Washington is home to innovative tech companies, the oldest operating gas station, and the country’s largest ferry system. Probably didn’t know about those last two, huh? While we did know about the state’s impressive ferry system, we admit the oldest operating gas station – located in Zillah – took us by surprise.

We may not be able to tell you about Zillah’s historic gas station but are happy to share information about our state’s ferries and the Washington State Patrol Troopers that protect them.

The basics:

  • The Washington State Ferries are run by the Washington State Department of Transportation.
  • The waterways on which the ferries operate are considered highways.
  • The Washington State Patrol’s (WSP) Vessel and Terminal Security (VATS) division – who patrols the ferries – falls under Homeland Security.
  • VATS is divided into three regions: Bremerton, Seattle, and Marysville.
  • VATS Troopers and explosives detection canine teams provide public safety, explosives detection, traffic control, and public assistance for Washington State ferry vessels and terminals in and around Puget Sound.
  • Trooper Cadets staff the Washington State Ferry video monitoring center to provide an extra layer of security for vessels and terminals.

Car splitThere are two big differences between VATS Troopers and highway Troopers. One, VATS Troopers serve on the waterways and highway Troopers serve on our state’s roadways. This seems pretty straight forward. Second, while highway Troopers use Patrol cars, VATS members’ mode of transportation is something you may not expect: Bicycles.

VATS Troopers use bicycles to quickly move around the terminals and ferries. Staying agile allows Troopers to keep traffic moving, helps vehicles back onto the ferries, and instantly provides security when needed.

Trooper Dru Rautenberg explains those who want to be in VATS must go through a unique type of training. This special instruction includes learning techniques to assist special operations units, training to board moving vessels, learning to work around the water, and developing specific physical fitness skills. Trooper Rob Wood adds, “Each dock is very different, you have different problems, different clientele…but having a presence on the docks and on the boats takes away passengers fears of security problems arising or escalating.” Trooper Rautenberg explains having VATS Troopers around also gives the WSP employees a chance to educate the public on ferry rules and regulations. The ferries actually operate as part of the state’s highway system.

Ferry leaving

VATS Troopers serve a unique and important role for the Washington State Patrol. They may be a small group of people but they serve a big purpose.