Pack your patience if you plan to ride a state ferry

Those planning to take the ferry to or from Whidbey Island this Fourth of July weekend may want to pack their patience.

During these past few weekends, the Clinton-Mukilteo route has been operating with only one boat. Now, this will become the new norm for weekends in July. The no. 1 boat will be the only one in operation on Saturdays and Sundays this month.

“If people [passengers] don’t adjust their schedules, we’re looking at three, four hour waits,” said Washington State Ferries Public Information Officer Ian Sterling.

Ferry workers with a higher risk of catching the coronavirus have been staying home, causing a worker shortage throughout the entire ferry system and, in turn, multiple-hour wait times along routes where ferry service has been reduced.

Sterling said several employees working the Clinton-Mukilteo route have recently tested positive for COVID-19, although the total number of those infected is still unknown as workers are still being tested.

The workers were in non-public areas of the boats, but Sterling said it’s possible they could have transmitted the virus to public areas.

According to a press release, one of the busiest sailings for this holiday weekend will likely be eastbound Sunday, July 5, as travelers return from their Independence Day getaways.

Clinton-Mukilteo is one of two routes that are the busiest in the entire ferry system with the most passengers.

To reduce or eliminate waiting, riders may consider walking on or taking an early morning or late evening sailing, the press release stated.

Passengers walking on are asked to wear a mask and practice social distancing.

If necessary, reduced occupancy will be enforced but so far, Sterling said Washington State Ferries has not yet had to limit passengers on any of the system’s 10 routes during the pandemic.

Sterling added that walk-on passenger numbers have been down by about 70 to 90 percent.

Sterling said that the two boats that run the Clinton-Mukilteo route have a capacity for 300 walk-on passengers. This total does not include drivers or passengers in vehicles.

“If for some reason, and it would be very unlikely, that more than 300 walk-on passengers showed up for a sailing, some would need to wait for the next boat,” Sterling said.

Justin Fujioka, a communications person for Washington State Ferries, said the largest number of walk-ons occurring on the Clinton-Mukilteo route was 92, during a recent Sunday with only one boat in service.