An infuriating night for Bremerton’s ferry commuters

A Washington State trooper had to hold back passengers upset they could not get home from Seattle Tuesday night.

Commuters to Bremerton at the ferry terminal in Seattle faced a infuriating evening Tuesday night. The Kaleetan ferry broke down due to steering issues the same afternoon, triggering the Coast Guard-mandated 600 passenger cap on vessels capable of holding double that.

With the 5:35 p.m. sailing canceled, the numbers waiting stacked up. The Hyak’s 6:45 p.m. could only go with 600, and troopers with the Washington State Patrol had to hold people back.

“It was mayhem,” said Dr. Robert Bullock, a commuter to Seattle, who added some people were screaming.

“We are second class citizens in Bremerton,” added Art Conrad, another commuter.

It took most commuters many hours to make it home, on a night it usually takes about one.

Because the vessels on the Bremerton run don’t have enough life rafts, the Coast Guard has capped runs when only one boat is present at 600. On Tuesday, that left lines of passengers waiting in Seattle to catch what looks like a ferry with ample space. And this is certainly not the first time this has happened.

The state ferries and Kitsap Transit worked out an emergency deal Tuesday that allowed commuters to take the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry — and their larger capacities — to Winslow. From there, a Kitsap Transit bus would haul them the 45 minutes to Bremerton. But commuters told me they also had to transfer buses in Silverdale, making the trek even longer.

A lunch date for Emily and her baby, Cecilia turned into a late ferry and bus ride home to Bremerton. Photo by Susan Digby.
A lunch date for Emily Berta and her baby, Cecilia, turned into a late ferry and bus ride home to Bremerton. Photo by Susan Digby.

Elissa Torgeson, another commuter, said she rushed to wait in the area past the turnstiles so she could guarantee herself a spot on the soonest boat to Bremerton. And then, ferry officials announced they could take the Bainbridge and board a bus.

She said some ferry employees did not empathize with the situation and did not keep commuters waiting informed of what was going on.

Buses were “standing room only,” at the Bainbridge terminal, according to local resident Susan Digby.

Ian Sterling, a spokesman for the state ferry system, said the Kaleetan would not likely be fixed Tuesday night. It’s unclear what will happen Wednesday morning at this point.

“We sympathize with those commuters who have endured a long night,” he said. “That’s the reality of an aging fleet.”

Sterling added that the addition to the Bremerton run of a new ferry, the Chimacum, in 2017, will allow 1,500 people to board the boat at all sailings, due to its safety enhancements.

But it was a long night Tuesday. And with a game at Safeco Field and only one vessel working the route, it became a Wednesday morning for some.

Here’s what the ferry system sent out at 8:30 p.m.

Due to mechanical issues, the Kaleetan is temporarily out of service. This cancels the 9:05pm sailing from Bremerton. There will be three sailings departing Seattle: 9:05pm, the 10:30pm will depart late and the sailing at 12:50am will also depart late. The next sailing from Bremerton will depart with a late 11:40pm. Until two boat service is restored on the Seattle/Bremerton route the Hyak will only board a maximum of 600 total passengers, this includes vehicles. The vessel is unable to board additional passengers for safety reasons. We apologize for any inconvenience. Updates will be provided as conditions change.

Below is a video showing the chaos (OK fine, chaos isn’t quite accurate) people  in the terminal as the night began.

UPDATE: Repairs were made to the Kaleetan and it was set to sail again on the 6:20 am ferry to Seattle.

27 thoughts on “An infuriating night for Bremerton’s ferry commuters

  1. Yeah I went to pickup my partner in Bainbridge because he missed the 5:35 Bremerton boat. Low and behold there are two large empty ferries docked while the third pulled in. They couldn’t send one of those boats to assist with the Bremerton run?

    1. Can’t run a boat that doesn’t have a crew. Boats also have maintenance schedules and have to go through mandatory sea trials before going back on a run

  2. REALLY PEOPLE!!!!!!!! For the most part the ferry system is awesome, sometimes life just happens, Get over it, stop acting like little kids who didn’t get their way. No wonder ferry workers were frazzled. Grown ups complaining and fussing, all that negative energy that won’t help anyway.

    1. Are you saying you wouldn’t lose your cool after many hours of frustration, when you’re late getting somewhere?

      I doubt it.

