Ferries: Ferry business still running at reduced speed

The Steamship Authority’s new 1,200-passenger Island Home ghosts across Vineyard Sound on a chilly spring morning. (Brian Gauvin)

Instead of placing new orders, U.S. and Canadian ferry operators have been focusing on making the most of new deliveries, planning for upcoming ones and constructing new terminal facilities.

“The shipyard ferry business has been slow, but I’ve recently noticed ferry inquiries are starting to pick up” observed Peter Duclos, president of Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding in Somerset, Mass. Duclos said he was “cautiously optimistic” about new-build orders.

On the West Coast, Bryan Nichols, president of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland, Wash., said, “It looks like there will be some high-speed ferries built around the country, and in our neck of the woods there will be some ferries primarily for government agencies.”

The slowdown in new ferry orders and service expansion stems from a variety of reasons. Although federal funding available under fiscal year 2006 Ferry Boat Discretionary Awards totaled approximately $10.6 million for vessels and $15.1 million for docks and other supporting infrastructure as of April, lack of regional supporting funding is often a problem. Other difficulties have arisen from contract litigation and from technical issues such as regional environmental requirements for emissions reductions that exceed current diesel engine capabilities and federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Washington State Ferries

Washington State Ferries (WSF) has 29 vessels and 20 terminals and carries 25 million riders every year, making it the largest ferry system in the United States. After a four-year delay caused by litigation, work on four large auto-passenger ferries is finally moving forward.

After a $348 million construction contract was awarded to Todd Pacific Shipyards Corp. in Seattle, the program stalled in 2003 when J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. of Tacoma, Wash., contended it had been improperly disqualified by the state’s bidding process.

A subsequent court decision supported Martinac. In June 2007, with the program still on hold, a state law was enacted allowing a combined bid with Todd as the prime contractor and Martinac and Nichols as subcontractors.

According to Bryan Nichols, production will probably look like this: “Todd Shipyards will build the hulls, Martinac Shipbuilding will build the superstructures and Nichols Brothers with its panel line will provide bulkheads, framing, pilot houses, switchboards, stacks and other pieces. All final assembly will be at Todd.”

The 144-auto, 1,500-passenger ferries will be 362 feet long with a beam of 83.5 feet. Geared Tier-2 diesels using low-sulfur fuel will drive controlled-pitch propellers.

“WSF has an owner’s model design hull form, and we are providing the propulsion machinery,” explained Dave Humphreys, WSF’s project engineer for the ferries. “The hull form is an option for the shipbuilder, but we understand they will be using it as at least a starting point.” The first boat is expected to enter service in 2009.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s new ferry Hatteras, built by Steiner Shipyard of Bayou La Batre, Ala. (Courtesy of Nortn Carolina Department of Transportation/Katy Warner photo)

Other new passenger-only ferry services in Puget Sound have been under study since 2003. In some cases, voters rejected new start-ups that would have required funding through taxes. However, according to a May 2007 study by the Puget Sound Regional Council, “The ferry system in the Central Puget Sound Region is currently at a critical juncture.” It cited “strong demand and forecasts of significant future growth, especially for walk-on passengers.”

San Francisco Bay area

The San Francisco Bay Water Transit Authority is requiring that two new high-speed ferries being built jointly by Nichols and Kvichak Marine of Seattle meet strict environmental criteria. Among the parameters are that NOx and particulate emissions be 85 percent or less of the EPA’s Tier-2 diesel standards, Bryan Nichols explained. Delivery is scheduled for October 2008 and January 2009.

In July, the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Trans-portation District delayed approval of a new ferry to assess the costs of requiring a major reduction in emissions beyond the Tier-2 standards.


After overcoming endless legal and funding challenges as it was being built at Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., the Hawaii Superferry Alakai arrived in Honolulu and began service in August (see story, Alakai). A second superferry is under construction.

British Columbia Ferries

British Columbia Ferry System (BCFS), headquartered in Victoria, operates 25 routes and 36 ships, making more than 500 sailings per day from 47 terminals. To meet future demand, seven vessels, including new Super C-Class ferries representing an investment of more than C$850 million, will be completed by 2010. BCFS also expects to invest C$600 million for 16 new ships to be delivered between 2013 and 2021.

MV Northern Adventure was formerly MV Sonia, a ro-ro ferry in Barcelona, Spain. It
was rebuilt for BC Ferries’ Port Hardy-Prince Rupert route. (Courtesy of BCFerries)

BCFS ordered three double-ended Super C-Class ferries from Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft in Germany in September 2004. The first, MV Coastal Renaissance, is scheduled to leave for Victoria in October. The 525-foot by 93-foot vessels will have a capacity of 370 vehicles on the main and upper vehicle decks and 1,650 passengers.

The rebuilt MV Northern Adventure entered service on the BCFS Port Hardy-Prince Rupert route in March. The 9,925-gt, 384-foot ferry has capacity for 101 vehicles and 600 passengers, with 70 cabins for the overnight run. Propulsion comes from two eight-cylinder MaK 4SA 16 VM32C medium-speed diesel engines rated at 8,000 kW at 750 rpm each, driving two 11.5-foot diameter CP propellers, giving the ship a speed of 20.3 knots.

The ferry has quite a history. Within days of the sinking of Queen of the North in March 2005, BCFS began a worldwide search to find a replacement. That led to the C$50.6 million purchase of MV Sonia, a ro-ro ferry from Barcelona, Spain. After initial work in Europe, the vessel entered Victoria Shipyards for C$9 million in additional work.

The ferry MV Kuper entered BCFS service in January. Originally in operation on Lake Powell in Utah, it was deconstructed and shipped in pieces to Allied Shipbuilders in North Vancouver in January 2006. A complete rebuild included new general machinery and accommodations, the addition of an 11-foot midsection, a new wheelhouse and a passenger lounge. Work was completed by December.

U.S. East and Gulf Coasts

After 57 years, the Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority retired the 770-passenger, 49-car ferry Islander and replaced it with a new double-ended ferry on the Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven crossing (see story, Island Home/Iyanough). Island Home, built by VT Halter Marine in Moss Point, Miss., holds 1,200 passengers and 78 vehicles and entered service in March.

The Circle Line, one of the oldest continuously operating U.S. water sightseeing services, ordered three replacement vessels from Gladding-Hearn. “These are the first ever purpose-built vessels for this service,” noted Duclos. The 600-passenger boats will be 165 feet by 34 feet. Twin Cummins KTA38-M1 diesels, delivering a total of 2,200 hp, connected to ZF W3350 gear boxes driving 60-inch, 5-bladed bronze Rolls-Royce New Generation Workwheels, were selected for propulsion. While vessel water draft is always a consideration, the specifications also call for a 22.6-ft air draft to accommodate low bridges on the Harlem River.

New York Water Taxi, which took delivery of a 72-foot, 149-passenger ferry from Gladding-Hearn in May, plans to expand its Manhattan-Yonkers commuter route on the Hudson River with a new ferry stop at Haverstraw, N.Y. Currently four boats serve the route; no decision has been made on whether to add more.

In the Gulf, Steiner Shipyard Inc. of Bayou La Batre, Ala., delivered a 180-foot ferry, Hatteras, for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. And in August, the Texas Department of Transportation awarded Conrad Industries of Morgan City, La., a $22.5 million contract to build a 264-foot passenger/vehicle ferry scheduled for delivery in 2009. The ferry will work the Galveston terminal.

By Professional Mariner Staff