Washington state ferries

Does anybody know what the schedule/pay/ hiring process is for officers on Washington state ferries?
I have 3/m unlimited oceans.

While you were memorizing Lapware questions do you recall seeing the phrase “all available means”?


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That on call BS is so stupid. Hire people or don’t. If you need to weed them out better, get higher standards.

Yes, but it is a tried and proven method of training by intimidation. If the applicant wants the job badly enough he or she will accept the BS, learn to swallow, and say thank you.


I remember a similar situation when I applied for a captain position on the San Francisco ferries. Work on call as an AB for 6 months and we’ll take a look at you. My response: no thanks.

An alternative view:
The WSF system has high standards for their people. They insist that any officer who gives an order to an AB know the AB’s job at least as well or preferably better than they do. Something which can only happen by doing the job of AB for a long period.

As for the requirement to work on-call before steady employment: a good way to end up with the employees you want is to set up a hiring system which gives you people who truly want the job.

There are plenty of people who want to work on a ferry because of the money or benefits, or because they are bored with their lives, or want to “try something else”. If you’re trying to run a top-notch operation, you don’t want those people. You want the ones who are truly committed to the operation, and who have proven themselves reliable.

As a Washington-state taxpayer–the guy who pays for the ferry service and rides it–I have no problem with WSF setting up a screening system that inclines their hiring to more committed, reliable unlicensed crew, and more knowledgeable officers.

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Quite similar hiring conditions I encountered with a few companies I worked for. Wasn’t a problem. If I was an owner, would do the same thing. Jobs these days don’t grow on trees, show you are worth the time and trouble. Those type jobs do come with benefits and upward training. Earn it.

I don’t see a problem with having to work unlicensed as long as the system is understood by everyone.

In my experience however some employers use a two tier system where academy grads are fast-tracked to the wheelhouse while hasepipers are put at the end of the line behind all the non-academy guys holding licenses but working unlicensed.


I was a Washington tax payer for 32yrs and thought of trying to get a job with the ferries, but am thankful I went a different route. I don’t have a problem with a licensed guy moving down a notch or two for a while to learn other positions. I actually wished they would have done that on the drill ship I worked on years ago. Instead of on-call why don’t they do a term of probationary employment to see if the employee works out or not? I think the idea of making someone prove their want or commitment to an operation is ridiculous. You don’t have to swallow the propaganda and culture of an employer, North Korea style, to be a great and valued employee. I worked for Noble drilling and many of the upper tier guys “bled yellow” and thought Noble was the be all end all, but it didn’t make them any better of an employee than the other employee that followed the rules and was a professional.

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Almost every job I’ve worked has come with benefits and upward training. Although for some places you had to work there a year before you were eligible for it. That is the time period where you “earned it” by the work you’ve actually done onboard, not by sitting by a phone at the mercy of a scheduler proving you can get by on no money and minimum days onboard.

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One could also argue that the WSF is keeping out talented, experienced deep sea mariners by having this rule. As I know this to be the case with out a doubt. Why don’t you ask a staff chief or captain( on any boat) what they think of the hiring process and the quality of new hires…go ahead.
Not that the system doesn’t have merit. Training your people from the bottom up is a great resource.

It sure keeps our a lot of talented folks that want to come shore side, but have families, out. A fixed income is a requirement for those individuals.
Imagine a 1st engineer who is willing to come in as Oiler, but cannot do so because no income is guaranteed for the foreseeable future.
Also imaging a high school kid with no experience living with parents making the leap into the industry.

Certainly 2 arguments to be made.
In my experience growing up in the ferry system with family in the fleet and in the office. It’s always been unpopular amongst the employees.


I was a “victim” of the fast tracking of academy folks back in the day. Got passed over a few times because I didn’t have the big ticket or degree. All worked out quite well at the end of the day. As a hawsepiper I felt I had more practical experience than the new grads. The insurance company’s had a different idea. My son has a good license and much more educated than me. I can run circles around him when it comes to running a boat. I knew before he started in the maritime field he would need a good head start. A good degree and license has served him well.

Do you come by this opinion as an employer, or an employee, or both? The outlooks are different.

