A new reason for ferry cancellations: Not enough workers

As Roger Howe waited to board a ferry at Clinton on Whidbey Island Monday morning for the trip to Mukilteo, he got bad news from ferry workers.

"They came out maybe five minutes before the boat and said, 'Hey, we're not running a 5:05 because somebody didn't show up,'" Howe said.

It made him an hour late to work.

"It's a pain. I rely on that boat," Howe said.

It was the third day in a row the Tokitae missed its first run of the day for lack of crew.

"Hands down, this is the most frustrating thing we deal with," said Ian Sterling, spokesman for Washington State Ferries.

Sterling said the problem was not workers calling in sick or otherwise not showing up.

Instead, he said, for the first time, dispatchers couldn't fill the shifts because the ferry system simply doesn't have enough workers.

"We're just short on people," Sterling said.

It could get worse.

Sterling said 18 workers are set to retire by the end of the summer, many of them captains, engineers and mates.

The ferry system says it's having trouble recruiting new people to work their way up.

That's because although ferry workers can often go home at night, they don't get paid nearly as much as mariners who sail offshore on cargo ships for weeks at a time. The ferry system says it will ask staff members to voluntarily give up vacation time or work on days off to prevent canceled sailings.

Overall, things have been improving.

So far in 2016, 28 sailings have been canceled for crewing problems

Just a couple of years ago, there were about 120 crewing cancellations in a year.

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