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For spring (and fall) we have the same four-boat compliment as winter, but with more crew hours which provides a full four-boat service. So why the gap? The reason is that one of the boats spends half the day running the Sidney service- the Chelan takes the morning Orcas/Shaw/Lopez run and then spends the next 7 hours on the run to Sidney and back. That leaves us with only two boats for the mid-day mainland service.
There are also more direct boats for spring and fall, in order to move more folks more efficiently. This sometimes means sending a large boat to a small island, but more importantly allows dedicated boats to serve the larger islands.
For reference, past schedules are available on the Ferry Related Documents Page.
The advantage to ferry scheduling was that the two work periods could vary as long as they added to 16 hours. So work schedules could be juggled to fit the sailing schedule, rather than vice-versa, which made for more efficient service. This also allowed berthing one of the mainland boats overnight in Friday Harbor, which took the early 6 a.m. sailing to Anacortes.
Beginning in 2010 the Coast Guard no longer allows touring watches because of concerns for crew fatigue. An exception was made for the Interisland boat, which is home-ported in Friday Harbor and begins its day at 6 a.m..
What this change means is that each ferry had to be back in Anacortes for the change of watch after 8 (or 10) hours, where previously it could be 7 hours 10 minutes plus 8 hours 50 minutes, or some other combination that added to 16 hours. More recently there has been some additional flexibility with 7 hours one week and 9 hours the next-- always adding to 80 hours over two weeks.