What propaganda? What culture are they swallowing? A company makes a decision about the terms of employment. Prospective employees make an informed decision about who they want to work for, based on that program. My experience is that the process is mutually beneficial to both sides. I call it “self-sorting”. Your experience in running a hiring program may be different

P.S. I don’t work for WSF.

This part-time on call business for 6 months or a year that pays peanuts is feasible for a kid living with his parents. For an married adult with experience in the industry who has to pay rent, not so much. "Hey honey, sell the furniture and quit buying food. I have this great opportunity for a job running a ferry but first I have to go back to being an AB directing traffic and we have to live in the car for a year. Not realistic.

It seems to me the only real measure of how qualified mariners are for a ferry system, is how reliable a ferry system is, and how few accidents it has. The WSF arguably is on time and has few accidents. If you hire more “talented, experienced deep sea mariners” is the system going to be more efficient? I personally doubt it.

So the hiring system the WSF uses is working as intended. Why scrap a system that is working well, for a theoretical system which has statistical chance of not running as well? Such a change would benefit the “talented, experienced deep sea mariners” you mention, but may not benefit the taxpayer.

OK: “Hey, staff chiefs and captains working for WSF–what do you think of the hiring process and the quality of the new hires?” :grinning:

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Hey, leave the man alone, he hasn’t finished reading the financial pages yet.


Well your right, and as I said certainly two schools of thought here.
I myself, and many others, think it’s a disadvantage the way it has been run. It also isn’t clear how successful is has or has not been, given it is the only way it its been. At least to my knowledge it is, I could be wrong.

As far as the taxpayer is concerned that is also debatable. Let’s just look for one example at the most recent missed run on the Puyallup due to a burned out E light ballast. The reaction on behalf of the captain and mates was NOT that of an experience Mariner. The Chief was not even informed until after the shoreside authorities were called and the entirety of the king county first responders were on scene. How many tax payer dollars were lost in because of a bad ballast and poor decision making? I could also make many more arguments to the same effect, one being it takes more time to train somebody to the same level of knowledge and experience that somebody who’s already had a career at sea. Obviously this isn’t a blanket statement.
How long does it take to train a new employee to change a EMD power pack vs somebody who has changed one out regularly for 20 years.
How long does it take to train a crew member to the peculiarities of a marine power plant vs somebody who well knows the concept ie Diesel electric AC AC or AC DC, CPP etc.
Burning out a DC drive motor due to inexperience has absolutely caused taxpayers money many times before in the ferry system. But I digress.

You do make very good points , and I do applaud your sarcasm.


Personally I think all fresh academy grads need to work on deck for minimum 6 months. Most of the ones we are getting on the petroleum transport side of the industry are garbage and don’t last more than a couple hitches due to incompetence.

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Well, there’s another, very important real measure of how qualified mariners are for a ferry system, and that is the cost effectiveness to the communities they serve. We’ve seen this recently in Alaska, and although Washington’s tax base is not as easily affected as Alaska’s vis a vis oil prices believing that the Puget Sound areas economy will forever support unlimited spending on the ferry system is shortsighted.

Mariners from other industries would bring real life experience in making a vessel operate safely, efficiently, and reliably under a budget to the table. A culture of hiring contractors and submitting unquestioned requisitions under the guise of safety and reliability will have a cumulative effect and already has. Millions are wasted in that system just as millions were wasted in Alaska’s. When the money is flowing and the contractors and requisitions are all part of local politicians contributors all is well. When the money stops flowing, the ability, long lost in many parts of the maritime industry to MAKE THE VESSEL PAY FOR ITSELF AND IT’S MAINTENANCE will be essential to maintain service. Even if the money doesn’t stop flowing, the opportunity cost of the wasted millions has a ripple effect throughout the society it services.

I no longer live in Washington state, due in part witnessing the reckless abandon with which it wasted public money. I think the ferry systems hiring practice has some merit due to the scheduling needs and climate of the Puget Sound region. I do think having the ability to be flexible when mariners are needed at short notice or a culture of complacence has taken root in the fleet would be beneficial.

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