Ferry Systems Balance Mask-Wearing Requirements With Enforcement

mask wearing passengers ferry
Image courtesy Washington State Ferries

Published Aug 6, 2020 10:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

Like all transportation providers, ferry operators are working through the details of how to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission while maintaining service. Unlike cruise ships, ferries cannot stop running without impacting essential services like food delivery or patient transport for medical care, and they can only keep operating if they can protect the health of their staff. Mask-wearing is a central - and controversial - element of this equation, and different operators have reached different conclusions on whether and how to enforce it.

In May, part of the City of New York's initiative to distribute 7.5 million facemasks, the Staten Island Ferry service distributed face coverings to its thousands of daily passengers for free. In accordance with New York State regulations on public spaces, masks are required within all of Staten Island Ferry's terminals and on board its vessels. Anecdotal reports indicate that compliance levels vary.

Based on requirements from Transport Canada, BC Ferries has made the use of masks mandatory whenever six feet of social distancing isn't possible. For routes longer than 30 minutes, passengers must confirm with ferry staff that they have a mask when they arrive at the terminal. Without a mask, passengers may be denied permission to board. Infants are exempt, and persons with health issues preventing the use of a mask will be allowed on a case-by-case basis. 


The Washington State Ferry system has implemented a mask requirement, but it does not pursue enforcement. Under orders from the governor, all businesses and organizations must require all visitors and personnel to wear face coverings when inside (and outside when within six feet of others). Failure to comply is a misdemeanor offense, but WSF has determined that its staff do not have the authority to enforce the order, according to the Seattle Times. Beyond general announcements about mask-wearing, crewmembers have been instructed not to interfere with passengers or to deny them boarding if they are not complying. 

That strategy may be working, as crewmembers report that most passengers are wearing masks. Perfection isn't the goal. "It doesn't have to be 100% compliance, we just have to get the reproduction rate way down, so it starts to shrink," San Juan County ferry advisory committee chairman Jim Corenman told Seattle Times.