Washington State Ferries

Washington State Ferries
This page is about the ferry system operated by the state of Washington. Other entities operate other Ferries in Washington State

Washington State Ferries is a passenger and automobile ferry service owned and operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation that serves communities on Puget Sound and in the San Juan Islands. It is the most used ferry system in the world and the largest passenger and automobile ferry fleet in the United States and the third largest in the world by fleet size.[1] Having carried 11 million vehicles annually, the service is also the largest in the world based on the number of vehicles carried.[2]

A ferry arrives in Downtown Seattle.



Passengers and vehicles board The Hyak in Bremerton, WA.

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 Department of Transportation runs the system to this day.[3]


The Hyak in Rich Passage heading to Bremerton, WA.
The Walla Walla arriving in Edmonds, WA.

As of 2011, there are 22 ferries on Puget Sound operated by the state.[5] 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.

Ferry classes and names are:

Former vessels


Nisqually with Orcas Island in the background.
A map showing the routes operated by Washington State Ferries in comparison with state highways in Washington. Click for more detail.

Most Washington State Ferry routes are legally part of the state highway system,[11] frequently with no road portion on one end or the other.

From October 1986 to September 9, 1989 and from April 23, 1990 to Sept. 21, 2003 a passenger-only service ran on the Seattle-Bremerton route. It was shut down because of limited profitability and because of continued lawsuits of residents living on the waterway used by the ferry to prevent the high-speed ferries built for the run from running at their full speed. The slower speed made the crossing time similar or equal to the auto ferry operating on the same route, making the passenger-only service redundant.[citation needed]

The current passenger-only ferry route between Seattle and Vashon Island is designated State Route 339, with no road portion at either end. This route is no longer operated by Washington State Ferries, as responsibility was passed to the King County Marine Division in fall of 2009.

Other ferries

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

Washington State Ferry Tacoma

See also

Portal icon Washington portal
Portal icon Nautical portal
Portal icon Transportation portal


  1. ^ "An Introduction To The Largest Ferry System In The Nation" (PDF). Washington State Ferries, Customer and Community Relations. May 2007. pp. 2. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/pdf/WSFLargest.pdf. Retrieved 2008-04-18. 
  2. ^ "Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division Begins Implementation of Quintiq". Quintiq. February 23, 2009. http://www.quintiq.com/news-and-events/news/2009/washington-state-department-of-transportation-ferries-division-begins-implementation-of-quintiq.aspx?period=2009&pagnr=6. Retrieved November 7, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b 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. ^ Washington State Ferries - Our Fleet, wsdot.com, retrieved March 16, 2008
  6. ^ WSDOT Ferries Division Environmental Program Office (2008-08-08). "Evaluation of "Fleetwide Air Emissions" Technical Memorandum, by JJMA, 24 February 2006, for validity with three vessel 144 auto ferry scope". Archived from the original on unknown date. http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:Kak_1IP00CIJ:www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/BA6A91FC-F36E-4D71-8CDB-C1CF5395CC91/0/3aAirEmissionsTMUpdate.pdf+%22island+home+class+ferry%22&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESj9UNDF7uuJ7Z1rX2aBxwiK3uLatgB6KMv8y7ZuoxraoQMp3kYgqyBIhk0o0fUZtYph_-1cizm8H-QVAmvNCd1hJuW2lwpEQM1iAg8rjVtSqhMnW-gAJWbDf-rWKE514YLjuKZ_&sig=AFQjCNHZZ2JewD95OKmo0ld9jleF3FhmKA. Retrieved 2009-11-03. "Under the new legislation, two Island Home class ferries will be place [sic] on the [Townsend-Keystone] route. An Island Home Class ferry is estimated to carry 60 cars; 64 cars less than and [sic] Issaquah class ferry." 
  7. ^ Burnett, Justin (2008-06-20). "Keystone ferry design revised". Whidbey Examiner. http://www.whidbeyexaminer.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=1486&TM=62244.55. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  8. ^ http://www.ptleader.com/main.asp?SectionID=36&SubSectionID=55&ArticleID=27648
  9. ^ http://www.komonews.com/news/local/124880604.html
  10. ^ Washington ferries destined for Tanzania, Washington State Department of Transportation, Friday, February 18, 2011. Accessed 18 February 2011.
  11. ^ 2004-2005 Official State Highway Map, Washington State Department of Transportation, retrieved March 15, 2008

External links

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