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Ranker goes to bat in D.C. for touring watches

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, pressed for the continuation of touring watches for Washington State Ferries during a recent meeting in the nation's capitol with several members of Congress.

Citing negative impacts upon commuters and working families of the San Juans, Ranker asked congressional leaders to reconsider a U.S. Coast Guard directive that would change the way the state ferry system has operated its service and sailings in the San Juans for years. Ranker followed up that recent meeting with letters to the congressional leaders with whom he met.

"I fear this new directive, though well intentioned, will unleash many negative impacts on the quality of ferry service not only to the passengers of the San Juan route, but ferry routes all across Puget Sound," Ranker said.

The fall schedule was reshuffled by WSF to accommodate the Coast Guard's directive, which prohibits the use of so-called "touring watches" in scheduling crews that work onboard the ferries. Touring watches, which have long been an integral part of ferry service in the San Juans, allow crews to work two shifts with an on-board rest in between. Eliminating touring watches is intended to decrease stress and fatigue, but carries other costs.

Beginning in the fall, ferries could no longer be moored overnight in Friday Harbor if a waiver that has allowed WSF to schedule touring watches is not renewed. Such a move would decrease the availability and capacity in the San Juans overall, and greatly affect eastbound sailings and opportunities for those who commute from the islands to the mainland.

"I'm hoping we can work together with the Coast Guard, WSF, and our congressional delegation to ensure crew and passenger safety, as well as providing the service levels to sustain the needs of our ferry-dependent communities," Ranker said.

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