Technology key to navigating July Fourth ferry travel

Use online tools to monitor schedule changes due to crew, vessel shortage

SEATTLE – Travelers using a Washington State Ferries ride as part of Fourth of July weekend travel should prepare for possible last-minute schedule changes – and make the most of online tools to help plan and stay up to date.

In addition to the usual long vehicle lines and wait times surrounding holiday weekends, trips may be canceled with short notice due to WSF’s current lack of relief crewing (PDF 468KB).

“We’re funded to staff each ferry at the minimum levels required by the Coast Guard, so just one missing crewmember – out sick or for an emergency – means the vessel cannot sail,” said Patty Rubstello, head of WSF. “That’s when our dispatch team works hard to fill a vacancy, which they do dozens of times a day. However, despite hundreds of phone calls, sometimes no relief is available, or replacement staff cannot make it to the boat in time for its scheduled departure, and we, unfortunately, must cancel sailings.”

With only one available spare vessel, trips may also be cut if there is an unexpected mechanical issue within the system’s aging fleet of ferries. WSF is building new vessels but they will not be available to go into service for several years.

Busy travel times and tools for smoother sailings

Ferries are popular every holiday weekend and people boarding a ferry by vehicle should be prepared for long waits.

The busiest sailings will be westbound (or onto an island) Thursday, June 30, through Monday, July 3, then eastbound (or off island) Wednesday, July 5, through the following weekend.

To reduce or eliminate waiting, riders may consider taking an early morning or late-night sailing or walking onto the ferry if possible.

Before heading to a terminal or boarding, people driving on board can use online tools, such as checking terminal conditions. Anacortes/San Juan Islands and Port Townsend/Coupeville routes also offer vehicle reservations.

To navigate possible last-minute sailing cancellations, customers are encouraged to sign up for rider alerts for the latest service updates and track each ferry using the real-time map online.

Holiday schedules

On Independence Day, July 4, there will be a few holiday schedule changes for the Anacortes/San Juan Islands, Edmonds/Kingston, Mukilteo/Clinton and Point Defiance/Tahlequah routes.

The Seattle/Bainbridge Island run will operate on a Saturday timetable and the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth route will run two-boat weekend timetables. Holiday sailings are marked on the schedules for each route.

As a reminder, it is against the law to set off or transport illegal fireworks aboard a state ferry.

People using state highways to get to the ferry terminal also should plan for potential holiday travel backups and delays. Real-time traffic and ferry information are available on the WSDOT traffic app for mobile devices or online using the updated WSDOT travel map feature.

WSF, a division of the Washington State Department of Transportation, is the largest ferry system in the U.S. and safely and efficiently carries tens of millions of people a year through some of the most majestic scenery in the world. For breaking news and the latest information, follow WSF on Twitter and Facebook.

Slow down on ice and snow.

It's easier to skid or lose control traveling at higher speeds. Give yourself more time to stop.

Carry chains, practice installing them.

Winter conditions could mean chains are required on your route. Practice putting them on your vehicle ahead of time.

Pack your winter car kit.

Carry extra supplies like warm clothing, ice scraper and brush, jumper cables and other emergency items.