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Recommendation: 23

Status: Underway

Reduce noise from Washington State ferries by accelerating the transition to quieter and more fuel-efficient vessels and implementing other strategies to reduce ferry noise when Southern Residents are present.


Action 1

Conduct a ferry fleet noise baseline study as the basis for establishing noise reduction goals and developing plans.

Action 2

Institute engineered or operational strategies to safely reduce noise from ferries when Southern Residents are present.

Action 3

Fund the transition to quieter and more fuel-efficient ferries.

Implementation Details

  • The Governor and Legislature should support and accelerate transition of the Washington State Ferries fleet to quieter, more fuel-efficient designs and technologies while funding a fleet noise baseline analysis project in 2019 to achieve data-driven noise reduction goals.
  • Washington State Ferries should institute engineered or operational strategies to safely reduce noise near Southern Residents.

Recent Progress

  • The Legislature awarded the Washington Department of Transportation $140 million to buy a hybrid electric ferry and to convert up to two ferries to hybrid electric.
  • Washington State Ferries developed an Underwater Noise Mitigation and Management Plan for the Protection of Marine Mammals to address operational ways to reduce ferry noise and is providing incentives to use quiet vessel notations when building new ferries.
  • The Legislature appropriated $160,000 for a state ferry noise baseline study. Consultants collected field data on all ferry classes by placing hydrophones on three routes in October 2019.  The report details a noise baseline, its potential effects on marine life, and potential mitigation measures.
  • Washington State Ferries, in collaboration with the U.S. Navy and the University of Washington, funded the development of an Underwater Sound Level Meter that provides real-time data on in-water noise. The meter was updated with a new tablet, hydrophone, and software that reflects the newest federal marine mammal thresholds.
  • Washington State Ferries and other maritime operators are using the Whale Report Alert System developed in Canada to alert commercial mariners in Puget Sound of the presence of whales and to increase awareness and voluntary speed reduction to reduce whale strikes.
  • In 2019, Washington State Ferries changed its car loading procedures to reduce trim (the angle of the propeller), save fuel, and potentially reduce noise. State Ferries collected data and is working on policy that will address the issue of trim across the fleet.
  • Washington State Ferries integrated “Be Whale Wise” guidelines into its Safety Management System. Unless safety dictates otherwise, vessels avoid getting closer than 200 yards from orcas, do not position themselves within 400 yards of oncoming whales, and reduce speed to less than 7 knots and avoid course changes within 400 yards of whales. State Ferries also has revised its management system to reflect the new state laws about vessel behavior near Southern Residents. The new more stringent Washington State standards for Southern Residents have been applied to all whales. State Ferries also is promoting Be Whale Wise guidelines with education materials and naturalist presentations on ferries.
  • Washington State Ferries Sustainability Action Plan: 2021-2023 highlights the measures State Ferries is taking to benefit Southern Residents.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.