Ferry Tips and Tricks

Getting to and from the island is, as they say, part of the fun. The Washington State Ferry system, if you’re unfamiliar with it, can be a bit tough to navigate successfully.

Quick Links:
Winter 2020 January 5-March 28, 2020
Online Ferry Reservations (mobile)
Current Fare Information
Anacortes Terminal Cameras and Today’s Availability
Orcas Island Terminal Camera

Guests traveling during the Winter schedule should note that there is a different schedule for Monday thru Friday than there is on Saturday and Sunday. This does create a bit of confusion for all those involved. Also note that there is no ferry to or from Sidney, BC during this schedule.


Do I need one?

If you are traveling in a car from Anacortes to any of the islands, you can reserve a space on the boat (and we encourage you to do so). If you are traveling in a car to Anacortes from Orcas Island or Friday Harbor, you can reserve a space on the boat (and we encourage you to do so in that case as well). Those are the only sailings for which you can make a reservation on the Anacortes-San Juan Islands route. This means if you’re traveling from any of the San Juan Islands to any other San Juan island, you cannot make a reservation on that ferry. Walk-on passengers do not need a reservation nor do bicyclists.

How do I get one?

There are two ways to get a reservation: on the phone or online. In our experience, going online is much quicker but how you make your reservation is up to you! The phone number is 1 (888) 808-7977 or, if you’re in the state of Washington, just call 511. Agents are available from 5:00 AM to 8:15 PM Pacific Time. To make a reservation online, click here.

What if there are no reservations available for my preferred sailing?

They release space on the boats in waves: 30% 2 months before the beginning of that sailing season, 30% 2 weeks before the date of that specific sailing, and 30% 2 days before that specific sailing. For example, the Spring 2020 schedule begins on March 29, 2020, so the first wave of all Spring reservations gets released on January 29, then the second and third waves for specific sailings are released 2 weeks before and 2 days before the day of the specific sailing. In each case, they are released at 7 AM Pacific Time.

So if, in your extensive (or not so extensive) planning, you call or check online and there is no more space on the boat you wish to take, fear not if you are more than 2 days out. Just wait for the next wave of spaces to be released. The reservations are released at 7:00 AM Pacific time in each case.

On the Anacortes-San Juan route, only 90% of the boat is available for reservation and the remaining space is available for emergency vehicles and for standby customers so you still have a shot at getting on the boat even if you don’t have a reservation. To maximize your chances, show up well before the scheduled sailing time. You can also use the handy link at the top of this page for the Anacortes ferry terminal on the date of your sailing to get an idea of how many spaces are available for standby on a given sailing.

What if I don’t use my reservation?

When you make your reservation, they will take your credit card information. This is because there is a No Show fee (if you make a reservation on a ferry and don’t utilize it). You can cancel your reservation or change your reservation for free as many times as you’d like up until 5:00 PM the day before your scheduled sailing. After 5:00 PM the day before your scheduled sailing and up until 2 hours before your sailing you can make one change but no more than one. No changes at all can be made within 2 hours of the sailing.

If you arrive early enough and there is space for you to get on an earlier sailing, make sure you still give them your reservation information so they can count your reservation as used. As long as you sail on the same date as your reservation, they will not charge you a No Show fee.

What if I lose my printed confirmation?

When you pull up to the toll booth, all they need is the name on the reservation. If you lose your confirmation or reservation number, don’t stress about it.


Tips and Tricks

  • Looking to explore more than just Orcas? Something not everyone knows is that, if you’re a walk-on passenger, traveling between the islands is free. That means that you can walk down to the ferry dock from the cottage and hop on the boat to Shaw, Lopez, or San Juan Island (Friday Harbor) and the ferry ride won’t cost you a thing!
  • Early morning ferry or just in a rush? Another benefit of our location is that you can pull around and get in line as soon as the toll booth opens in the morning –or– as soon as the previous departure for Anacortes leaves and be first in line to board your boat which means you’ll have a good shot at being one of the first to get off the boat as well.
  • Don’t have a ferry reservation for the trip back to Anacortes? We can’t always plan departures enough in advance to be able to snag a reservation. If you pull around to the ferry line just after the previous departure for Anacortes leaves and say you want to travel standby, you’ll be first in line once all the folks with reservations board. We can’t guarantee that you’ll make it onto the boat but we will say that this hasn’t failed us yet! The best part is that, after you park your car in line, you can come back to the cottage, grab a snack or drink, or generally just relax until about 15-20 minutes before the boat is scheduled to leave.

Keep in mind…

  • That sailing times are (usually) very prompt so make sure you show up in plenty of time to make it onto the boat if you’re driving on. The Department of Transportation releases the unclaimed reserved spaces 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time so plan to arrive 35-45 minutes before your scheduled departure (but we suggest 45+ if your sailing is completely full as you must reach the toll booth by 30 minutes before your scheduled departure time, not just get in line by then).
  • Not all boats that leave Anacortes make stops at Orcas. Unfortunately, we have had guests scramble to get on boats that then sailed past Orcas and took them to Friday Harbor or stopped shy and left them stranded on Lopez. This made us and them very sad.
  • Not all sailings are made every day. Some routes are only taken on certain days. This is especially true on the Winter schedule, where the sailing schedule is different Monday through Friday than on Saturday and Sunday. Make sure the route you want to take is available when you want to take it. The easiest way to make sure you get on a sailing going to the right place is to make a reservation through the WSF website are by telephone.

For more details on the Washington State Ferry system, check out their FAQ sheet.