Nearly 400,000 people are projected aboard Washington State Ferries Thursday, Aug. 31, through Tuesday, Sept. 5. The expected surge in customers for Labor Day travel will close out what’s adding up to be the system’s busiest summer in four years.
Saturday, Sept. 2, is expected to be the peak travel day during the upcoming holiday weekend. The system’s top 10 ridership days since 2019 have all occurred on a Saturday with seven coming in the past three months:
• 88,190 on July 1, 2023.
• 87,047 on July 24, 2021.
• 86,905 on Aug. 12, 2023.
• 85,927 on July 3, 2021.
• 85,894 on July 29, 2023.
• 84,487 on Aug. 19, 2023.
• 83,562 on July 22, 2023.
• 83,445 on July 10, 2021.
• 83,440 on July 15, 2023.
• 83,010 on May 27, 2023.
In addition to the usual long vehicle lines and wait times surrounding holiday weekends, all Labor Day ferry travelers should prepare for possible last-minute schedule changes. Sailings may be delayed or canceled with short notice due to WSF’s current lack of relief crewing (PDF 434KB) or an unexpected mechanical issue within the system’s aging fleet.
“I encourage all our customers to make the most of our online tools such as the WSDOT mobile app to help them plan their trips and stay up to date with any service changes,” said Patty Rubstello, head of WSF. “By signing up for our rider alerts you can get the latest updates via text or email and our real-time map allows you to track each ferry.”
Busy travel times
The busiest sailings for vehicles will likely be westbound (or onto an island) Thursday, Aug. 31, through Saturday, Sept. 2, then eastbound (or off island) Sunday, Sept. 3, through Tuesday, Sept. 5. To reduce or eliminate waiting, riders may consider taking an early morning or late-night sailing or by using transit to walk or bike onto the ferry if possible.
Before heading to a terminal or boarding, people driving on board can check terminal conditions. Anacortes/San Juan Islands and Port Townsend/Coupeville routes also offer vehicle reservations.
On Labor Day, Sept. 4, there will be a few holiday schedule changes for the Anacortes/San Juan Islands, Edmonds/Kingston, Point Defiance/Tahlequah and Port Townsend/Coupeville routes. The Seattle/Bainbridge Island run will operate on a Saturday timetable and the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth route will use the two-boat weekend schedules. Holiday sailings are marked on the schedules for each route.
People using state highways to get to the ferry terminal should plan for potential holiday travel backups and delays by checking real-time traffic information on the WSDOT mobile app or online using the updated WSDOT travel map feature.
WSF, a division of the Washington State Department of Transportation, is the largest ferry system in the U.S.