The San Juan Clipper passenger ferry between the Seattle waterfront and Friday Harbor will not sail this year.

FRS Clipper, which operates the service, informed ticketed passengers Monday that it had canceled all sailings to San Juan Island, as well as full-day whale watching tours, for the 2022 season. The company issued automatic refunds for 1,400 booked sailings.

Service was scheduled to begin April 29 and continue through Oct. 9. It spells further frustration for passengers bound for the San Juan Islands: The announcement comes after a loose anchor incident aboard the Yakima last week temporarily knocked the Washington State Ferries vessel out of service. WSF spokesperson Ian Sterling says the 144-car Kaleetan ferry has been working the San Juan Islands route since Saturday, keeping the service at four ships.

FRS Clipper’s decision does not affect the company’s passenger ferry service between Seattle and Victoria, B.C., which resumed Apr. 15. The San Juan Clipper will continue to operate half-day whale watching tours from Seattle.

FRS Clipper vice president of marketing Scott Meis attributed the decision to United States Coast Guard fire regulations that limit the service to 150 passengers, which Meis said would be unprofitable. The San Juan Clipper has capacity for 200 passengers.

“We have serviced the San Juans for 35 years. This has never been an issue and all of a sudden certain regulations shifted,” Meis said. “It caught us by surprise.”



Passenger ferry service between Seattle and San Juan Island is regulated by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. An attorney for San Juan Express, Inc., a subsidiary of FRS Clipper, petitioned the commission April 13 for permission to cancel its 2022 season, as first reported by The Orcasonian.

The petition stated that the Coast Guard informed the vessel’s naval architect of the capacity restriction in March to align with new federal regulations adopted after a deadly fire aboard a dive boat off the coast of California in 2019.

Lt. Cmdr. Keola Velasco, U.S. Coast Guard District 13 passenger vessel safety officer servicing Puget Sound, said safety is the top priority of the capacity regulation.

“The most important deficiency is passenger safety,” he said. “In the event of a fire, passengers and crew have to have the proper means to get outside the vessels.”

Regarding the steps required to resume service in 2023 or beyond, Velasco did not have a timeline.


“FRS Clipper has to get modifications made by a shipyard,” he said. “There is no timeline. We’ll work with them to get to their timeline. We’ll go out and verify that it does meet regulation.”

Complying with the new regulations “would take a ton of very significant vessel modifications and require drydock time,” Meis said. “That wasn’t going to happen in 2022.”

The commission approved the request Apr. 28. A commission spokesperson told The Seattle Times that the commission can compel regulated transportation utilities to reinstate service or forfeit their operating certificate “if an immediate need arises.” Members of the public can submit comment through the commission website at

The decision has not been appealed, per the Coast Guard.

The Seattle-Friday Harbor Clipper service ran at 75% capacity in summer 2021 due to the Coast Guard regulation and operated at a financial loss despite strong passenger counts.

“We are an iconic Seattle waterfront brand working to restore the service level we had in 2019,” Meis said.

Meis estimated that FRS Clipper will need three to five years of business at 2019 levels in order to turn a profit after two years of reduced revenue. The Victoria Clipper did not operate in summer 2021 due to maritime restrictions on the U.S.-Canada border and suspended winter 2021-22 service due to low passenger counts.

Meis said the Victoria Clipper is the company’s main route, the success of which helps sustain the San Juan Clipper.

“We are seeing strong demand and numbers are recovering,” he said. “As long as we stay the course, we’ll chart our path toward full recovery.”

Traffic Lab reporter David Kroman contributed to this story.