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Coast Guard letting WSF adjust staffing based on number of riders

December 4th, 2012 by ed friedrich

The Coast Guard has or soon will increase manpower on almost all Washington State Ferries to provide adequate staffing during emergencies such as fire or evacuation. In a novel move, however, it’s allowing Washington State Ferries to adjust staffing according to passenger count.
For example, on the four Super-class ferries, crews will remain at 14 members, but they’ll add a more expensive licensed mate at the expense of an ordinary seaman. However, when there are fewer than 450 passengers, the boats can sail without one of three ordinary seamen. If there are fewer than 300 passengers, it can drop two. The determining factor is having a crew member to launch each necessary 150-person lifeboat. If there were fewer than 300 people riding the ferry, only two lifeboats would need to be launched during evacuation. Also, the top deck would be chained off so it wouldn’t need to have deck sweeps.
Ferries director David Moseley had asked the Coast Guard to extend the deadline for making the Super-class changes from Nov. 26 until spring, citing a shortage of licensed mates. The Coast Guard denied the request, it said Friday, because of WSF’s new ability to short-staff for fewer passengers and the Walla Walla is broken at least until spring, freeing up more licensed mates.
The Coast Guard allowed WSF to cut one deck hand from the crews of its two Jumbo-class ferries on June 17, but ordered them restored by Nov. 26, which WSF has done.
It did the same for the five 124-car Issaquah-class boats, but it’s not only requiring those positions to be restored but another ordinary seaman added, pushing the crews from 10 to 12 people. If they’re assigned to routes that are close to firefighting resources — Mukilteo-Clinton, Fauntleroy-Vashon Island-Southworth and Point Defiance-Tahlequah — and carrying fewer than 300 passengers, they can drop an ordinary seaman.
The three Evergreen State-class ferries must also bring back the deck hand they lopped in June, moving from 10 to 11 crew members, but can run with 10 in the situations described above.
The changes are supposed to take effect when WSF receives the updated certificates of inspection from the Coast Guard. They’re still discussing manning levels for the three Kwa-di Tabil 64-car ferries. it’s expected to be completed by Dec. 30.
Regarding sailing short with fewer passengers, WSF already has quite a bit of ridership data and is counting riders this week to verify the historical numbers.
“Then we’ll see how much we can take advantage f variable staffing, if at all,” said Moseley.
WSF is also crunching the numbers to see how much the larger crews will cost. Even before it the changes, it was asked to propose a $5 million cut from its budget for 2013-15. The proposal included service cuts, including a couple round trips between Bremerton and Seattle.

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