Thursday, September 1, 2022

Update on ferry service restoration

By Justin Fujioka

Our latest biweekly Service Restoration Plan (PDF 794KB) Progress Report (PDF 607KB) shows we're back at or above 95% service reliability on our three restored ferry routes. Our Anacortes/San Juan Islands run dropped below that threshold in early August due to a combination of vessel and crewing issues.

While it remains important to continue hiring new crewmembers, our biggest short-term constraint is a lack of licensed deck officers (captains and mates). Several current employees are participating in a new program that encourages them to take the necessary courses and exams to obtain a mates' credential. Unfortunately, as detailed in the graphic below, this requires significant training time, so it will be several months before we are able to trial full service on our next route up for restoration, Edmonds/Kingston.

Due to the time it takes to train licensed deck officers, it will be sometime in 2023 before we have the captains and mates needed to restore service across the system.

So how did we get here? We lost nearly 100 captains and mates over the past five years due to retirement, separation or resignation. That's a startling loss considering we need 200 licensed deck officers to operaAte our full schedule. We're currently 25 short of that number.

So why can't we just hire captains and mates? Around the world, there remains a shortage of mariners affecting the entire industry, including marine transit agencies similar to us like BC Ferries, the Alaska Marine Highway System and the Staten Island Ferry. Even if there were a surplus of experienced mariners available, they would have to go through months of training before they could be a captain or mate with us as the U.S. Coast Guard requires our licensed deck officers to have specific credentialing and pilotage that most don't have.

This crewing situation has prevented us from adding back service to pre-pandemic levels as fast as we would like. However, ridership is creeping close to 2019 numbers. While we normally see the most delayed sailings in the peak summer season because of increased demand, schedule delays are more pronounced this year because our service remains below normal levels due to staffing shortages.

Our first priority is safety, and we want to make sure all of our captains and mates are well equipped with the skills needed to work aboard our vessels. This again will take some time and we ask for your patience as we build our workforce.