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The Alaska Marine Highway logo.

The Alaska Marine Highway or the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) is a ferry service operated by the government of the U.S. state of Alaskamarker. It has its headquarters in Ketchikanmarker, Alaska.

The Alaska Marine Highway System operates along the southcentral coast of the state, the eastern Aleutian islandsmarker and the Inside Passage of Alaska and British Columbiamarker, Canadamarker. Ferries serve communities in Southeastern Alaskamarker that have no road access, and the vessels can transport people, freight, and vehicles. AMHS's of routes go as far south as Bellinghammarker, Washingtonmarker in the contiguous United States and as far west as Unalaska/Dutch Harbormarker, with a total of 32 terminals throughout Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington. It is part of the National Highway System and receives federal highway funding. It is also a form of transportation of vehicles between the state and the contiguous United States without going through Canadamarker.

The Alaska Marine Highway System is a rare example (in the USA) of a shipping line offering regularly scheduled service for the primary purpose of transportation rather than of leisure or entertainment. Voyages can last many days, but, in contrast to the luxury of a typical cruise line, cabins cost extra, and most food is served cafeteria-style.


The Alaska Marine Highway was founded in 1948 by Hainesmarker residents Steve Homer and Ray Gelotte, who used a converted LCT-Mark VI landing craft which they christened the M/V Chilkoot. Their business was purchased by the territorial government in 1951 and renamed the Alaska Marine Highway System in 1963. Service was extended to Prince Rupert, British Columbiamarker that year, and to Bellingham in 1967.

In September 2005, the Alaska Marine Highway was named an All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration.


Map showing the Alaska Marine Highway System

Southeast Alaska

The southeast AMHS route system is divided into two subsystems: the mainline routes which typically take more than one day for the ship to travel; and shorter routes where the vessels depart their home port inthe morning, travel to destination ports and then return to their home port on the same day. The shorter routes are commonly referred to as “day boat” routes. The mainline routes carry a high percentage of tourists in the summer, and provide service between Bellingham, Washington or Prince Rupert, British Columbia and Skagway, Alaska. Along the way, the ships stop in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, and Haines. Although Kake and Hoonah are smaller communities, they are served by certain mainline sailings. During 2008, the five largest AMHS vessels were used on the Southeast mainline routes. These were the M/V Columbia, M/V Kennicott, M/V Malaspina, M/V Matanuska, and M/V Taku. Day boat service was also provided on the North Lynn Canal route during the peak summer season by M/V Malaspina. This route provides round-trip service between Juneau, Haines and Skagway. The day boat routes connect the smaller communities of Southeast Alaska with each other and with the Southeast Alaska mainline communities Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka, Juneau, Haines and Skagway) that serve as regional centers for commerce, government health services, and/or connections to other transportation systems. The day boat routes primarily serve local residents, and include Angoon, Hoonah, Kake, Metlakatla, Pelican, and Tenakee. In 2008 there were three AMHS vessels that provided service on the day boat routes. These were the M/V LeConte, the M/V Fairweather and the M/V Lituya. The M/V Lituya is dedicated to providing day boat service between Ketchikan and Metlakatla. The Southeast System connects with the continental road system at Bellingham, Washington, Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and in Alaska at Haines and Skagway.

Cross-Gulf Service

When the M/V Kennicott, a vessel certified to operate in open waters, joined the fleet in summer 1998 the ferry system expanded to include regular cross-gulf sailings. Also known as “inter-tie trips”, these sailings connect Southeastern Alaska with Southcentral and Southwest regions of the state. All cross-gulf trips include a stop at the port of Yakutat, a community that is unique in that it is served only on a cross-gulf route. During 2008, the AMHS provided Yakutat with 10 port calls.

Southwest Alaska

The Southwest system serves Prince William Sound, Kodiak Island, the Alaska Peninsula, and the Aleutian Islands. The M/V Tustumena provides regular service between Kodiak, Port Lions, Seldovia and Homer. In 2008, between April and October, the M/V Tustumena traveled out the Aleutian chain once a month to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, stopping at Chignik, Sand Point, King Cove, False Pass, Akutan and Cold Bay.This trip is not made in the winter because of adverse weather conditions. In 2008 service in Prince William Sound to Valdez, Cordova and Whittier was provided by the M/V Aurora. The M/V Chenega provided additional service during the summer season, and the M/V Kennicott provided supplemental service. AMHS also provided fifty-five stops in the village of Tatitlek and thirty-six stops in Chenega Bay. Tourist passengers add a significant percentage to the Prince William Sound traffic in the summer, especially between Valdez and Whittier. In the winter months when traffic demand was significantly reduced and weather conditions worsened, the M/V Chenega was moved to North Lynn Canal to replace the Fairweather for its overhaul period. The M/V Tustumena also underwent a CIP project, leaving the M/V Aurora to provide service between the ports.

