Ferry cancellations due to staffing – an apology and an explanation

Washington State Ferries recognizes that we place our customers in a difficult situation when we cancel ferry runs like we did today. We are very sorry for the inconvenience. Any service disruption or cancellation is a hardship for our customers. We want to tell you – our customers – what we are doing to ensure that this doesn’t happen often. We also want to share with you some of the challenges we face as one of the largest ferry systems in the world.

To avoid ferry cancellations due to staffing, we are:

  • working with our crews and unions to establish better standby staffing agreements
  • accelerating our hiring process, interviewing 160 candidates in February alone
  • working with the U.S. Coast Guard on a proposal to allow entry-level positions (ordinary seaman) to sail at a step up as able-bodied seaman when needed due to crew shortages
One of our biggest hurdles is that the Coast Guard’s 2012 and 2013 requirements meant hiring 81 new staff members. Hiring them had to be done within an already reduced labor budget set by the Legislature prior to our knowledge of the Coast Guard’s new staffing requirements. Frankly, we have struggled to meet those requirements while maintaining enough cushion to absorb absences and accommodate training and other scenarios that impact already slim staffing levels. As we look for long-term solutions to this issue, we will continue to uphold our reputation as the safest and most reliable ferry system in the world.

In 2013, we had 162,897 scheduled sailings. During that time, we had 1,400 cancellations due to a variety of factors (mechanical, tidal conditions, weather, emergency transport, staffing, etc.). Staffing issues caused only 95 of these cancellations. Our goal is ZERO canceled sailings due to lack of qualified crew. That is our commitment to our customers, and we appreciate everyone’s support and understanding as we work toward that goal.