Washington State Ferries

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This article is about the ferry system operated on Puget Sound by the state of Washington. For ferry systems in Washington state operated by other entities, see Ferries in Washington State.
A ferry arrives in Downtown Seattle.

Washington State Ferries is a passenger and automobile ferry service owned and operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation that serves communities on Puget Sound and in the San Juan Islands. It is the largest passenger and automobile ferry fleet in the United States and the third largest in the world by fleet size.[1] The service is also the largest in the world based on the number of vehicles carried, having carried 11 million annually.[2]


The ferry system has its origins in the "Mosquito Fleet", a collection of small steamer lines serving the Puget Sound area during the later part of the nineteenth century and early part of the 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.[3]

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 shut down. In 1951, the state bought nearly all of Black Ball's ferry assets for $5 million (Black Ball retained five vessels of its fleet).[4] The state intended to run ferry service only until cross-sound bridges could be built, but these were never approved, and the Washington State Department of Transportation runs the system to this day.[3]


Washington State Ferry Tacoma
The Hyak in Rich Passage heading to Bremerton, WA.

As of 2012, there are 22 ferries on Puget Sound operated by the state.[5] The largest vessels in this fleet carry up to 2500 passengers and 202 vehicles. They are painted in a distinctive white and green trim paint scheme, and feature double-ended open vehicle decks and bridges at each end so that they do not need to turn around.

The ferry fleet consists of the following vessels:[5]

Washington State Ferries Current fleet
Ferry NameClassYear Built (Rebuilt)Auto CapacityPassenger CapacityNotes
MV HiyuNone196734200
MV ChetzemokaKwa-di Tabil201064750
MV SalishKwa-di Tabil201164750
MV KennewickKwa-di Tabil201164750
MV Evergreen StateEvergreen State1954 (1988)87875
MV KlahowyaEvergreen State1958 (1995)87800
MV TillikumEvergreen State1959 (1994)871061
MV SealthIssaquah 1001982 (2006)901200
MV IssaquahIssaquah 1301979 (1989)1241200Auto capacity increased to 124 in 1989
MV KittitasIssaquah 1301980 (1990)1241200Auto capacity increased to 124 in 1990
MV KitsapIssaquah 1301980 (1992)1241200Auto capacity increased to 124 in 1992
MV CathlametIssaquah 1301981 (1993)1241200Auto capacity increased to 124 in 1993
MV ChelanIssaquah 1301981 (2004)1241076Auto capacity increased to 124 in 2001
MV TokitaeOlympic20131441500Currently under construction, to be in service by summer 2014
MV SamishOlympic20141441500Currently under construction, to be in service by early 2015
MV HyakSuper19671442000
MV KaleetanSuper1967 (1999)1442000
MV YakimaSuper1967 (2000)1442000
MV ElwhaSuper1968 (1991)1441076
MV SpokaneJumbo1972 (2003)1882000
MV Walla WallaJumbo19721882000
MV TacomaJumbo Mark II19972022500
MV WenatcheeJumbo Mark II19982022500
MV PuyallupJumbo Mark II19992022500

Retired vessels[edit]

MV Illahee was one of the Steel Electric class ferries which were retired in 2007.
MV Kalakala was retired in 1967

Since the beginning of state-run ferry service in 1951, WSF has retired many vessels as they have become older, too expensive to operate or maintain, or have become too small to provide adequate ferry service. WSF owned passenger-only vessels between 1985 and 2009, but after discontinuing its two passenger-only routes in the 2000s, WSF has sold its passenger-only ferries to other operators.

Below is a list of ferries that WSF has retired since 1951. Unless otherwise noted, all vessels introduced in 1951 were acquired from the Black Ball Line when the state took over the company's routes and ferryboats in Puget Sound.

