Motorcycles & Ferries

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Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - Skagit


In The Land of Ferries

A number of riders ask me every year - "What's the deal on taking a motorcycle on the ferries?" A great deal indeed.

Great deal #1 - Rates are typically about half of what it costs to put a car on the ferry. If you're riding two up, your passenger will be charged separately, but in the end it's still usually less than coming on by car. When Tim Eyman got to monkeying with the transportation budget, ferry fares rose, so it was real nice to have a motorcycle knowing it would be a while before we reached the double digit fare rate we're now seeing with cars.

Ready for Sea Spray:  Parking your bike on the front of the ferry can result in unwanted sea spray on your bike.

Great Deal #2 - Motorcycles are the first motorized vehicles to be loaded on and off of both Washington state and Canadian ferries. This is provided you show up, get your ticket and reach the dock before they begin loading. If you arrive during loading you can expect to be put on last. If this happens make your way to a lane in the outer hull, as these are usually the first lanes to be unloaded.

So far this is all a pretty good deal - don't you think? We get on the ferry with other riders we don't even know, but it's like we're all members of this private little club. We stick together, chat one another up and typically do a good job of ignoring cage drivers during the crossing. When they get a bike, they can talk to us! Heh.

But here's a few more things to consider when motorcycling via the ferry.

Loading and Unloading

When loading onto the ferry, a DOT 'traffic director' will often wave you right up to the front of the boat. If it's a nice sunny day, that's not too bad of a place to be. But, if it's storming, windy or inclement otherwise, consider parking your bike about 30 feet back along the wall of an inside hull, behind the fire hose. Salt water and motorcycles don't mix. Sea spray can wreak havoc with your chrome, windshield, leather and just about anything else on your bike. If the director argues with you, simply tell them "No sea spray - thank you." When the boat docks and preparations are being made to unload, I duck-walk my bike up to the front with the other riders and exit right along with them.

When is it time to start your motor? Wait till they drop the rope at the bow, that's when it's time to fire it up. The first to exit will be the bicyclists and you can't exit until they disappear from sight. This gives you another 30-60 seconds to get the bike started. Starting any sooner is unnecessary. I despise it when hairy-chested, leather-vested Larry on the S&S Custom fires up his bike with the Cobra straight pipes at 125 decibels - AS SOON AS THE FERRY TOUCHES THE DOCK! An obnoxious thing indeed!

Canadian Connection

Going to Victoria, Vancouver Island? Considering using a Canadian Ferry out of Twassen, B.C.

Forget about the Black Ball that leaves from Port Angeles. With three sailings a day and room for only 12 bikes, you may be spending five hours dotting around Port Angeles if the spaces sell out before you arrive. In addition, the Strait of Juan de Fuca can be rather treacherous for both you and your bike. On a lovely day you may experience seven to ten degree sways. On a stormy day it can be worse! Try 15%! Riders are required to rope their bikes to the hull of the boat, but that's no guarantee your bike won't get a little knocked around during the sailing. The Black Ball is a privately owned ferry and not a part of the WA DOT system.

I also gave up on the WA DOT ferries to get to Vancouver Island. Why? Too few sailings, and long ones at that. The ferry from Anacortes only goes to Victoria (Sidney) a few times a day at best during high season. And getting there means you spend many extra hours making port throughout the San Juan's. Lovely way to spend the day if you want to be on the water most of it.

The quickest way I've found to get to Victoria is by way of the ferries that leave from Twassen B.C. every hour! We leave Puget Sound, hit the truck customs east of I-5 and make our way to the ferry. It's a short drive time and short sailing compared to using the Black Ball, Anacortes or any other ferry.

B.C. ferries are very nice too. A well managed system with clean ferries for all. And the whole time you're riding you get the feeling of traveling abroad with others around you speaking in French or Canuk. Your trip outside the U.S. has begun!

A number of the ferries that run between Twassen and Vancouver Island are 'Super Ferries' that carry up to 470 vehicles and 2,100 passengers, which means there's rarely ever any waiting. On a super ferry you park on the inside hull and chock your bike with chocks provided. No sea spray!

If you're new to motorcycling or riding in the area, most other riders are happy to help you with directions and offer their advice to you as you travel along.

Island Hopping

Here's a few of my favorite island treks by ferry.

1. Vashon Island - riding the back roads of Vashon is a lot of fun. For a long adventure leave from West Seattle. When you're ready to leave the island, depart at Tahlequeh and sail to Pt. Defiance in Tacoma, then make your way back home.

2. Bainbridge Island - Ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge and spend a day exploring the nice roads and quaint village areas Bainbridge has to offer.

3. Vancouver Island - Choose your ferry point and make your way to Vancouver Island. Lots of great roads to discover and the food is great all over. There are many nice places to stay too. Pack your passport, you're going abroad.

4. Whidbey Island - You can get there without a ferry, but what fun is that? By ferry you can reach Whidbey from Mukilteo or Port Townsend. Whidbey is a beautiful place to ride. Take time to explore the back roads and savor the local communities.

5. Orcas Island - The best of all the San Juans to explore by motorcycle. A few nice roads, but no trip is complete without taking a ride up to 2,000 foot high Mt. Constitution for a look over the entire San Juan chain and across to B.C.

By Patrick Thomas/ Summer 2004

For more info visit these websites:

Washington State Ferries -, Loading procedures
BC Ferries -

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