      Imagine you were due to be home to relieve the sitter…who could not stay and take care of your kids…and you were helpless to do anything but frantically call people you know to help.

      I know I would lose my cool.

  3. They have little information for the people trying to get home. Why not take one of the Bainbridge vesseles? They would have been fine with their luxury liner and one of the Bremerton dumpster fire boats. This is ridiculous…

    1. Oh calm down and shut up and do some research on coast guard requirements. Yeah let them take away from the bainbridge route the busiest route in the system. Hahaha

  4. Ferries break down. The problem was that WSF didn’t warn the 5:35 commuters that the 6:45 would be running at half capacity because of lack of life boats and might fill. So when the 5:35 commuters came back from dinner to get on the 6:45 it was already full! On top of that, it did not appear full and WSF employees were engaging with commuters.

    WSF: Learn from this. When a run is cancelled, give out priority boarding cards or at least warn people to be at the next boat early because it might fill.
    Kudos to Kitsap Transit and friendly employees for scrambling to get us home.

      1. Which is ONLY the case, because some Bremerton people drive there in order to not have to be on a ferry for more than a half hour. Get a clue, Bob. It’s obvious you either ride the Bainbridge Ferry and there are unconcerned because you know this kind of stuff will never affect you, or you don’t ride the ferry at all.

        1. you are wrong on all your assumptions. but when a bremerton boat on average takes 120 cars and the bainbridge one more than 200 i can see why the ferries don’t just pull a boat from there. it’s a numbers game my friend.

  5. Carolina, your compassion is overwhelming. You obviously don’t rely on the ferries or you live on Bainbridge with their platinum-level service. What if your toddlers were expecting you home to serve their dinner by 6:00, but you didn’t get back until after 01:00? The fact that there are no contingencies for these situations are indeed cause for complaint. Is there anybody out there that believes for one second that this would be allowed to happen on the Bainbridge route?
    The big question is: can/will this happen again? Of course it will; WSF management just doesn’t care.

    1. It did happen. Do some research and look what happened when the Tacoma suffered complete and total loss of power. Hello. World doesn’t revolve around you.

    2. I definitely agree with you. I have no kids (well, I do, but he’s 30), but I think about you guys every time one of these things happen. This is a ridiculous situation that the WSF lets happen to Bremerton ferry riders (NEVER BAINBRIDGE) again and again.

      1. Really Marina! this never happens to Bainbridge people. Here let me just prove you wrong good luck saying nothing ever happens to the bainbridge island people. i don’t live on bainbridge either but you people need to calm down. these things are machines and will at some point break down. out of how many runs a year wsf does day and night. just relax

    3. Agree completely with you Pat. This happened on the same run that was serviced by the puttering ferries that got Bremerton Commuters to Seattle in an hour and a half, if that, last time a cancellation had to take place. Really? Like our ride isn’t long enough. The Water Taxi was available, but only occasionally, AND if you managed to get off early and sprint down to the dock to get one of the coveted tickets to board. WSF – grade on this, definitely an F!

  6. What would it cost for WSF to purchase a shipping container full of basic PFDs and lash it to the upper weather deck? Pocket change in the scope of the Big Picture and problem solved.

  7. There are Code of Federal Regulations that a require ferries to have 100% life saving capabilities. This means (if the need arises to get every passenger and crew off the ferry) if abandoning ship becomes necessary, everyone must be able to be put in life rafts (or floatation platforms attached to emergency evacuation slides) keeping everyone out of the water. Every ferry has Personal Floatation Devises (Life Jackets) for 110% of allowed passengers, in addition 10% for children. When the regulation was implemented, it would have cost millions to refit every ferry to meet the requirement. Any ferry already built could fall under a clause called alternate compliance. The Fed’s offered this realizing the massive costs of refitting. Any new ferry built, as the Quah-de-tabil and Olympic class must be fitted under the new regulation, which also means additional crew members are required. The legislature did not want to figure out how to pay for refitting, so WSF was directed to pursue the alternate plan. The plan is based on the Bremerton route when two ferries are operating, the combined life saving of both vessels would meet the 100%. When the route drops to one vessel, the reduced passenger numbers are 600. There is enough life saving capability to meet the 100% (600) on the one operating ferry.

