Which Ferry Will You Be On?

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

Posted on June 19, 2019 at 5:50 am by

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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