Cathlamet master “lost situational awareness” in allision

Human error and a failure to follow proper procedures were tagged as the primary causes of the $7.7 million in damage to the ferry Cathlamet.
Human error and a failure to follow proper procedures were tagged as the primary causes of the $7.7 million in damage to the ferry Cathlamet.
Human error and a failure to follow proper procedures were tagged as the primary causes of the $7.7 million in damage to the ferry Cathlamet.


Washington State Ferries (WSF) has released the findings of its internal investigation into the July 28, 2022, incident in which its 328-foot-long ferry M/V Cathlamet struck a mooring dolphin at the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal near Seattle.

Separate U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board investigations remain ongoing.

The allision – called “a hard landing” by the WSF, at the time  – crumbled the front end of the ferry, including the pickle fork on the second deck. In addition to the $7.7 million in structural damage, one of the 600-plus passengers aboard was slightly injured, while one vehicle on the car deck was extensively damaged.

According to the WSF, “Our investigation found that human error and a failure to follow existing procedures led to the incident. The captain resigned the next day and has not provided an explanation as to what happened. We sent a safety notice reinforcing landing procedures immediately following the event. 

“As a result of the internal investigation, additional policies and training are under development. In addition, ‘black box’ data recorders have been installed aboard Cathlamet and will become standard equipment on all our vessels. We remain in constant contact with federal investigators and we may administer further changes based on Coast Guard recommendations.”

“At the time of the allision, the captain of the Fauntleroy/Vashon Southworth (FVS) F watch was navigating the Cathlamet,” the report continued. “Cathlamet was operating with a complete deck and engine crew per USCG requirements in the #2 sailing position. There was an additional captain, mate, and several deck hands from the FVS ‘H’ watch onboard. 

At the time of the allision, there were only two vessels to operate in the FVS route, so the third vessel crews either back filled openings in the WSF fleet or spent their watch onboard as extra crew.” 

According to the ship’s log, “the weather was clear, negligible wind and an ebbing tide. “The FVS ‘H’ watch Captain took control of the vessel shortly after the allision and docked the vessel at the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. All crew – both the assigned crew and the extra crew FVS ‘H’ watch – evaluated the passengers and each other, then in conjunction with the terminal crew, began to offload the passengers. 

The USCG, the National Transportation Safety Board and WSF interviewed the vessel’s deck and engine room crew onboard at the time and the forensics investigation of the onboard data logger indicated that all machinery and control systems were functioning as designed. 

“The navigation systems were also functioning as designed per interviews with the deck crew and the navigation department. Compulsory drug and alcohol tests were conducted 2½ hours after the allision. Tests indicated no drugs or alcohol use. 

The WSF investigation concluded that the captain was present and at the helm of the vessel at the time of the incident and that mechanical malfunctions issues were not an issue in the incident. 

“It can be concluded that Captain lost situational awareness while standing at the helm landing the vessel. His asking, ‘what happened?’ to his QM supports that he was unaware of his situation while navigating. Based upon the interviews and information before us, the reasons for this loss of situational awareness are unknown and are also the subject of speculation,” the investigation report stated. 

“The drug and alcohol tests came up as negative, thereby excluding these causes. Because Capt. [name redacted] refused to answer any of the questions presented to him during this process, we cannot draw a definitive conclusion as to the cause of his loss of situational awareness,” it said. 

“However, we can conclude that his loss of situational awareness was the primary cause of this incident, and that absent this loss of situational awareness, the allision would most likely not have occurred.”   

As a result of the investigation, the WSF recommended that non-mandatory crew training, which had been discontinued, would be reinstated and that “all vessels should have Voyage Data Recorders (VDR) installed. 

“This eliminates the confusion of what everyone thinks happened during an emergency,” the WSF said. “With a robust VDR system, any incident will have an evidentiary level of information on what was said by whom, what the plant was doing at the time, what navigational commands were given and when. The current data logger system is useful for troubleshooting machinery equipment status and/or failures only.”

After a layup at Eagle Harbor, Cathlamet arrived on August 29, 2022, at the Everett Ship Repair (ESR) yard at Port of Everett, Wa., where it was positioned in the yard’s Faithful Servant dry dock and inspected. The drydock can accommodate vessels up to 436 by 110 feet and has a lifting capacity of more than 8,000 short tons.

ESR subcontracted Nichols Brothers Boat Builders for fabrication of the Cathlamet’s damaged pickle fork at its NBBB’s facility on nearby Whidbey Island. Once the pickle fork module was complete, it was loaded onto a barge and transferred to ESR. ESR installed the pickle fork and applied paint and coatings to the vessel in accordance with WSF’s specifications. 

Lastly, after all work was completed, the vessels systems were tested, and, on March 2, the Cathlamet was delivered to Washington State Ferries and returned to service.