Powered vessels have been carrying passengers across Puget Sound since the 1800s. Until the 1940s, independent ferries made up what was called the "mosquito" fleet. Of these, the Puget Sound Navigation Company (the Black Ball line) was the largest operator.
In 1951, the area's post-war growth boom and the desire for reliable ferry service, helped to generate the need for the Washington State Ferry system.
The state purchased Puget Sound Navigation's 16 ferries and 20 terminals for $5 million. This would eventually grow into the largest ferry system in the United States.
The original 16 ferries have been replaced over the years with a 31 ship fleet that serves ten routes and over 25 million passengers each year. The busiest route, Seattle/Bainbridge, carries over 7.5 million passengers each year.
The fleet ranges from the oldest Steel Electric Class vessels built in 1927, to the newest Jumbo Mk II vessels, launched in 1997 - 1999.
The slowest is the 162 foot Hiyu that travels at 10 knots. The fastest are the passenger-only ferries Chinook and Snohomish that move along at 38 knots.
The smallest is the 112 foot passenger-only vessels Kalama and Skagit, and the largest are the new 460 foot Jumbo Mk II vessels, Tacoma, Wenatchee and Puyallup.
Horsepower output of these vessels goes from 860 for the Hiyu, to 13,200 for the Jumbo Mk II ferries.
Only 200 passengers can ride the Hiyu, while 2,500 can make the journey with either the Jumbo Mk II vessels, or the 382 foot Super Class ships.
Among the 10 routes, the Point Defiance to Tahlequah is the shortest at 1.7 miles, while the Anacortes to Sidney, British Columbia is the longest at 39.9 miles.
To provide this extensive service, the WSF system employs 1,500 people as part of the state's Department of Transportation. Although considered a marine highway, the ferry system is the state's number one visitor attraction, and one of the busiest mass transit systems in the world.
For a guide to the WSF Fleet and their many native American Names, please visit the Washington State Ferries Web site.
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