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10 things you didn’t know about Washington State Ferries

Posted by Johnine Larsen on September 16, 2014
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The Washington State Ferries are iconic. But there’s more to those “fat ferries”  than meets the eye.  Did you know they were almost replaced by bridges? Or that they now bring more tourists to San Juan County than any other attraction? Here’s our list:


#1: Measured by fleet size (23 vessels), Washington State Ferries is the world’s third largest ferry system.

#2: Measured by vehicles carried (11 million annually) or passengers carried (22 million annually), Washington State Ferries is the world’s #1 most-used ferry system.

#3: A 1965 plan tried to replace our ferry system with a bridge system. It didn’t take.

Screenshot 2014-09-16 11.08.55

#4: The Washington State Ferry system is the top tourist attraction in San Juan County.

#5: Most Washington State Ferry routes are legally part of the state highway system. If you don’t believe it, check Google maps!

#6: Twenty-eight vessels have been retired from the WSF fleet. The most famous: the M/V Kalakala, “the world’s first streamlined vessel.” The M/V Kalakala was an iconic art deco vessel voted #2 most popular attraction at the 1962 World’s Fair, beaten only by the Space Needle! [photo by R. M. Calamar]


#7: Only two boats in the Washington State Ferries fleet (M/V Chelan and M/V Elwha) have 100% lifeboat capacity. They meet this requirement because they sail internationally.

#8: Did fact #7 make you nervous? The other vessels do not have 100% capacity because, in the event of an emergency, they can rely on other ferries. There will always be another ferry within half an hour to help with any rescue.

#9: In 2011, Washington State lowered the ferries’ passenger capacity to compensate for America’s increasing obesity. This prompted one Canadian newspaper to refer to Washington’s ferries as “the fat ferries.”

#10: State law requires all Washington State Ferries to be constructed in-state. Here’s a time-lapse video of M/V Tokitae being built in 2012-2013. The M/V Tokitae now runs on the Mukilteo-Clinton route.