Once upon a time, an armada of small ships ferried freight and passengers across the many waters surrounding Seattle, and it was called the mosquito fleet. A century later, a consortium of shipyards, ports, transit agencies and maritime designers harbor dreams of reviving such a network and doing so with small wakes and an even smaller carbon footprint.

The linchpin to such a dream is the successful design and construction of a new kind of electric hydrofoil ferry — one that can quickly motor through the waters while holding a battery charge and generating minimal wake.

That north star took a step forward this week. Washington Maritime Blue, an umbrella organization that is bringing together the various maritime interests in pursuit of the goal, said it would use the watery route between Seattle and Bremerton as its model for designing and, eventually, constructing a new electric passenger ferry. Kitsap Transit currently operates a diesel-powered passenger ferry between Bremerton and Seattle.

The route, said Jennifer States, vice president of projects and strategy for Washington Maritime Blue, is an “ideal one because it’s very well aligned with the fleet they’re already operating.” Kitsap Transit’s current ferry infrastructure makes the addition of electric charging stations easier, said States.

The nearly 35-mile round trip, which goes through the narrow Rich Passage between Bainbridge Island and Port Orchard, takes roughly an hour. A successfully designed ship would finish the there-and-back trip on a single battery charge without causing beach-damaging waves.

Puget Sound dwellers are unlikely to see an operating ship until at least 2025, said States. Its completion depends on more rounds of federal funding, which stakeholders are confident they’ll receive, but that is not currently in pocket. Washington Maritime Blue already received money for its business case for the ship. Now the organization is in the process of completing an application for $100 million in funding for several possible projects, one of which would be the ship’s design and construction.


Despite the yearslong timeline, John Clauson, executive director of Kitsap Transit, is already looking forward to cleaner and quieter boats.

“These ferryboats, to get them up to high speed, have fairly large diesel engines in them,” he said of Kitsap Transit’s current fleet. “Although they’re state of the art, clean burning, they’re still producing emissions. If we can move forward past that, I think we’re all going to be much better.”

Clauson said the new ship would have “international” interest. Few, if any, electric passenger ferries can reach the speeds of Kitsap Transit’s current diesel fleet, he said. The unique hydrofoil design would also cut down significantly on water disturbance.

States said there are several organizations across the globe competing to finish designs for an electric fast ferry, but that Washington Maritime Blue is confident it has a leg up. Its secret weapon is Paul Bieker, the lead designer for Team USA’s yachts for the America’s Cup, who’s leading the design of the new ferry.

After Kitsap voters approved a new sales tax for passenger ferries in 2016, Kitsap Transit now operates three routes into downtown Seattle. Its Bremerton line launched in 2017, followed by the Kingston route in 2018 and the Southworth ferry in 2021. The fleet represents the second-largest ferry system in Washington.

Bremerton’s population grew by nearly 5,000 residents between 2010 and 2021 to about 42,500 people. The Bremerton ferry route carried nearly 24,000 riders in February 2020, before the pandemic.

Like all transportation, COVID had a “pretty dramatic” impact on ferry ridership, said Clauson. Ridership has begun to recover, he said. “It’s slowly coming back,” he said. “We’re not anywhere near where we were pre-COVID, but we’re heading in the right direction.”