Post Written by Ensign Lindsay Cook
Greetings and happy holidays everyone,
For this edition of “ENS Cook Reports” I’m blogging while on leave visiting family in the Seattle area. I grew up in the South Puget Sound region and spent a lot of time riding the ferries, so I thought now that I’m in the Coast Guard and blogging about my Coast Guard experiences I’d take a look at the ferries from the Coast Guard “maritime security” perspective.
On Monday, I spent the day with the Seattle/Bainbridge ferry and Coast Guard Station Seattle. This first post is about my experience onboard the ferry to hopefully give you a sense of the importance of the ferry system to the region. In a second post that will follow later, I’ll share what it was like to be at the small boat station and participate in a security escort for the ferry.
The Washington state ferry system is the largest in the nation, carrying nearly 23 million passengers per year. A single ferry can carry up to 2,500 passengers and 202 vehicles. Just by looking at those numbers you can understand why security procedures are important in keeping the vessel and passengers safe.
The ferry is an iconic figure in the Pacific Northwest and dearly loved by native Washingtonians. Not only is riding the ferry enjoyable because of the gorgeous scenery, but passengers also feel safe, and the security measures put into place on board the ferries by the Washington State ferries also help to ensure the safety and security of the ferry, passengers and crew. From not allowing passengers to leave baggage unattended, to ensuring all passengers stay on board the ferry until it moors at the next destination, to ensuring that every bike and vehicle are accounted for and removed from the ferry at each destination, the main goal of all of the security measures is to make sure the ferry transit is safe.
I spoke with a passenger named Fran who excitedly showed me a Christmas card with a ferry decorated in Christmas lights. Fran said the ferry on the Christmas card represented, “community,” and as I spoke with several other passengers they shared their love and reliance on the ferry as a primary mode of transportation to Seattle. To travel from Bainbridge Island to Seattle takes about 30 minutes but driving to Seattle can easily take over an hour. You can imagine why commuters choose the ferry!
Now to the Coast Guard security piece.
One of the Coast Guard’s five primary missions is ports, waterways and coastal security (PWCS). The PWCS mission basically protects the approaches to our nation’s ports, inside the ports, the navigable waterways and all those who use them. The Coast Guard’s intent here is for our presence, and our efforts, to be preventative in nature. From providing armed escort of vessels, to enforcement of maritime safety or security zones, to working and coordinating security efforts with other federal, state or local agencies, the PWCS mission is incredibly important.
Here on the Seattle/Bainbridge ferry that means that local Coast Guard units provide random ferry escorts for the Washington State ferries and their passengers. When the Coast Guard provides an escort, the ferry notifies the passengers over the loud speaker and lets them know it’s a security escort and not to be alarmed.
I’m heading over to Station Seattle now for what will be my first time underway on board a Coast Guard small boat for a security patrol, so I’m looking forward to talking with the crew and learning more about what they do.
I’ll keep you posted,
ENS Lindsay Cook