Passengers traveling by ferry from Kingston were rerouted Thursday afternoon to Mukilteo, after one of the two boats on the route malfunctioned while docked in Edmonds, temporarily shutting down all service on the passage north of Seattle.

The route reopened in the late afternoon, but was likely to be hobbled for the rest of the day. Just one boat will be making the crossing — the small, 144-car Issaquah.

The Spokane ferryboat, which just recently celebrated its 50th birthday, broke down while docked in the Edmonds Ferry Terminal. The issue seemed to be with its generator, said Ian Sterling, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries.

Sterling could not say how long it would take to repair the Spokane.

There is only one slip in Edmonds, meaning the fully loaded Issaquah could not land. Crews opted to turn north to Mukilteo to offload passengers on the east side of Puget Sound.

The route reopened when the Spokane was tugged back to Kingston, where there are multiple slips, for repairs. The Issaquah motored back south to resume limited service from Edmonds.

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State officials have warned that it’s going to be a hairy holiday weekend on the ferries. Even before the Spokane broke down, wait times were upward of three hours in Edmonds to drive on.  

The state ferry system has been hammered by the pandemic and labor shortages for months now. It’s become routine for routes to operate with just one boat and to experience significant delays.

State officials have worked to return service to something close to normal. But relief has not come to the Edmonds/Kingston route, which is prioritized below the San Juans, Bainbridge and Mukilteo. Sterling said crews in Edmonds have been hit with another round of coronavirus infections recently, further limiting that crossing.

“We’ve been warning people that this is not back to normal times yet,” said Sterling.

The ferry system is recruiting workers, but the training and certification process means staffing up is a slow process.

“We just don’t have the people or the deck officers,” Sterling said.