Communities served

The Alaska Marine Highway's main hub is in Juneaumarker, though administrative offices were recently and controversially moved to Ketchikanmarker. Other smaller operational hubs include Cordovamarker (Prince William Soundmarker), Ketchikan (southern Panhandlemarker), and Kodiakmarker (Southcentral Alaska).

The AMHS serves the following communities year-round:Akutanmarker; Angoonmarker; Bellingham, Washingtonmarker; Chenega Baymarker; Chignikmarker; Cold Baymarker; Cordovamarker; False Passmarker; Hainesmarker; Homermarker; Hoonahmarker; Juneaumarker; Kakemarker; Ketchikanmarker; King Covemarker; Kodiakmarker; Metlakatlamarker; Petersburgmarker; Port Lionsmarker; Prince Rupert, British Columbiamarker; Sand Pointmarker; Seldoviamarker; Sitkamarker; Skagwaymarker; Tatitlekmarker; Tenakee Springsmarker; Unalaska/Dutch Harbormarker; Valdezmarker; Whittiermarker; Wrangellmarker; and Yakutatmarker. Bartlett Cove, location of the Glacier Bay National Parkmarker ranger station and eight miles (13 km) from the community of Gustavusmarker, is served occasionally by the M/V LeConte in summer months.

Current vessels

The following vessels, from smallest to largest, currently serve in the Alaska Marine Highway's fleet:
  • M/V Lituya, solely dedicated to serving the Ketchikan-Metlakatla route.
  • M/V Aurora, operates in Prince William Sound.
  • M/V LeConte, serves the feeder communities in northern Southeast as a day boat.
  • M/V Chenega (fast ferry), operates in Prince William Sound.
  • M/V Fairweather (fast ferry), operates a variety of routes in Southeast Alaska.
  • M/V Tustumena, serves Southcentral and Aleutian Island communities.
  • M/V Taku, runs mainline throughout Southeast Alaska.
  • M/V Malaspina, runs mainline throughout Southeast Alaska, frequently beginning in Prince Rupert or Bellingham.
  • M/V Matanuska, runs mainline throughout Southeast Alaska, frequently beginning in Prince Rupert or Bellingham.
  • M/V Kennicott, runs mainline throughout Southeast Alaska, frequently beginning in Prince Rupert or Bellingham and making a cross-Gulf of Alaskamarker trip to Southcentral Alaska once a month.
  • M/V Columbia, runs mainline throughout Southeast Alaska, frequently beginning in Prince Rupert or Bellingham.

Most Alaska Marine Highway System vessels are built for multiple-day voyages due to the large distances between ports. For example, it takes just under three days to travel from Bellingham to Skagway, and 18 hours for the Sitka to Juneau "milk run." Because of this, larger vessels (M/V Tustumena and larger) come with staterooms, while all mainline vessels have solariums, showers, and lounges for sleeping. Hot food services and, on the M/V Columbia, a sit-down restaurant are also offered.

All current vessels are named after Alaskan glaciers.

Retired vessels

In addition to the current fleet, the following vessels have been retired:


The AMHS carries around 350,000 passengers and 100,000 vehicles every year. In their 2008 Annual Traffic Volume Report, the Alaska Marine Highway reported moving 340,412 passengers and 109,839 vehicles; equating to the highest passenger ridership in eight years and the highest vehicle ridership in sixteen. The Ferry is very popular with summer tourists (one of the primary reasons Bellingham and Prince Rupert are AMHS destinations). Tent cities commonly sprout up on the aft of mainline vessels, and for budget-travellers, the AMHS is one of the top modes of transportation to the "Last Frontier". Service drops off significantly in winter. Vessels usually undergo overhauls and renovations during this period due to the decline in passenger and vehicle traffic (attributed to lack of tourists).


The ferry system has been in the spotlight in recent years over a proposal to build a road link between Skagway and Juneau, the only mainland state capital in the United States without road access. Proponents of the road have called ferry service spotty and expensive compared to roads and say residents should be able to come and go as they please. Critics say the very people who want the road, the administration of Governor Sarah Palin, are also in charge of the ferry system and are themselves responsible for the "spotty" ferry service and service changes often considered illogical. As well as the possibility for improved commerce and improved capital access, a road would present significant environmental, financial and social concerns that must be addressed.

See also


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