Horizon, Metal Shark building new fleet of New York City ferries


Horizon Shipbuilding and Metal Shark have begun construction on a new fleet of high-speed ferries for Hornblower’s New York City commuter service.

Hornblower of San Francisco has ordered 19 high-speed aluminum catamaran ferries to operate the Citywide Ferry Service. The first 12 vessels are expected when the service launches next summer.

Hornblower announced the vessel construction contract with Horizon and Metal Shark in July, giving the shipyards less than a year to build, outfit and deliver the new ferries. Presidents of both yards said they expect to meet the ambitious timetable.

“The first boat is going to be the most challenging,” Horizon Chief Executive Officer Travis Short said in a recent interview. “We will have to work out a myriad of minor production issues and then apply the solutions to the remaining boats further down in the production line. Production of the second boat will go smoother than the first and, by the time we get to the third boat, our production team will be operating like a well-oiled machine.”

Horizon, of Bayou La Batre, Ala., is using an assembly-line process to build the boats. The yard added workers to complete specific aspects of the ferry construction, with the project supporting about 140 jobs.

“What’s unique about this project is, usually we have fewer guys involved doing multiple tasks, whereas on this job you have more people involved doing fewer tasks,” Short said. “Once they get accustomed to doing a few tasks at hand, they’ll be replaying that over and over for the course of the build.”

“In this way,” he added, “we’ll be able to produce more quality parts in a shorter period of time to meet the aggressive schedule.”

This model allows for efficiencies and specialization. It also helps speed the construction process.

Crews at Metal Shark began cutting aluminum for its first vessel in July, and company President Chris Allard said his employees are accustomed to filling large orders quickly. Metal Shark builds nearly 200 aluminum boats a year, mostly for government customers.

“We’ve specialized for over a decade in high-rate, high-volume serialized small boat production, and we’ve taken lessons we’ve learned there and are applying them to the larger ferries,” Allard said in a recent interview.

Metal Shark is building the ferries at its 25-acre Franklin, La., shipyard that opened in 2014. The yard also added about two dozen workers for the project, and more hires are likely in the coming months.

Incat Crowther designed the 85-by-26-foot, 150-passenger ferries, which will feature twin Moteurs Baudouin engines producing 1,600 hp and 2,800 total hp. The more powerful class of ferries will allow the service to operate during rough water and bad weather.

“We have some vessels that are set to be able to run in varying sea states,” said Cameron Clark, Hornblower’s vice president of development. “This will provide for more resiliency for the service as a whole.”

Other components on the ferries include Vulkan couplings, ZF gears and Michigan Wheel props. Onboard amenities include airplane-style seating, wireless Internet and storage for commuter bicycles. The boats also will comply with federal and local regulations for universal accessibility.

The first five ferries are scheduled for delivery in early 2017. Three of these vessels will feature the 2,800-hp engines, Clark said. The company did not say how many of each engine class it has ordered or how many ferries each yard is building.

Hornblower’s initial contract for 18 ferries is considered the highest volume ferry order in U.S. history. By the end of last summer the order had grown to 19, and additional vessels are possible in the coming years as the service grows.

Despite the relatively short construction timetable, Hornblower has touted its experience managing complex projects under tight deadlines. The company also spent more than a year planning and preparing for the service before it was awarded the contract, Clark said.

“I know people are looking at it and saying ‘Wow,’” he said. “But we haven’t taken on a project to date in our 36-year history we haven’t been able to deliver.”

The Citywide Ferry Service will launch in summer 2017 with routes connecting Manhattan with South Brooklyn, Rockaway, Queens and Astoria. Routes serving other parts of Manhattan and the Bronx are scheduled to start in 2018. The service is expected to connect 21 landings across the city.

By Professional Mariner Staff