Commuter ferry growth drives wave of construction
All American Marine delivered the 78-foot Reliance to Kitsap Transit in Washington in April. The fast ferry’s Teknicraft hull design features a low-wake energy signature.

Ferry operators on all U.S. coasts have expanded their fleets over the past year with sleek, cleaner-running vessels that meet the rising demand for new commuting options, particularly in the largest cities.

Similar advances in engine technology have reached the excursion boat sector, where sightseeing and cruise vessels are now equipped with EPA Tier 4 engines. Taken together, these ferry and excursion projects helped drive construction at smaller yards and those specializing in aluminum vessels.

San Francisco’s Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) led the way in 2019 with three ferry deliveries since Jan. 1. Pyxis became the first Tier 4 passenger ferry to operate in the U.S., followed by sister ship Vela five months later. Dakota Creek Industries built the 143-foot, 445-passenger ferries based on plans from Advanced Multihull Designs of Australia.

Propulsion comes from twin 3,433-hp MTU 16V 4000 M65 engines powering HamiltonJet waterjets through ZF gearboxes. The ferries cruise at 34 knots and are capable of 38 knots light. The third ferry in the class is expected to leave Dakota Creek’s yard in Anacortes, Wash., early next year.

WETA’s third delivery last year, Carina, also has Tier 4 equivalent emissions technology thanks to exhaust aftertreatment on a slightly smaller 135-foot, 400-passenger platform. Seattle-based Vigor built Carina and its three Hydrus-class siblings using an Incat Crowther design. Propulsion comes from twin 1,950-hp MTU 16V 4000 M64 engines paired with ZF gears turning conventional propellers. The four ferries in the class can run on B5 biodiesel and are capable of 27 knots during regular service.

American Harmony is the second modern riverboat serving American Cruise Lines on the Mississippi River. The Tier 4 vessel will be followed in fall 2019 by a third sister from Chesapeake Shipbuilding.

Courtesy American Cruise Lines

Farther up the coast, Washington State Ferries received funding in 2019 for a fifth Olympic-class ferry to be built by Vigor. The 362-foot vessel will feature the same efficient hull form as the four existing Olympic-class vessels but is slated to have a hybrid propulsion system to reduce maintenance and emissions. Vigor expects to begin construction late in 2020, and delivery is estimated for late 2022.

Additional details on the project, including the type of hybrid system and the cost, won’t be available until plans are finalized. However, the hybrid propulsion package is projected to reduce emissions by 94 percent over the life of the ferry compared to existing Olympic-class ferries. Suquamish, the fourth vessel in the initial four-boat order, left Vigor in July 2018 and entered service less than three months later.

The existing Olympic-class ferries can accommodate 1,500 passengers and 144 vehicles on two decks. Service speed for the four vessels powered by twin 3,000-hp EMD 12-710 engines is 17 knots.

Crews at Eastern Shipbuilding in Panama City, Fla., continued work on three 320-by-70-foot Ollis-class ferries ordered by Staten Island Ferry. The vessels will be powered by four EMD 12-710 Tier 4 engines generating a total of 9,980 hp. Two engines will be arrayed at each end, each driving a Voith Schneider propeller through Reintjes DUP 3000P combining reduction gears.

The ships, capable of transporting 4,500 passengers, were designed by Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle. The lead vessel in the series, Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, was originally scheduled for delivery in late 2019, followed by Sandy Ground in mid-2020. However, both were damaged during Hurricane Michael last fall and the construction timetable has not been updated.

VT Halter Marine delivered the 270-by-65-foot Powhatan for the Virginia Department of Transportation. The Jamestown-Scotland Ferry Service in Surry County, Va., operates the vessel, which has space for 70 cars or 14 trucks and up to 499 passengers.

The 270-foot Powhatan, shown under construction in 2018 at VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Miss., was delivered in late August to the Virginia Department of Transportation. The double-ended, steel-hull ferry can carry up to 70 vehicles and 499 passengers for the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry Service.

Courtesy VT Halter Marine

Powhatan has twin Caterpillar 3512C Tier 3 engines generating 1,340 hp each paired with a Voith Schneider R21 drive unit installed at the bow and stern. Electrical power is provided by three John Deere 6068 gensets putting out 150 kW each and a John Deere 4045 emergency genset rated for 99 kW. Furuno supplied the navigation electronics suite, and Icom delivered the VHF radios. The alarm system is from Fairwinds Automation.

On the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington state, Kitsap Transit added three new fast ferries with clean-running technology. The most innovative is the 70-foot hybrid-electric catamaran Waterman, which is the first hybrid ferry operating in the Sound, according to builder All American Marine of Bellingham, Wash. Glosten of Seattle designed the ferry.

Waterman can accommodate up to 150 passengers and is used during peak ridership on routes connecting Bremerton, Wash., with the Sinclair Inlet communities of Port Orchard and Annapolis. The vessel features twin Cummins QSL9 engines generating a combined 820 hp paired with a BAE HybriDrive system turning two 32-inch, fixed-pitch props. The ferry has a top speed of 15 knots and a cruising speed of 10 knots.

