Washington State Ferries


The Washington State Ferries can be referred to as an automobile and passenger ferry service. The ferry serves the communities in San Juan Islands and Puget Sound. This is known to be largest passenger and also automobile ferry fleet in the entire United States and the 3rd largest in whole world. When based on number of cars carried, at 11 million each year, this service is the largest in world.


This ferry system traces its origin to the Mosquito Fleet; a collection of smaller steamer lines that serves Puget Sound area. The steamer lines served this are during the late 19th century and also during the early 20th century. By beginning of the early 1930’s, only 2 lines remained. The two lines were Puget Sound Company also known as Black Ball Line plus the Kitsap Country Transportation Company (KCTC). However, in 1935, there was a strike and this forced KCTC to shut down, leaving only Black Ball Line.

Toward the end of 1940’s, Black Ball Line decided to increase the fares; this was to compensate for the increasing wage demands from ferry workers unions. However, the state disagreed with this and this led to the fall of Black Ball Line. In the year 1951, the state purchased almost all of the Black Ball’s ferry assets for about $5 million. At first, the state wanted to run the ferry service but only until the cross-sound bridges were built. However, they were not approved and therefore the Washington State Department of Transportation runs this system up to date.


Since 2002, there are about 22 ferries found on Puget Sound; they are all operated by the state. The biggest vessels in the fleet can accommodate up to 2,500 persons and about 200 vehicles. The ferries are painted in distinctive green and white trim paint scheme. They also have double-ended open car decks and bridges on every end so they do not have to turn around.


Washington State Ferries’ routes are part of state highway system. Some of the routes include: Seattle to Bremerton, Edmonds to Kingston, Keystone to Port Townsend, Clinton to Mukilteo and Seattle to Bainbridge Island.

From 1986 to 1989 and 1990 to 2003, passenger-only service ran on the Seattle-Bremerton route. However, this was later shut down due to limited profits and because of the continued lawsuits of locals residing on the waterway used by the ferry service. The lawsuits were to stop the high-speed ferries from running at full speed. Slow speeds made the actual crossing time similar to the auto -ferry operating on same route; this made the passenger-only service very redundant.

Today, the passenger-only ferry route that is between Vashon Island and Seattle is designated the State Route 339; without a road portion on the end.

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