For Keller Ferry route status, dial 5-1-1 (in Washington State) or 206-464-6400 and follow the prompts for ferry information. Keller Ferry information is option 6 (or say “Keller Ferry”) when you reach the main Washington State Ferries menu.
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Update: A new vessel is under construction. Details here.
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On the morning of September 9, 1998, the Washington State Ferry, Martha S. made her 50th anniversary crossing of the Columbia River between Lincoln County and Ferry County. The vessel was launched in 1948 and has been in continuous service since.
The Martha S., also known as the Keller Ferry, is 80 feet in length with a 30 foot beam. The capacity of the vessel is 12 cars with a maximum vehicle size of 75 feet in length with a gross weight of 80,000 lbs.
The vessel is powered by two Detroit Diesel 6-71 engines with an approximate combined horsepower of 470. The top travel speed is about 12 miles per hour and the crossing takes about 10 minutes
Hours of Operation: 6:00 a.m. to Midnight/7 days per week Fare: Free
Ferry Martha S. pictured on her maiden voyage in 1948. In the past 50 years, the vessel has made several hundred thousand crossings of the Columbia River. This free ferry service provides a link on SR 21 between Lincoln and Ferry counties.
The Keller Ferry crosses the Columbia River at its confluence with the Sanpoil River from Ferry County and the Colville Indian Reservation on the north bank to Lincoln County on the south. The Columbia River is 1 1/4 miles wide at this point with basalt cliffs and scab land forming both shores. The river wasn't always as wide. Construction of the Grand Coulee Dam about 15 miles downstream from the ferry route quadrupled the width of the river when the reservoir was filled in 1942. Prior to that, the ferry crossed a free-flowing Columbia River rather than the slack water Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake as it does today.
Approximately 60,000 vehicles travel on the Keller Ferry each year. Walk-on passengers are few as the ferry route is a link in a rural highway, State Route 21. The nearest communities are Wilbur, 14 miles to the south, and Republic, 53 miles north. The free ferry operates seven days a week, 18 hours a day, from 6:00 a.m. until midnight. During normal lake elevation of 1,290 feet above sea level to approximately 1,248 feet, ferry service is "on-demand" avoiding unnecessary empty runs. The ferry crew can observe both landings and remain at the north or south landing until a vehicle appears needing to cross in either direction. Occasionally, perhaps every two or three years, when lake elevations drop below 1,248 feet, the north landing is moved a short distance up the Sanpoil River, extending the normal 10 minute crossing to about 20 minutes.
The ferry can operate normally with lake levels as low as 1,208 feet. With some special provisions in the ferry operations, it can be operated on a limited basis with levels as low as 1,180 feet.
Water levels on the lake are controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation and are affected by snowpack, weather patterns, and power generation needs and are not easily predictable on a long-term basis. This is especially true in 2001, with record low snow levels and unusually high electricity demand.
While water levels are not expected to fall below the 1,208 elevation, it is difficult to predict the actual river conditions in advance.
To assist in travel planning, daily water level elevations are available from the Bureau of Reclamation at 1-800-824-4916. If water levels fall to 1,208 feet, Keller Ferry operation information will be noted on the WSDOT/Eastern Region website: Weekly Construction/Traffic Update
In addition, if levels fall to 1,208 feet, information on the Keller Ferry operation will be available by dialing 5-1-1 on any touch tone phone in Washington.
The ferry is taken out of service about every 5 years for a few days for dry-dock Coast Guard inspection and hull maintenance. During this short period, traffic is detoured through Coulee Dam. The Martha S. consumes approximately 760 gallons of diesel fuel each week or 39,500 gallons per year.
The Keller Ferry crew consists of eight people. Ferry operators are licensed by the United States Coast Guard after being tested to operate this specific class of vessel. Keller Ferry operations are under the jurisdiction of the WSDOT, Eastern Region, Maintenance Area 3 in Davenport.
When ferry boats in the Pacific Northwest are mentioned, the typical image is that of the giant super ferries that ply the waters of Puget Sound. Most Washington State residents are surprised to find out that the State also operates a ferry system in Eastern Washington.
In fact, the State's involvement with ferry boats began on the "dry side" long before it ventured into the cross-sound routes in Western Washington that are familiar to so many. On September 1, 1930, the State of Washington Department of Highways took over control of the Keller Ferry run on the Columbia River, operated by Mr. William Latta, completing a link on what was then known as State Road #4. The State's tenure as a Puget Sound ferry transportation provider did not begin until over 20 years later, with its purchase of the Black Ball Line on June 1, 1951.
The Gifford/Inchelium Ferry upstream from the confluence of the Columbia and Spokane Rivers is operated by the Colville Confederated Tribes.