Touring Watch Decision “A Win” for San Juan County

It appears that Washington State Ferries will be able to avoid drastic reductions in morning sailings from the San Juans this fall, thanks to a decision announced Monday by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard has notified Washington State Ferries that it can continue to schedule “touring watches” on its Anacortes to San Juan Islands routes on a trial basis. Touring watches allow the WSF to schedule crew members to finish a shift in the San Juans, spend the night, then begin a new shift here the next morning. Previously, the Coast Guard had ordered WSF to end touring watches system-wide because of concerns raised by crews on other ferry routes.

According to San Juan County Council Member Howie Rosenfeld, the Coast Guard’s reversal was due in large part to the involvement of the San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) and the County Council.

FAC Chairman Ed Sutton told the Council Tuesday, “This is a great win, we’re not done yet, but I think we dodged a bullet. This has been an extraordinary team effort.”

According to Sutton. the only major change on the latest draft of this year’s fall schedule is that the last sailing from Anacortes on Mondays-Thursdays is at 7:25 p.m., an hour earlier than last year. Later sailings will be available Friday-Sunday.

In June, after the Coast Guard had ordered an end to touring watches, the Ferry Advisory Committee issued a statement describing the impact of the resulting ferry schedule saying: “Typically over 60% of the Friday Harbor traffic boards ferries to arrive in Anacortes prior to midday. The draft Schedule allocates only 26% of total eastbound capacity to these hours. The net effect will be to make it difficult for San Juan Island residents to make mid-morning appointments in Anacortes or conduct a full day’s business on the mainland. “

In briefing the Council Tuesday, Council Member Rosenfeld emphasized that the long-term continuation of touring watches is not a foregone conclusion. “By the end of the fall schedule the Coast Guard will re-evaluate and decide whether touring watches will continue,” he said. “If they decide not to, then the winter schedule will be a transition to no touring watches in the spring.”