Washington State Ferries

From Academic Kids

Missing image
A Washington State Ferry arrives in Downtown Seattle.

Washington state maintains the largest fleet of passenger and auto ferries in the United States. The system, known as Washington State Ferries, serves communities on Puget Sound and in the San Juan Islands.

The ferry system has its origins in the "Mosquito Fleet," a collection of small steamer lines serving the Puget Sound area during the early 20th century. By the beginning of the 1930s, two lines remained: the Puget Sound Navigation Company (known as the Black Ball Line) and the Kitsap County Transportation Company. A strike in 1935 forced the KCTC to close, leaving only the Black Ball Line.

Toward the end of the 1940s the Black Ball Line wanted to increase its fares, to compensate for increased wage demands from the ferry workers' unions, but the state refused to allow this, and so the Black Ball Line itself shut down. In 1951, the state bought substantially all of Black Ball's ferry assets for $5 million. It only intended to run ferry service until cross-sound bridges could be built, but these were never approved, and the state Department of Transportation runs the system to this day.


Current vehicle routes

Washington State Ferry Nisquallywith  in the background.
Washington State Ferry Nisquallywith Orcas Island in the background.

Current passenger-only route

Counties served

Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish


As the largest fleet in operation in the United States, the Washington state system is substantial enough to have generated significant political issues, labor activism, and even its own minor subculture, as exemplified by this humorous poem penned by a long-time employee:

Sharing the Ferries
The ferries are bought and run with money from "John Q.";
Thus all the public owns them--not just a favored few.
So let's divvie up the ferries in a manner that is fair,
Being sure that everyone gets a proper share.
The Governor needs the rudders to guide his "Ship of State";
The Legislature need the ships' clocks for sessions that run late.
The Department of Transportation needs the radars and UHF radio,
Since they're always in a fog no matter where they go.
The Highway Department gets the engines for their "Civil Engineers,"
And the passengers get the galleys for their Koffee Klatch and beers.
The Ferry Users Associations, lest they feel left out,
Must surely have the car decks, for a place to scream and shout.
The office staff and management, while they take a breather,
Should feel a kinship with the computers, as they often don't work, either.
The Captains, Mates and Engineers, I'm sure 'twill be no news,
Get what they're accustomed to. That's right, they get the screws.
And the Unions, bless their hearts, so prone to goof and blunder,
Can have the rusty hulls, for they, too, are going under.
There now, we've divvied up the boats from either sharp end aft,
And all that's left for the faithful crew is what they usually getó
The Shaft.
--Rolland R. Campbell
Able Seaman
Washington State Ferries
© 1981 (appears by permission of his estate, as per Wikipedia copyright guidelines)

See also BC Ferries, Black Ball Line

External links


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