The hybrid system uses the diesel engines to run generators that charge lithium-ion batteries supplying power to the electric motors. Waterman also can run on battery power while loading and unloading passengers. The system will reduce engine hours, fuel consumption, maintenance and emissions.

“The hybrid system is fully automated, assessing the power loads, both hotel and propulsion loads, and managing (them),” said Matt Mullett, All American Marine’s president and CEO.

Gee’s Bend Ferry has been converted to electric propulsion to serve HMS Ferries in Alabama.

Courtesy HMS Ferries

Waterman’s propulsion system is similar to the one on Enhydra, built by All American Marine and delivered last fall for Red and White Fleet of San Francisco. The 600-passenger, battery-electric vessel is the largest excursion boat in North America with a lithium-ion battery hybrid system.

Kitsap Transit’s other new deliveries from All American Marine feature powerful waterjet propulsion and can hit speeds close to 45 knots. The 78-foot Reliance was delivered in April, followed by its nearly identical sibling Lady Swift in July. The two vessels are similar to Kitsap Transit’s Rich Passage I, which was built in 2011.

The two low-wake aluminum catamarans are built to a Teknicraft design and can accommodate 118 passengers. Propulsion comes from Tier 3 Caterpillar C18 engines each generating 803 hp paired with four HamiltonJet HJ403 waterjets. The vessels have a service speed of 37 knots and were designed to run in sensitive areas between Bremerton and downtown Seattle. The wheelhouses are equipped with Furuno navigation suites.

Reliance is not your typical ferry. It was built to be very lightweight and to fly smoothly through the wake-sensitive zone,” Mullett said after delivery. “This vessel was strictly modeled on the proven hull design, but additional enhancements and modernizations were added without hampering performance.”

Kitsap Transit, which launched its high-speed service in 2017, isn’t finished building new ferries. The operator has two more vessels on order from Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland, Wash., and an option for a third. The 140-foot aluminum catamarans will each accommodate 250 passengers and 26 bicycles. BMT Nigel Gee provided the plans.

Propulsion on the vessels, scheduled for delivery in late 2019 and 2020, will come from twin MTU 16V 4000 M65L Tier 4 engines each delivering 3,435 hp to Kamewa S71-4 waterjets through ZF reduction gears. Naiad Dynamics will supply interceptors for an active ride control system. The service speed is estimated at 35 knots.

The Vigor-built Tazlina joined the Alaska State Ferry system in mid-2018, nine years after state funding was approved. The new transport is a native: It was built at Vigor’s Ketchikan yard.


In Alaska, Vigor finished construction on Hubbard for the Alaska State Ferry system. The 280-by-67-foot vessel is a sibling to Tazlina, christened in August 2018 at Vigor’s Ketchikan shipyard. Tazlina has entered service while Hubbard remains tied up at the Ketchikan yard. The vessels, designed by Elliott Bay Design Group, can each accommodate 53 cars and 300 passengers.

Propulsion is provided by twin 3,000-hp EMD engines driving Rolls-Royce controllable-pitch propellers and rudders. Three Caterpillar C18 gensets supply ship service power and emergency power.

Along the Gulf of Mexico, the Texas Department of Transportation took delivery of the 161-foot vehicle ferry Joseph F. Weber, built by Southwest Shipyard LP in Houston. The vessel can carry 28 vehicles and up to 149 passengers between Port Aransas and Aransas Pass. Propulsion comes from three 750-hp Cummins engines driving a diesel-electric hybrid system.

In Camden, Ala., HMS Ferries converted Gee’s Bend Ferry to full electric propulsion. Four 150-hp Baldor electric motors are powered by lithium-ion batteries in two banks supplied by Spear Power Systems. The 90-foot ferry can accommodate 18 vehicles on each of its five daily trips from Camden to Boykin, Ala.

The crossing is about 1.5 miles each way across the Alabama River, and Gee’s Bend makes about 5 knots depending on river conditions. Cochran Marine installed charging infrastructure at the docks that can replenish the batteries in less than 30 minutes. Glosten provided the design for the conversion of the 12-year-old ferry.

“The only thing that stayed was the steel,” said Tim Aguirre, general manager of HMS Ferries, adding that the entire propulsion system was replaced during the project. The Coast Guard issued the revamped vessel’s certificate of inspection in April.

Joseph F. Weber, built by Southwest Shipyard LP for the Texas Department of Transportation, is the newest member of the Port Aransas ferry fleet.

Courtesy Southwest Shipyard LP

St. Johns Ship Building in Palatka, Fla., is building four new vehicle ferries for an undisclosed client. The 152-foot vessels, based on a design by Elliott Bay Design Group, will have the capacity for 30 vehicles and 150 passengers. The draft will be 8 feet.

