Which Ferry Will You Be On?

Posted June 19, 2019 at 5:50 am by

M/V Yakima at dock - SJ Update file photo

When my wife asks “Which fer­ry will you be on?” I can pret­ty reli­ably say “the late one”, which used to mean the last run of the day. Sad­ly, these days it can mean almost any one of them.

This is the first in a 3‑part series about our late run­ning fer­ry sys­tem. Many thanks to Jim Coren­man, Chair of the San Juans Fer­ry Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee for his input on this issue…

Part One — The Problem

Ever notice how Mur­phy’s Law kicks in? I do — Any time I need to go into town to King’s or the drug store, it seems there’s a fer­ry unload­ing; Any time I need to catch a fer­ry, there are none run­ning when I want to trav­el. Then — when I final­ly set­tle on one that fits my tim­ing the best, it’s run­ning late anyway.

Get­ting frus­trat­ed, I decid­ed to keep track just to see — is it me? Am I focus­ing on the neg­a­tive? Or are they real­ly late all that much? So on March 21st, 90 days ago today (June 19th), I cre­at­ed a fold­er in my email and start­ed sav­ing late fer­ry alerts. At this writ­ing there are 255, make that 256 — a new one just came in while I was writ­ing this — in that fold­er. (This does not include alerts about Ves­sel Watch issues, or the Save a Spot reser­va­tion sys­tem or any­thing else* — I’ve only saved late fer­ry alerts).

*Well OK, I did include can­celled runs. Some­times they’re so late they “lap” them­selves and end up can­celling a run and just pick it up on the next sched­uled sailing.

Here are the num­bers I came up with:

Out of 90 days (and real­ly, it’s only 89 days because I’m writ­ing this on Tues­day after­noon — you’re read­ing it on day 90), there were only 19 days with­out a late sail­ing. That means 77% of those days had late sailings.

  • Every day I tracked in March had at least 1 late sailing.
  • April was­n’t as bad — there were 17 days of on-time service.
  • May, not so much. I show 2 only days in May with­out an alert — May 7th and May 26th.
  • So far, June has late sail­ings every day.

And how late were they? Well, I only count­ed the lat­est on any giv­en day, so for exam­ple on June 3, when the Elwha was 90 min­utes late and the Yaki­ma was 60 min­utes late and the Chelan was 45 min­utes late, I only count­ed the Elwha. So you could say these num­bers are skewed toward the pos­i­tive because I’m not count­ing the oth­er late boats, only the lat­est one.

I count 254 total alerts and the aver­age delay is 38 min­utes. (If you’re check­ing my math, remem­ber — some of the alerts sim­ply said “can­celled”, and did not report how late they were and also, I round­ed some num­bers — usu­al­ly WSF rounds to the near­est 5 min­utes, but there were a few that said “27” min­utes or “43” or what­ev­er. I round­ed these to the near­est mul­ti­ple of 5).

How many times were they this late? Here is that breakdown:

  • 15 min­utes:  3 times
  • 20 min­utes:  50 times
  • 25 min­utes: 25 times
  • 30 min­utes: 53 times
  • 35 min­utes: 14 times
  • 40 min­utes: 28 times
  • 45 min­utes: 28 times
  • 50 min­utes: 9 times
  • 55 min­utes: 5 times
  • 60 min­utes: 23 times
  • 70 min­utes: 3 times
  • 75 min­utes: 1 time
  • 80 min­utes: 1 time
  • 90 min­utes: 9 times
  • 120 min­utes! 2 times

Now I know what you’re think­ing: “But many of those were mul­ti­ple alerts on the same day, so you’re count­ing late fer­ries more than once per day”, and you’re absolute­ly right, May 1st had 9 alerts, so that makes the num­bers look worse.

