As service continues to pour in due to the lack of crew, locals are paying close attention to the Washington State ferry service.
Islanders made up about a third of attendees at the WSF’s online public meeting on June 15.
“We have hired 137 crew members since October,” said Steve Nevey, marine operations manager.
To attract new employees, WSF is now budgeted to hire for the year, rather than seasonally, a move that appears to have helped. However, Nevey warned that even more crew is needed and that it will take until the summer of 2023 for some routes to return to normal.
Currently there are 174 licensed deck crew and a total of 200 are required. That may not seem like a lot of vacancies, however, Nevey explained that licensing can take six to eight months. This is true even if the employee already works in the maritime industry.
Jim Corenman, chairman of the San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee, explained that to get their piloting, the WSF must be able to draw a memory map of all ferry routes and terminals in Puget Sound.
Classes are currently underway, Nevey said, with more planned. To alleviate some of the stress and make it easier to obtain the necessary licenses, the Washington State Legislature provided funding to the WSF for a variety of new programs.
A new program allows the ferry service to sponsor employees who lack the funds to obtain credentials. Another program helps parents keep their children.
According to Patty Rubstello, assistant secretary of ferries for Washington state, the state has historically not provided enough funding to the WSF, but lawmakers have better funded the ferry system this year. She thanked lawmakers and 40th District Sen. Liz Lovelett in particular for her role in passing a budget with additional ferry funds.
“But there is still a lot to do,” Rubstello said.
The ferry service also lacks ships. The fleet consists of 21 boats and five more are needed, especially since the Tillikum is in need of major repairs. The Yakima and Kaleetan also need maintenance.
Under state law, WSF must contract with a boat building company in Washington state, according to Corenman, unless she can find someone who will complete the project within five percent of the schedule. estimated cost.
In the past, WSF contracted with a company called Vigor. He was hired to design the new boats, which the company did. When it came time to build the boats, Vigor wanted more than WSF offered. As a result, the ferry service is now looking for a new builder. Corenman explained that the state uses a cost provided by a private contractor. If they can’t find someone who is within five percent of the state’s estimated cost, the WSF may look for companies from other states, so one way or another, the boats will be built, Corenman said.
However, this is delaying the project and WSF now expects the five new boats will not be completed until mid-2027.
Due to both crewing issues and the delay of new ships, the Anacortes Sydney route is not expected to return until summer 2023 at the earliest, according to Corenman. He explained that after the retirement of the Elwa, the Chelan became the only boat certified for international voyages. While the Chelan is in good condition, having a second boat available in case of an emergency is ideal. Once the new ferries arrive, one of the Olympic-class boats can be certified for backup.
In the meantime, Corenman encourages the community to continue to be kind to workers who show up. They are working hard, high season is approaching and frustrations are running high, he said.
“The good news is that the ferries will support training and help people who want to progress and advance their position,” Corenman said. “Ferry County Advisory Committees are encouraged by management that they [WSF] go, but we are also afraid that it will take time.