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Leaving a shared bike on the ferry will trigger a Coast Guard search and rescue

It’s policy for all bicycles—communal or not

Courtesy of Washington State Ferries

The United States Coast Guard and Washington State Ferries would like you to stop leaving shared bikes on the boat. It’s not just a matter of convenience: Per Coast Guard policy, if any vehicle is left on the boat, it triggers a search-and-rescue operation that can take a lot of time and money.

Over the last 18 months, according to the Coast Guard, 12 bikes have been left behind on ferries. At least three of those instances have involved shared bikes—like those distributed by Spin, Limebike, and Ofo—including one on March 31.

“We had to delay a Bainbridge to Seattle sailing while [the Coast Guard] conducted an air search to ensure no one had gone in the water,” said Washington State Ferries spokesperson Ian Sterling. “Apparently the price tag hit $17,000 for that search, which turned out to be unneeded.”

“When bicycles are left behind on a ferry, the Coast Guard assumes the worst and searches in the event the bicycle operator may have fallen overboard,” explained Captain Linda Sturgis, commander for the Coast Guard’s Puget Sound sector, in a statement. “We join the Washington State Ferry system in requesting that bike-share users not bring rented bicycles on board the ferries, instead leaving the bicycle at the pier and boarding as a walk-on passenger. For all passengers, we request you leave with the bikes you bring onboard.”

While not all bikes left on ferries are shared bikes, because the bikes are “transferred fluidly,” read a warning from the Coast Guard, “passengers may forget they rode aboard and depart hastily on foot.”

Bike-share companies responded to the Coast Guard’s announcement with emails to users on Monday.

“To avoid wasting anyone’s time or resources, please help us ensure that no bikes are left on the ferries at any time,” read emails from both Limebike and Spin. “If you see a stranded bike on a ferry, please contact the respective bike-share company and we’ll remove it immediately.”

While it might seem like a decent idea to leave a bike on the ferry for the next person, if nobody rides it off, the current policy is to be better safe than sorry—and to comb the water for your drowning body. Washington State Ferries, the Coast Guard, Limebike, and Spin all suggest leaving the bike on the pier before boarding.