act on KING 5 investigation into ferry system spending spree". KING. Retrieved 2018-06-08.
  6. "Whopping pay raises on deck for some ferry workers". KING. Retrieved 2018-06-08.
  7. 2004-2005 Official State Highway Map, Washington State Department of Transportation, retrieved March 15, 2008
  8. "WSDOT Ferries Division- overview and fact sheet" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. January 2017. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
  9. Washington State Ferries - Our Fleet, Washington State Department of Transportation, Retrieved June 28, 2017
  10. "WSDOT Ferries Division Fleet Guide" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. October 2018. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  11. "The Ghost Fleet of Washington State Ferries". EvergreenFleet.com. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  12. M/V Tyee, Evergreen Fleet, retrieved 2013-06-28
  13. Our fleet of vessels, Major Marine Tours, retrieved 2013-06-28
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