Washington's dwindling ferry fleet reduced even further: ‘This is a tough position to be in’

After an unexpected error, Washington State Ferries dwindling fleet has been reduced to 14 boats.

Spokesperson Ian Sterling said the sole vessel ferrying passengers to and from Bremerton—the Chimacum—was taken out of service over the weekend due a significant engine failure. This fix could take seven weeks to repair. Christened back in 2016, the Chimacum is one of the newest fairies operating in the 21-vessel fleet. At capacity, it carries 144 vehicles.

"This is a really tough position to be in and, in fact historically, I can’t remember a time when we’ve had this low number of vessels," said Sterling. "The pain is being felt primarily here at Edmonds Kingston where, instead of two boats, they have one right now."

To fill the gap in coverage on the Bremerton route, WSF has substituted in one of the two vessels traveling between Edmonds and Kingston.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Ferry system operating at 'bare minimum' as unexpected damage takes toll on aging fleet

"These are tough decisions there’s no good answers – there’s no plan A or B, this is plan C or D at this point in time," said Sterling.

With 3.1 million passengers annually, the Edmonds-Kingston route is the second-most-traveled in the entire network. Riders at the Edmonds Ferry Terminal who regularly rely on the two-boat schedule shared their frustrations with FOX 13 News.

"Because it’s a one-boat service, you need to come to the ferry dock earlier in order to ensure you get on," said Arnie Hobbs from Sequim.

FOX 13 obtained a letter from Washington State Ferries addressed to ferry legislators. The letter warns of more trouble ahead: "it’s possible we'll be reduced to a 13-vessel fleet in the next five weeks."

The full letter reads as follows:

"This weekend the Fauntleroy/Southworth/Vashon (Triangle) route was temporarily placed on one-boat service due to a radar issue on the Kittitas, one of the two boats assigned there. To repair the vessel’s sensitive navigation equipment it must be taken out of service for several hours with dry, daylight conditions. With rain forecast beginning midweek, we’ve scheduled those repairs for tomorrow. To avoid one-boat service on the Triangle (which is already operating with only two boats instead of full three-boat service), a route used by hundreds of students transiting to/from Vashon schools and people traveling to work and medical appointments, early tomorrow we’ll move the Issaquah, currently assigned to the Seattle/Bainbridge route south to the Triangle, putting Seattle/Bainbridge on one-boat service for the day. We appreciate passengers on both routes’ patience while we work to repair the Kittitas.

"As I wrote this weekend, the Chimacum, currently assigned to the Seattle/Bremerton route, experienced a significant engine failure, which will take at least seven weeks to repair. To restore its already reduced one-boat service we moved one of the two vessels assigned to Edmonds/Kingston south, putting both routes on one-boat service.

"Needing 15 boats to operate our current schedule, with both the Chimacum and the Walla Walla out for unplanned repair work until mid-December, and other boats scheduled for their required annual inspections, it’s possible we’ll be reduced to a 13-vessel fleet for parts of the next five weeks. We met with the U.S. Coast Guard this morning to explore options to avoid these further service disruptions, but it’s likely at least the Edmonds/Kingston route will be on one-boat service until the first week in December. Other routes would be affected if there are further vessel availability challenges. We know service disruptions during Thanksgiving week will be extremely challenging for our customers, and we’re working hard on options to avoid them."