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Elope on a Washington State Ferry

Why get married on a Washington State ferry?

The Washington State Ferry system is one of the most unique aspects of the Evergreen State. With boats all across Puget Sound (and a few in other parts of the state too), there is a crossing that is perfect for your ceremony. I jokingly call this the “Public Yacht system” as these giant boats full of wonderful nautical architecture and breathtaking views are here for all to share.

Beyond being a beautiful, free (just the cost of your tickets), and unique location, getting married on a ferry is wonderful because it gives you a lot more time to interact with guests. It is public transportation, so there might be some hurry up and wait aspects of the day, that is a great time to actually chat with the people who came to celebrate with you!

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Do you need a permit to get married on a ferry?

No permit is specifically necessary for an elopement on a ferry. Like all public spaces in Washington State, unless they are specifically prohibited, you can get married. That said, you do need to hold your ceremony within the timeframe of one crossing and you need to be done and ready to disembark on the normal schedule when the ferry completes it’s sailing. You can pre-purchase your tickets for the sailing to speed up boarding. They also sell 10-packs, which can be used on the same sailing. So one 10 pack can just allow 10 people to enter. Within the Puget Sound, you pay westbound, but do not need to pay for walk-on rides when returning eastbound.

It should be noted that the captain of the ferry CANNOT officiates your wedding. They are going to be busy driving a very large boat.

How do I get a wedding license for an elopement on a Washington State Ferry? If your wedding is held in Washington State, then there aren’t any specific rules about where the celebration can be held. The only stipulations are that you need one officiant and two witnesses. Therefore, a total of 5 adults need to be at the elopement. You also need to hold your wedding for more than 3 days and less than 60 days after acquiring your license.

You also need to obtain a marriage license. In King County, those are $69 and are acquired from the county registrar. It’s usually easiest to get a license in the county you live, but you can actually be married anywhere within the state. So if you live in Ballard but are getting married on the San Juan Islands ferry, you can get your marriage license from the King County website and then use it anywhere in the state. If you’re traveling into Washington State for your elopement, I’d suggest using the King County website as well because it’s a simple system. You can have your documents sent to you before arriving or have them sent to someone here in Washington (I can even receive these for you if needed) and then just bring them to the elopement.

Where on the boat should I get married?

This is totally up to you. Most folks hold their elopements outdoors or in the breezeways. All the boats are a little different, so it would be a good idea to look up which one you’ll be riding (it usually says on the schedule) and then you can see their layouts here.

It should be noted that most guests on ferries seem to want to be on the bow of the boat. It doesn’t matter which way the ship is sailing, it just seems that folks prefer to see where it’s heading than where it’s going. That is helpful because you can plan your elopement to take advantage of an empty stern. If you want to get married with a Seattle skyline, consider having the ceremony on a westbound trip towards Bainbridge with the elopement as soon as the boat pulls out from the dock. If you want glowy sunsets, then think about a Bainbridge to Seattle route where you’ll have all the warm views you want (and maybe a few more on the bow as you pull into the city too, but just with a few new friends around). Even if you’re getting married on one direction, planning to take photos on the other is a great option to have the best of both worlds. Past clients have mentioned how much they enjoyed the quiet nature of sunset photos after the wedding day on the return trip to Seattle at sunset.

If you’re getting married on the Seattle-Bainbridge route (leaving from Coleman Dock), it takes about 4 and a half minutes for all the announcements to be done. At this point, it’s about 75 decibels in volume standing outside, so you will need to be pretty loud. The best views of the Seattle skyline are between departure and about the 15 minute mark of the ride.

What is the best time to get married on a ferry?

The great thing about the Washington State Ferries is that they’re pretty much always running one way or another. So, though the sailings aren’t flexible, it’s easy to find a trip that fits your needs. That said, there are a few things to consider when picking which sailing is right for your elopement.

The first thing to consider is other traffic. On weekdays, most ferries will be busy in the morning heading eastbound and westbound in the afternoons. On weekends, it will be a little more balanced, but with more cars heading westbound on Saturday morning. Also, check the schedules of the Seattle Seahawks, Sounders, and Mariners as there are usually large contingents of commuters heading westbound for those games.

Also, make sure to plan with your guests where you’re going to meet and when you’re going to meet BEFORE BOARDING. There are a lot of boats and sailings, which can be confusing. It is going to be easiest if your whole wedding group boards together.

Which ferry route is the best for an elopement?

There are quite a few ferry routes throughout Puget Sound. Here are a few of the best ones to consider when getting married.

It seems that the Washington State Ferry system’s website changes the links to the various sailings from time to time. So, here is a link to all the options. From here, you can get to the link for your particular crossing.

Seattle-Bainbridge. This is the most common option for ferry adventures in the area. It is about a 30-minute sailing and it leaves directly from Downtown Seattle. That makes it a great option for elopements because the time frame is good for most elopements and it easily allows for walk-ons for guests. Leaving and returning to Seattle allows for incredible views of the skyline as you pull out or back into the dock.

