Washington State Ferry employees demonstrated their rescue skills after responding to two overboard incidents, one over Thanksgiving weekend on the Chimacum and the other on Dec. 6 aboard the Yakima.
“The WSF crew practices for this weekly, so it was great to see their work pay off,” said Ian Sterling, WSF Communication Director, who added that those who voluntarily jump overboard are issued a $500 fine from WSF.
The first overboard incident happened while the Chimacum was sailing from Bremerton to Seattle, causing Captain Tom Tilton, who was retiring that day after 20 years of working for WSF, to end his career with a bang.
“In fact, passengers did a great job of alerting the experienced captain who was getting ready to say goodbye. His last day ended up being more eventful than anticipated,” Sterling said.
According to Sterling, another incident involved a man voluntarily jumping off the Yakima while docked in Friday Harbor as if to go for a swim. He emphasized how dangerous water in the Pacific Northwest can be — especially in the winter.
“This is pretty rough weather this time of the year. You get the wind and you get the waves and that can really lead to all kinds of trouble,” Sterling said.
According to the Washington State Parks boating program, hypothermia can set in after being in the water for 30 minutes, sometimes less.
Rescue training happens weekly on every WSF vessel. During the training, a two-person crew gets into inflatable rescue boats and they also check the outboard engine. They get lowered down from the ferry vessel as if they are performing an actual rescue.
Along with the boat drill, the crew also holds a weekly firefighting drill, putting on bunker gear, masks and spraying water off the back of the boat with the fire-grade hoses.
Sterling said that whether or not incidents happen on or off the ferry, WSF gets involved in rescues frequently, such as helping out scuba divers, kiteboarders, paddleboarders and kayakers.
With the ferries on the water all the time, it is essential that the crew is experienced in rescues, he said, as there may not always be a Coast Guard cutter boat nearby. Even if the Coast Guard is responding to an incident, WSF employees still often assist them.
Sterling said there has been an increase in rescues since the pandemic since more people have gotten into outdoor recreational activities.
For the crew that becomes directly involved with saving lives, they receive what is called a life ring award to demonstrate the merit of being hands-on in a dangerous situation.
“You know, this is a big part of their training,” Sterling said. “So we’re proud of recruiters for being able to do this.”