August 9, 2019
What’s up with the ferry to San Juan island
Now that we are most of the way through the summer season here on San Juan Island and it is very clear that the Washington State needs an improved website an interface for customers looking to gain information traveling the ferries and make reservations. It seems that the creators of the Wa State Ferry website assume everyone is already familiar with ferry travel and the reservation process. But the many visitors coming to Washington State are often confused and frustrated by the time we get their phone call to help them navigate the ferry schedule and fares.
So I want to take a moment here to try and untangle the confusing mess as best I can.
The Washington State Ferry Schedule
At first, this can seem a bit confusing but it’s not so bad. There are two forms you can find, one being from the website when you can simply select the terminal of departure and arrival, and the date of the sailing. This will give you the sailing times for the exact date you input into the system.
The second is the old paper schedule you can pick up at the ferry terminal and other locations once you arrive in Washington State. Once unfolded look for Anacortes/San Juan Islands. If you are traveling to San Juan Island check the Westbound schedule and if you are leaving San Juan back to Anacortes check the Eastbound sailings. Along the top, you will see the names of the departing terminals and down the left side, you will see the departure time of each sailing. When traveling the San Juan Island find time under Leave Anacortes heading. Form the time slot slide your finger right and make sure it has an arrival time un the Arrive Friday Harbor heading. If you see a series of dashed lines this means the ferry does not go to Friday Harbor.
Washington State Ferry Reservations
This is where there seems to be a lot of confusion and understandably so. First I should state that if you plan on bringing a car to San Juan please get a ferry reservation. It should also be noted that Walk-on passengers DO NOT need a reservation, ONLY VEHICLES need reservations.
Understanding reservation availability
This is pretty tough and I assume that there are a lot of folks that simply give up on getting a reservation. The site has 3 Tiers that release 30% of the boat car parking availability per Tier. This overtime will release 90% of the parking for each specific departure. 10% of space is always left for stand-by (non-reservation holders) and emergency vehicles.
Tier 1 releases 2 months prior to the summer sailing schedule at 7 AM PST. This will open the first 30% of parking on each ferry. These spots reserve out fast and can be discouraging for those trying to make reservations before Tier 2 is released. With a little patience and a calendar reminder to check back for Tier 2 release will get you ready for setting your reservation.
Tier 2 release much closer to the sailing date of the vessel. So check the schedule and have your time slot picked out and 2 WEEKS BEFORE THE SCHEDULE SAILING go back to the reservation website at 7 AM PST and the second round of 30% parking availability will be open for reservation.
Okay, what if you missed Tier 1 and Tier 2. Well, go for Tier 3.
This is the final 30% that will be released for reservation. Again, have your time slot for your sailing picked out, set a reminder to check back. The release of the final 30% will happen at 7 AM PST 2 DAY PRIOR to the specific sailing date.
Be up early and have the site ready so that you can get in for a reservation. If you missed all 3 Tiers you can always arrive at the ferry and park stand-by for the remaining 10% of the ferry that is not reservable and for stand-by and emergency traffic only.
Going stand-by means you will get on the ferry but it may not be the exact time slot you want. But if you show up early and have a bit of patience, you will get a ferry to San Juan. Bring a board game or some cards and enjoy the downtime near the water at the ferry terminal.
You can avoid all of these issues and simply walk-on the ferry. Pay for parking at the Anacortes Ferry Terminal then purchase a walk-on passenger ticker at the terminal office and you are all set. Once on the island, you can rent an electric or standard bike, rent a scooter or a car. Cars are not always the best to bring. We have limited parking everywhere in town. Town parking enforcement is very efficient and many visitors do get parking tickets.
Ferry Reservation link above
When should I arrive for the ferry
I have a reservation for my car, when do I need to get there?
If you have a reservation you have to be through the ferry booth 30 minutes before the scheduled sailing. This does mean through the booth! If you are inline to pass through the booth and time passes to less than 30 minutes to the sailing you will be put in stand-by and lose your reservation. YES, they are strict with this rule.
I would recommend being there 1 hour before your reserved ferry sailing time.
I have a bike, when should I get there?
Bikes are easy for the ferry to accommodate. You will purchase a passenger ticket and bike supplement at the ferry office when you arrive a the terminal. I would still arrive 45 minutes early. But you can arrive within 15 minutes and still make it as long as the ticket line at the terminals is minimal.
I am walking on, when should I arrive?
Follow the same procedures listed above for the bikes. The process is the same and my recommendations for arrival time are the same as well.
How much does it cost to take the ferry to San Juan Island?
The ferry fare schedule has all the prices listed. But here is a quick outline of prices. Fares are round trip. So once you pay to leave Anacortes to San Juan Island you do not need to pay when you go back to Anacortes from San Juan Island.
When you make your reservation online you will pay a $10 deposit. You have up to 5 PM PST the day prior to your sailing to cancel and get your deposit back. Past that or no-show you will lose your deposit. The $10 is just a DEPOSIT, you will have to pay the balance for the sailing when you arrive at the ferry booth the day of the sailing.
Vehicles Under 14′ during the summer season is $53 (covers car and driver). Additional passengers are $13.75 each.
Vehicles 14′ – 22′ during the summer season is $67.15 (covers car and driver). Additional passengers are $13.75 each.
Vehicles over 22′ need to consult the ferry website for over length and or over height restrictions and additional fees.
Bikes cost $4 for the bike an $13.75 for a passenger ticket.
Motorcycles are $28.35
Walk-On Passengers are $13.75
In the end, if at all possible, just walk on the ferry and save yourself a lot of extra logistics. If you are bringing a car to the island make sure and plan well in advance so that you can get a reservation during one of the three-tier releases. Be patient and reserve space for when you plan to arrive and when you plan to leave San Juan Island. If you miss getting a reservation set a reminder for the next tier opening and be patient. If all else fails, arrive at the ferry terminal in Anacortes, Wa and wait for a stand-by spot on an upcoming departure.