Rich Passage Wake Research

Rich Passage Wake Research

Rich Passage Wake Research

A project to understand and monitor the impact of wake on beaches and bulkheads in Rich Passage. 

What's new?

Community Meeting with Property Owners (January 2020) - Link to PowerPoint here


Rich Passage, a narrow waterway between Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula, is a critical link in Kitsap County’s transportation system. Washington State Ferries (WSF) operated high-speed passenger-only ferries through Rich Passage starting in 1986. Ridership on WSF’s Bremerton-Seattle passenger-only ferry service peaked at approximately 876,000 in 2000. Property owners along Rich Passage sued the state over concerns that wake wash from WSF’s 300-passenger ferries was damaging their beaches and bulkheads. Separately, voters statewide approved Initiative 695, which lowered the state Motor Vehicle and Excise Tax (MVET) and caused a catastrophic drop in ferry funding. Ultimately, the state shut down its passenger-only ferry program and the routes were handed to countywide jurisdictions; Kitsap Transit inherited a federal grant to WSF for studying wakes in Rich Passage.  

Shorelines and beaches are constantly changing based on a number of factors. Some of these changes, like large variations in tidal water level and wind waves, can be attributed to natural processes. Others, like man-made bulkheads and wake wash from a variety of boats, are the result of coastal infrastructure and navigation.

Research Phase

Rich Passage Research Timeline Graphic

In 2004, Kitsap Transit engaged a research team to investigate the feasibility of restoring passenger-only ferry service in Rich Passage. The project involved five elements:

  • collecting physical and biological data
  • modeling wake wash interaction with natural processes and shoreline structures
  • testing and selecting an optimal design for a low-wake vessel
  • building and validating a prototype low-wake, high-speed research vessel (Rich Passage 1)
  • communicating the research to the community throughout the course of the study

In 2012 Kitsap Transit conducted a test service over the course of about four months to evaluate the feasibility of a passenger-only service. Once the test sailings and feasibility analysis was complete, the research phase of the project was over. The scientists had demonstrated the feasibility of operating a high-speed, low-wake vessel through Rich Passage without causing discernible harm to the shorelines.

Monitoring Phase

Since 2013 the research team has continued to monitor the beaches in Rich Passage twice a year to provide Kitsap Transit with vital baseline data on the impact of both natural processes and the gradual increase in the frequency of fast-ferry sailings.

  • In 2016 Kitsap County voters approved Kitsap Transit’s proposed sales tax increase to support a fast-ferry service. The Bremerton/Seattle fast-ferry service launched a one-boat service in July 2017.
  • In the fall of 2019 Kitsap Transit tested a two-boat service for four weeks. The research team determined the two-boat service did not have a measurable impact on the beaches, and in 2020 Kitsap Transit commenced a two-boat service. 

Key Documents

The appendices to these reports are available upon request. They are not posted due to their size.

Rich Passage Long-Term Beach Monitoring Reports

Reasons to Use Kitsap Transit

No. 26

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