The next Washington state ferry will bear the name Wishkah when it sails in 2024 or 2025.

That name honors the river flowing south from the Olympic foothills into Grays Harbor, the ancestral home of the Lower Chehalis people. The Wishkah River was formerly crossed by a ferry called Wishkah Chief.

The Washington State Transportation Commission voted 7-0 Tuesday afternoon to select the name after months of citizen suggestions.

“It represents a geographic area in the state that doesn’t have a ferry named for it right now,” said Commissioner Debbie Young, of San Juan County. The state’s M/V Quinault, named for a lake and river that’s home to the coastal Quinault Indian Nation, was retired in 2009.

Young mentioned the Wishkah River mouth forms a saltwater estuary for shellfish, and “a vital link from forest to sea” for Indigenous people and a modern wood-products industry.

Wishkah Street is a segment of state Highway 101 in Aberdeen. The legendary grunge-rock band Nirvana made an album titled “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah.


The word Wishkah means “stinking waters,” inspired by the area’s brackish swamps, according to the proponents’ nomination letter.

The $147 million 144-car vessel is to begin construction next year at Vigor on Seattle’s Harbor Island. The state’s previously announced goal to finish by 2024 looks likely to slip into 2025, because boatbuilding hasn’t yet started on what’s normally a three-year project, Ferries spokesperson Ian Sterling said Wednesday morning.

It’s the fifth Olympic Class ferry, following the Tokitae, Samish, Chimacum and Suquamish.

More could be built this decade. Gov. Jay Inslee and ferry-community lawmakers have called for a massive spending program on new vessels to replace creaky old boats and help reduce the system’s diesel consumption of 18 million gallons per year.

The M/V Wishkah will be capable of recharging at the dock between trips, when chargers are added someday. Dock recharging would reduce fossil-fuel use 76%, according to state’s ferry-electrification plan. Otherwise, the lithium-ion batteries could provide an 8% to 16% fuel savings.

Other finalist names were:

  • Stillaguamish, for the tribe who historically canoed the Stillaguamish River and Puget Sound near Camano Island, establishing a nautical culture.
  • Snoqualmie, for the tribe and valley in East King County, watered by Cascade Mountain snowmelt, where historically people lived in longhouses along the Snoqualmie River and tributaries.
  • Enie Marie, great-granddaughter of Chief Sealth, and also known as Mary Ann Talisa Seattle, who moved in both the Native and Euro-American social worlds.
  • Stehekin, a Salish word meaning “the way through,” and a community on the north shore of Lake Chelan, still reached mainly by boat.
  • Muckleshoot, for the Native people who inhabited the Duwamish and upper Puyallup river watersheds. Elliott Bay is one of the tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing areas.

Wishkah was the most popular name in a survey this fall that attracted more than 5,800 responses online, while Enie Marie ranked first among 1,784 emailed submissions, said Reema Griffith, the commission’s executive director. All 23 existing ferries have names derived from Native words or places.

Washingtonians submitted other names, among them Kalakala II to commemorate the tube-shaped, art-deco Kalakala ferry that cruised from 1935 to 1967. There were joke names such as D.B. Cooper, for a skyjacker who parachuted into oblivion with thousands of ransom dollars in 1971; the Always Late, and Sir Floats-a-Lot.