Finally, ferries are carrying enough liferafts for passengers

Ferry Fare

As of this winter, Kingston Edmonds riders no longer need to fret about scrambling for a spot in a life raft. There’s finally room for all!

Ah, perhaps you were unaware of this worriment. For decades, our ferries had life raft space for only about 8 thousand of the system’s 37 thousand passengers. Here our Mk. I and II Jumbos with rated capacities of 2,000 and 2,500 respectively had a life raft space for 600 and 1200 riders respectively. As more life rafts meant more crew, this strategy saved money. Yikes! The fuzzy thinking, obviously by someone in an office who never considered personally bobbing around in Puget Sound, was that the second boat on the route would evacuate passengers from the stricken ferry. The ferry’s rescue boats would haul rafts of people back and forth. This approach was practiced, even using actors to play “difficult” passengers. If there wasn’t a second boat available passengers were limited. Fortunately on the Kingston/Edmonds route, even in the summer, we don’t approach our boat’s rated passenger loading. You may recall that a Bremerton boat going to a Seahawks game in 2015 reversed course to off load 484 crabby fans after a passenger miscount.

People better placed than we lowly riders had tried to fix the situation as well. U.S. Representative, and later Governor, Mike Lowry tried unsuccessfully to require Washington’s ferries to carry enough life rafts for the passengers and crew. Later, Ferries’ then-retired chief safety officer testified that “the argument against having enough life rafts has always been that they’ve never had an accident, and that another boat could be there in minutes. But someday there will be an accident. And it will happen in a way they didn’t expect. And in those first five or 10 minutes, you could lose people.” Puget Sound water temperatures range from the 40s to 50s year-round. At those temperatures even with a lifejacket you’ll be unconscious within 30-60 minutes and expire in 1-3 hours. Two years ago common sense finally prevailed, and the Coast Guard required life rafts for all.

Today all the Jumbo I’s and II’s have been upgraded with life rafts except for the Tacoma which is being upgraded now. So where are these extra rafts? If you go to the life raft station on the car deck, there’s a box where the crew launches the rafts from the canisters on the top deck. After the rafts splashdown, the ferry’s two small boats herd them up and bring them to the life raft stations on the car deck.

We’ve always had lifejackets for everyone but there’s something new there as well. We now have a much larger load of children’s-sized lifejackets, about 180.

In the passenger cabin there are large signs on the base of the bench seats that have the children’s jackets. Something worth checking out when you’re onboard next time. In the upper deck and car deck the children’s jackets are in the lockers with the adults lifejackets.

The cartoon is my feeble attempt at humor. We have great, helpful ferry crews. I and your Ferry Advisory committee appreciate their cooperation and attitude.

Your Ferry Advisory Committee meets at the Village Green on the second Mondays of the month at 6:30 p.m. We’d love to hear from you. Email