Cars drive onto the ferry at the Mukilteo terminal last November. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Cars drive onto the ferry at the Mukilteo terminal last November. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

State ferry system experiencing unprecedented staff shortage

The Seattle Maritime Academy is soliciting interest in the profession that can pay $70-80K a year to start.

Associated Press

SEATTLE — Officials with Washington State Ferries acknowledge the system is short on staff and in need of dozens of new recruits.

A March report from the ferry system says staff shortages are unprecedented in the system’s 70-year history, KING-TV reported.

“It’s not good, quite honestly. We don’t have enough people to sail the vessels right now,” Washington State Ferry spokesman Ian Sterling said Monday. “We need to hire, train, and get people out on the water.”

Delays and cancellations have been typical during the pandemic. Sterling said a staffing shortage had been expected even before the pandemic began.

The Washington State Ferry system is competing with for-profit companies, particularly for engine room crews, but the system has hired “well over a hundred people in the last six months,” he said.

The Seattle Maritime Academy in Seattle and the ferry system are holding open houses at the academy on Tuesdays to solicit interest in the profession.

Dale Bateman, who runs the Academy, said a one-year program at the Academy costs about $10,000 and a graduate can make between $70,000-$80,000 a year to start.

In 2021, Washington State Ferries operated about 22,000 fewer sailings than 2019.

Vessel availability has recovered but remains at risk because of the aging fleet, according to the report. The ferry system had 24 vessels five years ago but now has 21.

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