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Washington States Ferries Faces Mariner Shortage as State’s Vaccine Mandate Takes Effect

Mike Schuler
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October 19, 2021

Washington States Ferries is continuing with temporary service schedule changes amid a mariner shortage now made worse by the state’s vaccine mandate.

The mandate requires that all state employees, as well as certain other professions, are fully vaccinated with a recommended COVID-19 vaccine by yesterday’s October 18, 2021 deadline. Certain exemptions and accommodations, including for religious or medical exemptions, are accepted in some cases.

However, as the deadline passed, approximately 200 WSF workers, including some vessel crew members, remained unvaccinated, according to NBC local affiliate KING-TV.

“I’m fired,” deck crew member Christopher Anderson told the station. “It’s really too bad. I wish they’d have a change of heart.”

Another Chief engineer, a 23-year-veteran with with the WSF system, said his career was being cut short after his request for accommodation was declined.

In a travel bulletin alert posted Monday, Washington State Ferries said temporary schedule changes due to crewing shortages remained in effect.

“Washington State Ferries continues to operate an Alternate Sailing Schedule on most routes until further notice. These changes will help offer more predictable and reliable service systemwide in the face of crewing shortages due to a global shortage mariners that has been worsened by the pandemic,” WSF said in its bulletin.

Washington State Ferries, a division of the Washington State Department of Transportation, is the largest ferry system in the United States with tens of million passengers per year.

Although WSF does acknowledge that severe staff shortages are also due to other variables including an aging workforce, COVID-19 cases and quarantines, there remains just too much uncertainty to keep with the regular schedule.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve worked hard to maintain reliable service, completing the vast majority of sailings,” said head of WSF, Patty Rubstello, in announcing the temporary schedule changes last week. “However, to better reflect the service we can currently provide and to minimize last-minute cancelations due to a lack of crew, we made this difficult decision to adjust our schedules.”

WSF said previously that, despite challenges due to COVID-19, more than 150 new crew members have been brought on this year, yet it’s still actively recruiting for mariner positions.

“Prior to COVID-19, WSF hired new crewmembers once a year leading into the busy season. The system is now continuously recruiting new employees, but is struggling to find qualified mariners. WSF is also expanding its recruitment efforts with maritime academies across the country,” WSF said in a statement.

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