Or does it? Let’s look just once per day, at only the lat­est sailings:

  • 20 min­utes: 2 times
  • 25 min­utes: 5 times
  • 30 min­utes: 10 times
  • 35 min­utes: 4 times
  • 40 min­utes: 8 times
  • 45 min­utes: 12 times
  • 50 min­utes: 5 times
  • 55 min­utes: 3 times
  • 60 min­utes: 9 times
  • 70 min­utes: 2 times
  • 75 min­utes: 1 time
  • 80 min­utes: 1 time
  • 90 min­utes: 6 times
  • 120 min­utes! 2 times

Notice how “20 min­utes late” changed from 50 times to just 2 times? What hap­pened is, because the short­er delays ear­li­er in the day became longer delays as the day went on, the num­ber of days with short­er delays decreased and the num­ber of days with longer delays stayed clos­er to the what they were. So now the delays aver­age out to 50 min­utes late instead of 38 minutes.

So there you have it.

Kin­da makes you won­der: If some­one had a home in let’s say Issaquah, and they com­mut­ed every day thru rush hour traf­fic to their job in down­town Seat­tle, and every day they alert­ed their boss: “I’m run­ning late due to heavy vehi­cle traf­fic. This will delay my arrival by 30 — 40 min­utes. I apol­o­gize for the incon­ve­nience”, how long do you think they would keep their job?

Which brings up some­thing else inter­est­ing about all these fer­ry alerts: With the excep­tion of March 24, every alert from March 21 thru April 11 (and count­less alerts before I start­ed sav­ing them) said “Due to heavy vehi­cle traf­fic”. Then sud­den­ly on April 12 that stopped. Most since then don’t state a rea­son for the delay except for a few that say fog and reduced visibility.

So I don’t know what to make of it. We all know that the pas­sage of I‑695 dec­i­mat­ed the fer­ry sys­tem’s bud­get start­ing in the year 2000. And we’ve all been aware of heavy traf­fic for years, espe­cial­ly in the sum­mer. Cer­tain­ly the peo­ple who make the sched­ule would be aware of these things by now.


Would­n’t they?

So I asked Jim Coren­man, the Chair of the Fer­ry Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee if he could shed any light. And it turns out that yes he can. Tune in tomor­row when you’ll see Jim’s com­ments on Part Two: The Cause

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Categories: Ferries


  1. We need to be com­plain­ing to Jay Inslee–he asked that the fer­ries slow down to save gas. I wrote to him–no reply after a week. I also wrote to the DOT.
    We need to be more ver­bal with both Inslee and the DOT. This has affect­ed med­ical appoint­ments for many of us.

    Comment by Janet Wright on June 19, 2019 at 7:10 am
  2. I take the fer­ry ROUND TRIP from Fri­day Har­bor to Ana­cortes every Tues­day return­ing Wednes­day March through At least Sep­tem­ber. I do this to get fresh flow­ers for my busi­ness. I have been doing this for over 20 years. The past two years have been THE Worst ever for late boats, bro­ken down boats, can­celled sail­ings. I’m required to arrive a min­i­mum of 40 min­utes pri­or to my reser­va­tion, One minute late and I’m on stand­by! Why is it ok for the fer­ry to be CONSISTENTLY late‼️ I am some­times left sit­ting in line with a Hun­dreds and hun­dreds of dol­lars of flow­ers wilt­ing in sum­mer sun. I’m a small busi­ness own­er pay­ing big tax­es and doing my best which is a lot bet­ter than WSF can claim.

    Comment by Robin Zemek on June 19, 2019 at 3:27 pm
  3. This is why we moved. We have been deal­ing with the late, or bro­ken down fer­ries for over two years. The last two years we have to go the day before and spend the night in Seat­tle for our doc­tor appoint­ments. After 84 trips last year, I could not take it any­more. Plus, it’s was always fun to race back to Ana­cortes to get past “The Toll Booth” before the “45 Min­utes”.… even though, our fer­ry is 2+ hrs. late.
    Sad to leave the Island after almost 30 years but, was left no choice.

    Comment by Gus Underdown on June 19, 2019 at 6:44 pm
  4. Why don’t they know how long it takes to load a full boat and how long it takes to unload?!? This is not rock­et sci­ence and they have been,consistently late a lot more in the past 2 years…..maybe with reser­va­tions! And I chime in on the reser­va­tion com­ment. I was 4 min­utes late and slapped to stand­by. They could not tell me what fer­ry I would be on??? I did not want to wait in line indef­i­nite­ly. If the fer­ries are going to go slow­er, adjust the,schedule!!!

    Comment by 4 on June 19, 2019 at 7:01 pm

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