Photo Courtesy © Washington State Ferries
nlike, say, local buses or airplanes, ferries are sought out for life’s biggest moments—couples marry on them, families scatter loved ones’ ashes into the waters of Puget Sound from them; even babies are (well, okay, accidentally) born on them. The Washington State Department of Transportation has some guidelines and recommendations for those who want to plan a special occasion on a ferry. For those unplanned births, well, you’re in good hands.
Each deck hand in the Washington State Ferries system is trained in emergency response, and though they use their training for plucking stranded boaters from waters or scooping up overwhelmed kayakers, every once in a while, they are called upon to assist in a birth—a skill they also have. As reported in the Seattle Times in 2012, baby Lucy made an early appearance on board the Bainbridge-Seattle route. Lucky for her mom, there just happened to be an OBGYN nurse and two EMTs on board in addition to the ferry crew. Baby Lucy arrived safely, and she and her mom were met at the ferry dock by Seattle Fire’s emergency crew, who rushed them to Swedish Medical Center. Mom and Lucy were in ship-shape and doing great. Two years later, also on the Bainbridge route (bainbridgereview.com), Zoë Hammond made an appearance on October 22. The 2nd Mate Scott Schrader was informed when the Hammond family boarded that mom Christina was in labor. The ferry crew requested medical help over the loudspeaker, and had so many professionals respond, they had to turn some away. Captain Russell Fee fired up all four engines and raced to the Seattle dock, but Baby Zoë didn’t wait. A year later, Zoë and her family celebrated her first birthday on the ferry with the crew.
Speaking of birthdays on ferries, yes, you can celebrate your special day onboard. Though you may bring your own food, outside catering is not allowed. The Washington State Ferries likes to know the time and route so they can alert the crew. They recommend traveling at non-peak times, and scratch the birthday candles—no open flames are allowed on ferries. 62 NorthSoundLife.com
Big Moments on the Ferries Weddings
No, it is not true that every ship captain can perform a legal wedding ceremony. The captains on board the Washington State ferries, for example, cannot marry you. But you can get married on a ferry. The Department of Transportation recommends that you aim for non-peak hours and let them know the exact time so the captain and crew can be prepared. Unless you want all the commuters as your wedding party, small weddings make the most sense. Outside catering is not allowed, and you can’t get married in the private areas of the ferries (darn, no engine room nuptials). You are on a public ferry, so there aren’t places to change clothes and the loading and unloading of cars at destinations might preclude being able to drive on (if you’re ceremony includes dancing, long toasts, drunken stumbling, etc.). Photographers should be aware that pathways and walkways need to be clear for the crew in the event of an emergency (now there’s a memorable wedding story…the Great Storm on Your Wedding Day), and there may be other logistics that you need to check with the ferry system. About 20 weddings take place aboard ferries each year.
Worried about ferry safety? Don’t be. Not once in the history of the WSDOT ferry system has there been a sinking or a fatality. In fact, because crew members are trained in emergency response, there were more than 145 lifesaving events credited to ferry personnel in 2015.
A moving tribute to a family member who was close to the water, or wanted to be, is to scatter their ashes from a ferry. With more than a hundred memorials a year, the Washington State Ferries requires a reservation at least five days in advance. The ashes must be contained in a biodegradable container (called a journey urn). Unlike scenes in movies, you cannot open the urn and scatter ashes, you simply release the urn. The limited routes for memorials are SeattleBremerton, Mukilteo-Clinton, Seattle-Bainbridge, Port Townsend-Coupeville, Edmonds-Kingston, and AnacortesFriday Harbor.