    With that said, the real snag in these incidents lies with how the system is now managed. I have 43 years of ferry experience both in the fleet from entry level to Captain and 11 years of management much of it as manager of the operations department. The side that dispatches crews, knows where all available assets are located, the condition of those assets, etc. I left management within a year after Governor Inslee and Lynn Peterson appointed the new Assistant Secretary of Ferries. One of my major decision in retiring was when I recognized the new Assistant Secretary’s management style and the belief the ferry system is no different than a bus system (believed to be new and innovative) was really style repeated at least twice in my career. It is a style that paralyzes and kills creative thinking of mid-level managers and other employees on watch when breakdowns occur after hours. I can pretty much assure you, those experienced in these situations were sitting on their hands making numerous phone calls to upper mangers because of the top down style management (tried to be described as collaborative) now in place.

    My experience (keeping in mind, trouble shooting a problem on a ferry and locating repair parts if not onboard takes time) and the fact there was a known sporting event taking place would have had me immediately checking assets, engine crewing, available deck crewing, and alternative transit plans such as busses from Bainbridge, if necessary. Susan Harries-Huether (always the voice for the customers) would have been on top of the bus possibility immediately. Knowing before I retired the plan was to have a standby boat in Eagle Harbor at this time of year, which may have been and Issaquah class, if it was not filling in somewhere else. When on standby, a vessel is to be fully crewed with an engine crew at all times in case needed to get underway. I can relay this is not always the case. More than once to my surprise when calling the standby ferry in Eagle Harbor to start warming up, it is reported that they are not fully crewed. When dispatching an emergency deck crew to the standby ferry, this has delayed getting underway up to two hours. After this happens sabers are rattled but eventually bad habits return.

    If there was a standby ferry available, knowing there was a sporting event, the afternoon Bremerton deck crew could have been sent to Eagle Harbor to put that ferry into service. This could have had a 2nd ferry on the route and provided enough time to dispatch a make crew to relieve them at their shift end time. This could have allowed for extra service and full passenger carrying on both vessels if needed, returning the ferry to Eagle Harbor standby. Another option would have been to look at the Bainbridge route. On that day of the week there is a ferry that ties up around 2245. Work hour restrictions would have to be looked at ( work no more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period). If the crew started at 1355 and either went on days off or started again at 1355 the next day, it may have been possible to have that ferry transit back to Seattle and pick up passengers taking them to Bremerton. Bainbridge boat departs Bainbridge by 2255. Arrives Seattle at 2325. Departs Seattle for Bremerton, with plenty of passenger capability, at 2340 arriving Bremerton at 0040. Quickly off loads and immediately gets underway departing at 0050 (fingers crossed off loading is uneventful) returning to Bainbridge at 0120 to 0125. No passengers or traffic to off load securing with crew off at 0135 to 0140. just prior to 0155, allowing the crew to return the next day. This would not be possible if the crew was to return the next day at 1125 for their shift. If they went past 1125, they would be in violation of the 12/24 rules requiring that entire deck crew be relieved the next day guaranteeing their shift be paid while they are at home.

    I know there are expierienced workers who are not upper management that have all of this knowledge. I would guess they were just doing as this type of management dictates, keep quiet and let upper management make all the decisions.

    Making decisions based on their experience, without direction from upper management, only brings critisism and hand slapping. This new management style had little respect or apprication for knowledge and wisdom. It is a style that is more about image to special interest within the system and Olympia, than operating the system keeping the customers at top of the priority list. To no fault of their own, many replacement upper managers have no ferry experience. The system is so complex and unique it would take someone from the outside years to learn its complexity. Even someone from the inside does not have the knowledge to be placed in managers positions. It is not that they are not good people. The biggest problem is some do not have the ability to take the step across the line from labor to management when tough decisions need to be made.

    Thank goodness the Chimacum is on the way.

  8. There might be some room to question the fundamental logic of the Coast Guard’s requirement to have 100% of passengers have a life boat space on ferry runs that are in Puget Sound where there are innumerable rescue capabilities (governments and civilian) within minutes of any conceivable catastrophic ferry event. I suspect there have been zero ferry accidents in the developed world where 100% of the passengers have ever been saved by getting in a lifeboat.

    The Puget Sound ferries are within never more than 3 miles from land … it’s not like they are crossing an open ocean. And no matter if the ferry had 1200 or 600 passengers, the very idea that more than 600 people could need to get into lifeboats in a body of water that has so many nearby rescue capabilities may be a substantial overreach in actual event maritime safety thinking.

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