Welcome aboard the Washington State Ferries.

May I have your attention please?

The familiar recording issues a pleasant greeting and several instructions as the engines throttle. The Kitsap pulls away from the ferry slip, our view of Anacortes fades into the mist, and we’re sailing west, bound for Lopez Island.

Commuters sip coffee and read the day’s newspaper, a pair of sweethearts brave the rain to pose for selfies against the railing of the passenger deck, weekenders chase after toddlers while managing backpacks and snacks, and a few lone travelers pass the time by picking at the pieces of the puzzles arranged on tables between booths. After all, cell phone service is sometimes spotty out here. Of course, just as many passengers opt to remain in their vehicles parked on the car deck, dozing with their seats reclined or listening to a podcast or the radio. Nearby, a school bus transports children eager for the adventure of a field trip.

Perhaps few modes of public transportation inspire more delight than travel by ferry, fewer still attract tourists. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Ferries Division is iconic, appearing frequently in television shows or movies set in the Puget Sound. It is the largest ferry system in the nation and an integral part of the state’s transit operations, offering goods and services to nearby islands and serving as a tourism gateway to the San Juan Islands, Olympic Peninsula, and British Columbia. To celebrate the ferry system’s 65th anniversary, we got a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at the operations aboard the Kitsap, meeting the captain and crew and touring the pilothouse and the engine room below deck. We’re eager to share with our readers what we learned.