The U.S. Coast Guard is ordering Washington State Ferries to increase the number of crew members on its largest vessels to improve safety. On Friday, Coast Guard officials decided that the state needs one more crewman added to the minimum on the Jumbo class of 188-car vessels used on the Edmonds-Kingston run and other routes. They also want to beef up the number and skills of crew members on the smaller Super class 144-car ferries. The revised crew requirements must be in place by the end of November, according to the eight-page letter sent to state and ferry worker union officials.
Historically, the ferries assigned more crew on each sailing than the minimum, so if an employee got sick, overslept or got delayed by a flat tire it did not result in a run being scuttled. In June, the state reduced the number of crew members on the Jumbo and Super classes of vessels to what the Coast Guard then considered the minimum needed for safe operation of the boats, shrinking crews by up to three people. Since then dozens of runs have been canceled when a crew members fails to show up because of illness or other reasons. To comply with the new Coast Guard requirements, the ferries may have to hire the equivalent of nine to 12 full-time employees. The cost of compliance is still unknown.