Washington State Ferries Retired fleet[6]
Ferry NameClassYear Built (Rebuilt)Year in serviceYear RetiredAuto CapacityPassenger CapacityNotes
MV ChippewaNone1900 (1928/ 1932)1951196452950Converted to a car ferry in 1926
MV LeschiNone19131951196740453Previously owned by King County and used on Lake Washington
SS San MateoNone19221951196950659Purchased by PSN in 1941
SS ShastaNone19221951195855468Purchased by PSN in 1941
MV RosarioNone1923 (1931)1951195133312
MV Kitsap (1925)None19251951196132325
MV CroslineNone1925 (1947)1951196730300Purchased by the state in 1947
MV KehlokenWood Electric19261951197250770Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV KalakalaNone1926 (1935)195119671101943Originally built as MV Peralta in 1926; rebuilt as Kalakala in 1935 using Peralta's hull
MV EnetaiSteel Electric192719511967901500Purchased by PSN in 1940 and converted to a single-ended ferry
MV WillapaSteel Electric192719511967901500Purchased by PSN in 1940 and converted to a single-ended ferry
MV Chetzemoka (1927)Wood Electric19271951197350400Purchased by PSN in 1938
MV QuinaultSteel Electric1927 (1958/ 1985)1951200759616Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV IllaheeSteel Electric1927 (1958/ 1986)1951200759616Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV NisquallySteel Electric1927 (1958/ 1987)1951200759616Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV KlickitatSteel Electric1927 (1981)1951200764412Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV KlahanieWood Electric19281951197250601Purchased by PSN in 1940
MV SkansoniaNone19291951196932465Operated under a state contract since 1940 after the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed
MV VashonNone19301951198050646
MV OlympicNone19381954199355605Purchased by WSF in 1954
MV RhododendronNone1947 (1990)1954201248546Purchased by WSF in 1954, sold to Atlantic Capes Fisheries in 2013
MV KulshanNone19541970198265350Purchased by WSF in 1970, sold in 1982 and renamed MV Governor
MV TyeeNone1985198520030250Operating as M/V Glacier Express in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska as of 2013[7][8]
MV KalamaSkagit/ Kalama1989198920090230Sold in 2011
MV SkagitSkagit/ Kalama1989198920090230Sold in 2011; capsized on July 18, 2012
MV ChinookPassenger-Only Fast Ferry1998199820080350Sold to Golden Gate Ferries, renamed MV Golden Gate
MV SnohomishPassenger-Only Fast Ferry1999199920080350Sold to Golden Gate Ferries, renamed MV Napa


A map showing the routes operated by Washington State Ferries in comparison with state highways in Washington. Click for more detail.

Most Washington State Ferry routes are legally part of the state highway system,[9] frequently with no road portion on one end or the other.

From October 1986 to September 9, 1989 and from April 23, 1990 to Sept. 21, 2003 a passenger-only service ran on the Seattle-Bremerton route. It was shut down because of limited profitability and because of continued lawsuits of residents living on the waterway used by the ferry to prevent the high-speed ferries built for the run from running at their full speed. The slower speed made the crossing time similar or equal to the auto ferry operating on the same route, making the passenger-only service redundant.[citation needed]

The current passenger-only ferry route between Seattle and Vashon Island is designated State Route 339, with no road portion at either end. This route is no longer operated by Washington State Ferries, as responsibility was passed to the King County Marine Division in fall of 2009.

Other ferries[edit]

There are several other publicly operated, private, and passenger-only ferries in Washington state.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "An Introduction To The Largest Ferry System In The Nation" (PDF). Washington State Ferries, Customer and Community Relations. May 2007. p. 2. Retrieved 2008-04-18. 
  2. ^ "Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division Begins Implementation of Quintiq". Quintiq. February 23, 2009. Retrieved November 7, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b History of Washington State Ferry system, wsdot.com, retrieved March 15, 2008
  4. ^ Washington State Ferries begins operations on June 1, 1951, HistoryLink.org, retrieved March 15, 2008
  5. ^ a b Washington State Ferries - Our Fleet, wsdot.com, Retrieved November 4, 2012
  6. ^ "The Ghost Fleet of Washington State Ferries". EvergreenFleet.com. Retrieved 5 November 2012. 
  7. ^ M/V Tyee, Evergreen Fleet, retrieved 2013-06-28 
  8. ^ Our fleet of vessels, Major Marine Tours, retrieved 2013-06-28 
  9. ^ 2004-2005 Official State Highway Map, Washington State Department of Transportation, retrieved March 15, 2008

External links[edit]