Drone operator faces federal charges for flying too close to ferry

by: Joanna Small Updated:

ANACORTES, Wash. - The US Coast Guard is investigating after a ferry boat captain reported a drone right in his line of sight as he tried to dock a boat in Anacortes.   It happened earlier this summer and now the operator is facing federal charges.

The vessels are nearly 450 feet long and take a whole sixth-tenths of a mile to come to a complete stop, so when anything gets in their way, it’s pretty much impossible for the boats to make a tight turn.

“There’s so much mass moving out on the water,” explains Captain Tim Koivu.  We talked to him inside the wheelhouse as he guided a ferry from Edmonds to Kingston.

 Captain Koivu says in his 40 years operating ferries his biggest concern has always been other boats, but now that a fellow captain came face to face with a drone June 20th, he’s got a new obstacle on the water.

“You don’t need  any distraction, that’s why there’s very little up here to distract you,” he tells us.

The evidence is all over the internet—and it’s not illegal for people to fly drones near ferries, but get too close and it could mean federal charges.  We asked the FAA about the issue; they say ferries is a new one but pilot reports of unmanned aircraft have spiked dramatically in just a year, from 238 sightings in all of 2014 to 650 in 2015, and it’s only August.

“Obviously drones are concerns a lot of different places,” says Ian Sterling, spokesperson for the Washington State Ferry System.

Sterling says they get three or four drone reports a month and even recently a letter of concern from a passenger.

“It makes people nervous.  We definitely get calls and emails, “ Sterling explains.

Captain Koivu has yet to see one himself from his place at the helm but, “They’re coming.  We all know they’re coming,” he concludes.

Another issue is ferry officials don’t know what this particular drone—or any drone for that matter-- is getting video of.  For safety reasons even we weren’t allowed to take pictures of most the controls inside the wheelhouse. 

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