The Washington State Ferries are owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation and serve the communities of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. The ferry system is one of the largest fleets of passenger and automobile ferries in the United States and ranked among the top five largest in the world.
There are twenty-eight ferries that cross Puget Sound and its inland waterways, carrying over 26million passengers to 20different ports of call. From Tacoma, Washington, to Sidney, British Columbia, the ferries travel up and down the Sound, acting as a marine highway for commercial users, tourists, and daily commuters alike.
In 1951 Washington State Ferries evolved with the state's buyout of Puget Sound Navigation. Ferry service around Puget Sound has changed tremendously over the course of the last century. Upon origination, Washington State recognized that the ferries were a lifeline for many communities and there was a need for reliable ferry service to meet growing demand. In 1951, after numerous discussions with the State Legislature over fares and service, the Puget Sound Navigation Company sold all of its terminal facilities and ferries for a meager $5 Million to a newly created Washington Toll Bridge Authority, now known as Washington State Ferries (WSF).
The ferry system was originally intended to provide temporary service until a network of bridges could be built connecting the west and east sides of Puget Sound. However, in 1959, the legislature rejected the plan to build numerous cross sound bridges. At that time, the responsibility for managing the ferry system was shared by the Toll Bridge Authority and the State Highway Commission.
WSF is the largest ferry system in the United States, serving eight counties within Washington and the Province of British Columbia in Canada. Counties served include Pierce, King, Snohomish, Kitsap, Skagit, Island, San Juan, and Jefferson Counties. WSF's existing system has 10 routes and 20 terminals that are served by 28 vessels. In fiscal year 1999, WSF carried over 11 million vehicles and 26 million people - over one million more walk-on and vehicle passengers and 500,000 more vehicles and drivers than in fiscal year 1997.
In the fleet, the Captain (or Master) oversees the entire ship's operation from the pilothouse, which is the communications and navigation center of the ship. The Chief Mate assists the Captain with the operation of the vessel, often including loading and unloading operations. Except when docking or in tight quarters, the steering of the ship is generally left to the quartermaster who follows the directions of the bridge officer. Able-bodied Seamenand Ordinary Seamenwork as deckhands, directing vehicles, and securing lines when the ship docks, acting as lookouts, patrolling the vessel for safety hazards, and cleaning the vessel.
The Chief Engineer oversees repairs and maintenance to the vessel's mechanical and electrical equipment. This position also supervises the engine room and control center located beneath the car deck. The Chief Engineer and the Assistant Engineer also monitor all the control systems and in some cases, control the speed and direction of the vessel, following the Captain's commands. The Oiler assists the Engineers by circulating through all the machinery spaces, ensuring that everything is operating correctly. Today there are over 1800faithful employees who have made Washington State Ferries the most popular tourist attraction in the State.