Ferry crews often help save overboard passengers

Our ferries are the best boats to fall off of. They stop quickly and once stopped, the rescue boat can have you back aboard in under ten minutes.

If that happens, our ferries are the best boats to fall off of. They stop quickly and once stopped, the rescue boat can have you back aboard in under ten minutes. That’s important in our 50-degree water where exhaustion comes in 20 to 50 minutes. (Being chubby is a plus.) I learned this, and more, from the Spokane crew’s impressive person-overboard drill.

If you see someone go overboard, tell the crew ASAP so they can get the ferry stopped. There’s a roving crew member on the car deck; on the passenger deck, telling the galley will get the word to the crew. Because it’s moving at 400 yards per minute, the sooner the ferry stops the more likely the rescue.

Next, throw over a life ring. The orange life ring gives the crew a bright marker near where the person fell over. People alone in the water are hard to see, looking like a “bag of trash.” At a night rescue on Bainbridge, rings were thrown off from each side and the crew was able to head back between the life rings’ blinking lights to find the person. If someone else is nearby when someone goes overboard, have them tell the crew while you throw the ring and — this is important — keep sight of, and point to, the person in the water.

Up in the pilot house, they’ll mark the position on their navigation screen while stopping the boat. Then they’ll shift control to the other end and head back down the ferry’s track. When close to the victim, a rescue boat is launched. The boat has a web-like device to drop into water for rolling weakened victims up into the boat. There’s also a sling, which has been used to tow divers with tanks ashore at Edmonds.

While all this is going on, the crew is assembling the defibrillator (AED), oxygen, blankets and other equipment. Crews often do CPR. Mate Joel Michaels has used the AED twice in the last few months to save two heart-attack victims. One case took five jolts. Yikes!

If you fall in, yell to let people know and, as you’re hard to see, wave your arms. If the life ring is in the water nearby, go to it but don’t try to swim any distance. In our cold water, you won’t last long swimming.

Kingston-Edmonds has a rescue about monthly, usually rescuing divers from the Edmonds dive park. Being unfamiliar with the hazards, divers become disoriented and exhausted and cannot get back to shore. Ferry crews routinely check buoys for divers hanging on, and check the water for bubbles when docking. If you’re buying a wet suit, consider an orange one as it’s easy to spot and doesn’t look like a seal to an orca.

If someone turns up missing, the ferry stops, musters the crew and searches the boat. The Coast Guard runs the search and rescue and the ferry searches back down its track. So that’s one reason for that announcement not to forget your bicycle. The only time a crew member turned up missing on Kingston-Edmonds was one dark night. It later turned out he had been a witness in an out-of-state criminal prosecution. Hmm.

In the last couple of years, there have been at least a dozen rail jumpers. Washington State Ferries inevitably pulls jumpers back aboard as they’re too weak to resist. Jumpers make lots of other riders late and also get a $5,000 fine. So, please don’t jump for any reason. But if you do fall in, don’t panic. There’s a top notch crew there to save you.

— FerryFare is written by Walt Elliott, chairman of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee. Contact him at elliottmoore@comcast.net.