WA State Ferries working to prevent captain shortage

There's a very real possibility that in a few years there won't be enough captains to pilot your ferry.  The Washington State Ferry System says there is a shortage of people applying for the job.
The ferry system is coming off a record-setting year in terms of the number of passengers it transports — 24 million in 2015.  But unless the system can keep its own numbers up, some routes would eventually be axed.
When Capt. John Tullis took a job with the ferry system more than 30 years ago, it was because he sought it out.
"Just saw the ferry system as a great career, starting at the entry level as an ordinary seaman," he explained as he pulled away from the Edmonds ferry terminal.
But not nearly as many people feel that way today.
"We've got sort of a shortage of licensed officers in the system," John told us.

Between 60 and 70 percent of the ferry system's captains and mates are 55 years or older.  Second Mate Joel Michelson is an exception.
"Myself and the chief mate here today I think are the only captains under 35," Joel explained.
"You can do the math there," said Ian Sterling, spokesperson for the Washington State Ferries.  "It stands to reason that a lot of those guys, as much as they love their job, they're going to retire here in the next five to 10 years.  Right now we don't have the people necessarily to fill their jobs."

In a pre-emptive strike against a shortage, ferry officials are stepping up their recruiting efforts.

"We approached some of the maritime training places down in California," Ian said.
What slows them down, they say, is it takes years to become a captain, and captains who pilot ferries -- while being some of the state's highest-paid employees — don't make what captains on commercials ships do.   Both Joel's grandfather and father — also longtime captains — eventually went commercial.
"They both moved on from the ferry system to be Puget Sound pilots, the pilots that bring the big container and cargo ships into the Puget Sound," Joel told us.

John is retiring two years; he just hopes there’s someone to step up to the helm.

"I still will travel using the ferries, and I'm hoping they're fully crewed and able to leave at Bainbridge at 5:20 in the morning every day," he concluded.
WSF says the best way to apply is to visit the employment section of the website.

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