Thursday, August 11, 2016

Everything you always wanted to know about ferry reservations and added sailings (but were afraid to ask)

By Nicola Zanchi

Ferry reservations and added sailings got you FERRY confused? We're here to help. We operate 22 ferries on 10 routes, and several of those routes require vehicle reservations. With more than 450 sailings per day, reading and understanding the schedule and making reservations can be difficult. Here's some tips for navigating two important ferry functions, reservations and added sailings, as we sail toward the end of summer and into fall.

Reservations
While fall may be just around the corner, the summer season is still in full swing, and some of the busiest travel weekends are coming up. Here's a refresher on how ferry reservations work.
  • Ferry reservations are advised to guarantee a vehicle (including motorcycles) a spot on Port Townsend/Coupeville, Anacortes/San Juans, and Anacortes/Sidney B.C. routes. All other routes function on a first-come, first-served basis for vehicles spaces, including the San Juan Islands inter-island ferry route.

Routes that require a vehicle reservation

Ferry reservations are released in a tiered system. On average there are between 20-40 reservable spots per vessel, per tier.  At times, most notably in the San Juan Islands, vessels load reserved spaces for different stops on the same sailing, so the number of spots available is dependent on the number of stops the vessel is making.
  • Let's use an image to illustrate the tiered system:
    1. Two months before the sailing season: 30 percent of car reservations are released
    2. Two weeks before the sailing date: 30 percent of car reservations are released
    3. Two days before the sailing date: 30 percent of car reservations are released
    *The final 10 percent of every sailing is held open for emergency and stand-by vehicles

  • Vehicles may ride stand-by, but in the summer months at peak travel times (12:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Thurs- Sunday), riding stand-by on reservable routes can be risky. Only 10 percent of every reservable sailing is held open for emergency and stand-by vehicles.
  • Ferry reservations can be made online or over the phone. We recommend making reservations online, as to avoid phone wait times.
    • Call Center Hours: 5 a.m. until 8:15 p.m., 7 days a week
    • Phone: 206-464-6400; Toll-Free: 1-888-808-7977

Tips & Tricks
Here are a few tips and tricks for the reservation "what-ifs?"
  • No reservations available and riding stand-by?
    In addition to the 10 percent of stand-by space on each sailing, more stand-by space is always available on sailings when drivers don't use their reservations or if they travel at a different time. The best time to ride stand-by is before 10:30 a.m. While you may not always get on the sailing of your choice, traveling stand-by is an option when you need to travel at the last minute or can't make a reservation.
  • Don't forget the 30-minute rule!
    Whether you have a reservation or not, if you're in a car or a motorcycle you must be through the tollbooth 30 minutes before the vessel departure time. This allows us time to load the vessels safely. If you are not through the tollbooth 30 minutes prior, your reservation will be forfeited and you will be directed to the stand-by lane.
  • Sailing cancelled?
    We hope to never cancel sailings, but in the event that it happens, you will be given the option to remain at the terminal and will have priority boarding for the next sailing. If the cancellation happens in advance, you will be contacted by an information agent to rebook your travel.
  • If you can, ditch the car!
    Reservations are never required if you walk-on or bike-on the ferry.  Many terminals offer parking areas, including Anacortes, your gateway to the San Juan Islands.

Added sailings
Summer is also a popular season for professional sports, fairs and festivals, and other events. At times, we add sailings to accommodate passengers.  Our decision to add sailings is highly dependent on budget, the current sailing schedule, staffing, and demand. To illustrate this decision making, here are two examples of added sailings:
  • Mariners games
    It has become popular for us to add an 11:30 p.m. sailing from Seattle to Bremerton for Mariners games because of the long gap between the daily 10:30 p.m. and 12:50 a.m. sailings. If most Friday and Saturday games start at 7:10 p.m. and last about three hours, fans are unable to reach the 10:30 p.m. sailing so we add extra sailings to accommodate the gap in the regularly scheduled sailings. Similar added sailing also occur for some concerts and other sporting events.

    A time gap in the Seattle/Bremerton schedule prompts
    us to sometimes add an extra sailing.


    We get creative to let people know about added sailings.

  • Orcas Island's Doe Bay Festival
    Doe Bay Festival is a four-day grass roots music festival on Orcas Island in early August and brings thousands of visitors to the island. We mitigate that demand by adding sailings on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday of the festival weekend. This principle also applies to added sailings for our busy holidays such as Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, New Year's, and Fourth of July.

    We send out alerts to let people know about extra sailings for holidays.

Final tips for a successful ferry ride:

Make a vehicle reservation to the San Juan Islands, Sidney, BC or Port Townsend/Coupeville.

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