The ferry Tacoma lost power just outside Bainbridge Island's Eagle Harbor at about 12:40 p.m. Tuesday and began drifting near the shoreline to the south. The incident happened during the 12:20 p.m. sailing of the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge.
The ferry then dropped anchor to avoid drifting toward the shore.
The ferry Sealth, on the Seattle-Bremerton route, was diverted from its usual route assist the stranded ferry. A tow rope was attached to pull the Tacoma further away from the shoreline, then the Sealth returned to its regular service, albeit with some delays.
Two tugboats later responded to the scene to tow the stricken ferry to the Bainbridge Island ferry dock, where it arrived at 3 p.m.
Some passengers aboard the Tacoma donned life jackets as a safety precaution. Some 405 passengers and 138 cars are aboard the stricken vessel.
All service on the Seattle-Bainbridge run was temporarily suspended because the Tacoma was blocking the entrance to Eagle Harbor, where the Bainbridge Island ferry dock is located.
Once the stricken ferry was towed from the scene, the Walla Walla resumed Seattle-Bainbridge Island service on a one-boat schedule.
Mark Nadeau, an executive with Sinclair Broadcast Group, was on a sightseeing trip aboard the ferry when it lost power.
"We were going alone fine and all of a sudden we noticed we were kind of heading toward the shore, and then they made an announcement that the ferry is adrift and they're working on the problem. And they dropped anchor," he said.
Another passenger, Van Badzik, told The Associated Press that passengers first noticed lights flickering on and off for several minutes, then the vessel lost power and started drifting.
"We were starting to near the destination when we noticed something was wrong," he said.
Badzik said the captain kept passengers informed and the crew acted professionally.
"For the most part, it's been a calm and collected operation," he said. "People seem to be enjoying a different and unique experience for all of us longtime ferry riders."
The passengers who were delayed would receive vouchers good for one trip on the ferry system.
Sailings on both the Bainbridge Island and Bremerton runs were severely disrupted Tuesday afternoon by the incident, with long lines for both drivers and walk-on passengers due to limited space on the one remaining ferry.
The Tacoma, one of the largest vessels in the Washington State Ferries fleet, is a 460-foot jumbo ferry capable of carrying up to 2,500 passengers and 202 vehicles.
The Seattle-Bainbridge Island route will be back to two boats on Wednesday, but the Edmonds-Kingston run will be just one. Passengers should expect delays.