One thing you should note though is that this is the most popular route for tourists as well. If you’re thinking about getting married on a Saturday in the summertime, there will be a lot of other folks on that boat too who are just headed across the water for some ice cream in Bainbridge. Also, as you’re returning to Seattle, there will be LOTS of other folks who want to be on the bow of the ship taking photos as you get back to dock. So plan accordingly so you’re not trying to say “I do” while a dad from Duluth is trying to photograph his kids right next to you.

As this is the most popular ride for weddings and elopements, I received some specific information about this ride from a past client who was married on this route:
-10 minutes from first car disembarking in Seattle to doors being opened for passengers to board the ferry
-21 minutes from when the first car disembarked in Seattle to ferry pulling away from dock
-Ferry departed 11 minutes after pedestrians were allowed on ferry
-Audio level outside on stern of ferry was 75 decibils
-Announcements took 4 minutes and 17 seconds after departure
-Best views of Seattle in first 15 minutes of crossing
-First arrival announcements about 7 minutes before arriving in Bainbridge

Seattle-Bremerton. Like the Bainbridge ferry, this also leaves from the Coleman Docks in downtown Seattle. But, it’s an hour-long ride to the city of Bremerton. It’s a longer ride, which gives you a lot more time to have a ceremony. If you’re not planning to take a return trip to Seattle right away and instead want to have dinner in Bremerton (or continue to anywhere else in the Kitsap/Olympic peninsulas), this is a good option because it’s long enough of a ride that you could drive on, go to the main deck, have a ceremony and be done before needing to be back in cars.

Annecortes to the San Juans. There are a handful of different routes for these ferries depending on which islands in the San Juans you’re considering (to see a guide to eloping in the San Juans, click this). But, all of the rides are somewhere between 1-2 hours in length. This is plenty of time to have your ceremony on the boat before disembarking on your island for continued merrymaking.

Other crossings of the Puget Sound:

There are a number of other boats that cross the waters of the Salish Sea. The options below are all beautiful in their own right, but unless you already have a connection to that route, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it as an elopement location. They are beautiful and if you’re interested in just taking wedding photos (or engagement photos) on a boat or if their location is closer to other wedding events, they aren’t bad choices. But I’d just say that these all are very similar in length of rides and views, so you could just pick whichever fits your needs. Each of these is about 30-45 minute crossing.

Pt. Defiance – Vashon. The best option if you’re having other events in Tacoma. Easily accessible from the city itself with added proximity to the beautiful Pt Defiance parks.

Fauntleroy – Vashon – Southworth. A fun option because it’s one of the few 3 docking routes. It does add a little chaos to the trip, but it’s fun. Also, the docks themselves are pretty and empty, which allows for some photo opportunities while waiting for the sailings.

Edmonds – Kingston. This is a nice one to walk on with easy parking in Edmonds itself. 

Mukilteo – Clinton. The route has a new ferry terminal which is beautiful. There is also a nice lighthouse park in Mukilteo.

Other tips for getting married on a ferry

You should consider doing the trip ahead of time to test it out. If possible, try to be on the same boat as possible as they’re all a little different (which vessel is always listed in the schedule). This will give you good data on where to stand in good weather and what options are available if it’s raining (this is Seattle after all). Also, bring sunscreen.

Rent a ferry for my wedding

If a 30-minute crossing is too little and you don’t really want other people around, there are a few options to get married on retired ferry boats. 

Trek Ferry – A retired ferry boat that docks in North Lake Union. You can rent the whole boat to either stay put or troll around the lakes.
MV Skansonia – A permanently docked retired ferry boat in Lake Union. It has great views of the Seattle skyline and plenty of space for a larger wedding. If you’re driving to this venue, sometimes parking can be a little challenging. There is a lot in the area, but it’s for guests of the Ivars. Your best bet is going to be street parking (or taking a Lyft).
On the Hiyu – On the Hiyu is a UNIQUE CORPORATE EVENT SPACE and WEDDING VENUE – A fully functioning Iconic Ferry Boat that sails on the waters Lake Union, Lake Washington and Puget Sound, Seattle WA. Note, as of 2023 it is for sale. So keep an eye on how this changes things in the future.

Other options to elope on a boat in Seattle

The Electric Boat Companhttps://www.theelectricboatco.com/y – For small boats to putt around Lake Union. They’re also quiet because, you know, electric.

Argosy Cruises – The biggest boat rental company in Seattle. These are great options for whater body of water you want to explore and however many guests you want!

Salio – Basically AirBnB for boats.

Hot Tub Boats – OK, maybe not the best for a wedding. But warm water and beautiful views is pretty hard to beat! There is also another company that has wood-fired hot tub boats.

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  1. Pingback: Engagement photos on the Bainbridge Island Ferry | Abi & Taylor | Joe Tobiason