Our Lummi Island Community

Dry Dock Survival Guide

What is Dry Dock?

Each year the Whatcom Chief–the County’s transportation to and from Lummi Island–goes into dry dock for maintenance and repairs for about three weeks. Work on the ferry includes engine inspection, safety equipment, cleaning, painting, etc., in either Seattle or Bellingham. Work crews also perform maintenance work on the ferry docks at Gooseberry Point and on Lummi Island.

Why does the County do this?

It’s the law. The Whatcom Chief operates under a license from the US Coast Guard and that requires meeting their safety and operating specifications. Upon completion of dry dock work, the boat undergoes a Coast Guard inspection and certification. Dry dock ends when the boat passes inspection and our ferry returns to service.

2023 Schedule – Pending

How do we get on and off the Island then?

Whatcom County contracts a passenger ferry that services the Island during dry dock along with the contractor’s captains. The usual County ferry crew remains on board to assist with loading passengers and handling fares.

Dry dock creates a great challenge for Islanders, in that the drive-on ferry is replaced by a passenger-only boat  the Salish Sea (part of the San Juan Cruises fleet) that operates locally for whale watching.  During dry dock, vehicles can’t get on or off the island.  Many times unknowing visitors have had their cars stuck on the Island, requiring owners to wait out dry dock or pay for a very expensive barge to haul their cars to the mainland.

Salish Sea – courtesy of San Juan Cruises

What to expect:

First, take a van (more on that in a minute) or leave home early to allow time to find a parking spot in either ferry lot or along South Nugent Road. (It gets tight.) You’ll walk from your vehicle to the ramp and down onto the temporary dock; take extreme caution, because it rocks with the tide. Then you’ll step across a narrow transom at the back of the boat, assisted by a crew member if necessary, and into the cabin. Or, if you have a dog or packages/luggage, you remain on the back deck. A motorized wheelchair cannot get onto the ferry, and it’s challenging to get a regular wheelchair or walker down the ramp without a strong personal assistant. Remember, the lower the tide, the steeper the ramps. Bicycles load last. Just six bicycles maximum allowed on the passenger ferry at one time.

If you want fresh air, continue through the cabin to climb a ladder to the upper deck. Dogs must be on-leash and remain outside the cabin at the back of the boat. Owners are responsible for their dogs’ behavior. Deliveries, shopping bags, and luggage remain on the back deck of the boat throughout the trip across in both directions.

Parking–The ‘X’ Factor:

One of the greatest challenges during dry dock is parking, both on the Island anywhere near the ferry dock or on Gooseberry Point (the mainland side).

On the Island side: A few additional parking places are designated near the ferry office/rest rooms building. The ferry County-owned supplemental parking lot (next to the Library directly across from the ferry dock entrance/exit) handles some overflow. Otherwise, you’ll have to park on Nugent. Plan to leave home soon enough to manage a possible long walk to the dock.

On the Gooseberry side: Most spots closest to the ferry dock are reserved for vehicles designated for the disabled and for USPS, Fed Ex, and UPS delivery vehicles and others such as The Islander store and The Willows Inn. Never park in one of those spaces! You will be sad.

If necessary, drop off passengers near the dock and then go park in the 100-plus designated spots along the waterfront of County-maintained Lummi View Drive (past the Fisherman’s Cove store and fish-processing building). The last few years Lummi Nation has provided some spots behind the store. Several residents lease parking spaces in their driveways or yards; ask around well in advance, like during the early summer.

Also, one small public parking lot holds about a dozen cars, sitting a couple of blocks to the north of the ferry dock on Haxton Way. Regardless of your parking karma any given day of the scattershot parking situation on both sides, wear comfortable shoes! The later in the day you arrive, the further you walk.

Security isn’t provided for parked cars on either side by either the County or private. Although infrequent, there have been cars broken into and gasoline siphoned on both sides. The Lummi store and the fish processing business have security cameras that have served to catch thieves on occasion, and this website has some camera angles along South Nugent.

Always lock your car, of course, and keep any valuables out of sight…or take them with you. A flashlight is a good thing to have along if you have to walk to or from the ferry at night. And always be prepared for rain, cold, and rocking rides in the wind; covered space at Gooseberry is very small, and the boat is very light compared to the Whatcom Chief.

Avoid parking at Island dock:

  1. Ride the van. The County provides vans in regular rotations for getting ferry riders to and from the Lummi Island dock. They help reduce the parking crunch. Separate vans make two loops, one on the South side of the Island and one on the North Side. The vans are passenger vans and do not have ramps. Schedules and stops are clearly posted each year.
  2. Car pool. Enough said….

Stock up:

Islanders who don’t need to commute or go into town frequently usually load up early-on, like before Labor Day, on food, groceries, prescriptions, beverages, materials for dry dock projects, books, movies, and, say it altogether now: “Gasoline!” Many don’t even leave a vehicle on the mainland and instead plan to shelter-in-place for the duration of dry dock.

The Islander store remains open, but keep in mind that it’s difficult for them to haul ample supplies and groceries on the walk-on ferry. Some shelves there become more bare as the weeks go by. (Hint- hint: Stock up on wine before dry dock!)

Oh, and a second gentle reminder: Definitely fill up a gas can or six….

Getting Packages:

The carriers appreciate you ordering anything possible for arrive before Dry Dock. Some packages might be too unwieldy to  transport on the passenger ferry. Please be kind to our delivery folks!

    • USPS: Oversized or heavy items will remain in Ferndale (for you to pick up before or after dry dock ends). This is at the discretion of the Island’s postal carrier.
    • UPS and FedEx: Only items that can easily be moved by hand will be brought across.
by Tom Lutz, 2021 – Hans with boxes to deliver via Passenger Ferry, the Salish Sea

Handling 911 emergencies:

Medical emergencies always present challenges on Lummi Island. Dry dock makes them even more challenging. As always, dry dock or no, call 911 in the event of an emergency.

The District 11 (Lummi Island) Fire Department stands constantly on-call, staffed by certified firefighters and EMTs (emergency medical technicians). They will respond to any 911 call. If it is necessary to get a patient to a hospital, the Fire Department will call for an air ambulance to transport the patient off the island. Only the Fire Department can dispatch helicopter services. The strongest advice we can offer, year-round but especially during dry dock:
Consider an Air Ambulance Membership Plan to cover the costs.

Without the vehicle ferry, additional fire trucks can’t reach the Island, so more caution with fires is ultra-necessary. Call 911 without hesitation if you suspect an uncontrolled, perhaps even illegal fire. At this time of year, fuel is plentiful, fire bans are common, and fires can spread quickly.


Updated: 2022/10/16 @ 5:18 pm Tark Henderson

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