Propulsion will come from Caterpillar C18 engines generating 600 hp, and electrical power will come from Cat C4.4 gensets. Simrad will supply the electronics packages, and Jastram will provide the steering systems. Deliveries will occur through 2020.

NYC Ferry by Hornblower continued its rapid expansion in New York City, adding eight 354-passenger ferries since October 2018. Metal Shark Boats of Jeanerette, La., built seven of the 97-foot ferries, and St. Johns Ship Building launched its first vessel for NYC Ferry in July 2019. The operator’s fleet has grown to 27 vessels with a mix of 150-passenger and 354-passenger vessels.

“Since service inception in May of 2017, NYC Ferry has launched six routes, spanning over 60 nautical miles, and carried nearly 12 million passengers, surpassing initial ridership expectations,” said Tim O’Brien, director of business development and compliance for NYC Ferry.

The 354-passenger ferries delivered by Metal Shark over the past year include Golden Narrows, Rainbow Cruise, Unity, Traversity and Jewel of the Harbor, while two others are awaiting official names. The vessel built by St. Johns is known as H-90 until it is formally named. Vessels in this class are powered by twin Tier 3 Moteurs Baudouin 12M26.3 P2 engines each generating 1,381 hp. Their top speed is more than 30 knots, with a typical operating speed of about 24 knots.

Julia Leigh is the second high-speed passenger ferry built by Gladding-Hearn for Rhode Island Fast Ferry. The 113-foot aluminum catamaran has Naiad Dynamics trim tabs and Incat Crowther’s “S” bow hulls to smooth the ride between the mainland and Martha’s Vineyard.

Courtesy Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding

Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding of Somerset, Mass., built the 320-passenger Julia Leigh for Rhode Island Fast Ferry. The vessel is a distant sibling to the smaller Ava Pearl, the operator’s first high-speed ferry delivered by Gladding-Hearn in 2012. Incat Crowther provided the blueprint for Julia Leigh, which was completed in July.

The 113-foot aluminum catamaran is powered by two 1,875-hp MTU 12V 4000 M64 engines turning five-blade Brunton nibral propellers through ZF reduction gears. Electrical power comes from two 55-kW gensets supplied by R.A. Mitchell, and Naiad Dynamics built the hydraulic trim-tab motion control system.

Rhode Island Fast Ferry operates the vessel between Quonset Point, northwest of Newport, and Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. Julia Leigh has a top speed of 29 knots, and the passage usually takes about 95 minutes.

Blount Boats of Warren, R.I., completed the 400-passenger Isle of Fire for Fire Island Ferries of Bay Shore, N.Y. The new ferry runs from Bay Shore to Fire Island in Great South Bay on Long Island, N.Y.

The 85-by-20-foot aluminum ferry is powered by three John Deere 6135SFM85 650-hp engines turning 34-inch ZF props through ZF 550 reduction gears. Other components include Duramax keel coolers and Garmin and Furuno navigation electronics. The cruising speed is 10 knots.

Blount is currently building ferries for two other New York operators. One is a 101-by-40-foot double-ended ferry for South Ferry Co. serving Shelter Island. Southern Cross will be capable of transporting 260,000 pounds on deck thanks to twin Caterpillar C18 engines delivering 470 hp each. Those mains, paired with Twin Disc gears, 4-inch Aquamet 22 shafts and four-blade nibral props, comprise the propulsion train.

The yard is also building a passenger ferry for The Trust For Governors Island based on a design from Elliott Bay Design Group.

A whale-watch boat from the bayou? Gulf Craft can do that. The Louisiana shipyard delivered Dolphin XI to Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown, Mass., last spring.

Courtesy Gulf Craft

Tier 4 engine technology is becoming more common across the U.S. commercial fleet, but there still aren’t many of these cleaner-running vessels operating on excursions. That is starting to change. Gulf Craft of Franklin, La., delivered its first Tier 4 vessel last spring to Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown, Mass.

The 114-by-25-foot Dolphin XI can accommodate up to 360 people, primarily for whale-watch voyages off Cape Cod. Propulsion comes from three Caterpillar C32 engines turning Michigan Wheel props through Twin Disc reduction gears. The aluminum monohull has a 30-knot service speed.

Electrical power comes from two Cat C4.4 gensets each supplying 75 kW. Skipper supplied the steering system and Twin Disc supplied the controls. Dolphin XI has Icom VHF radios, Furuno navigation electronics and a Hatteland CCTV system.

American Cruise Lines’ American Harmony, built by Chesapeake Shipbuilding of Salisbury, Md., is another new excursion vessel with Tier 4 propulsion. The 345-foot modern riverboat has accommodations for 190 people and is slightly larger than its sister ship American Song, completed last year. American Harmony conducted its first voyage on the Mississippi River in August.

The ship’s propulsion system consists of twin Caterpillar 3512E Tier 4 engines, each generating 1,810 hp, linked to Veth z-drives. It also has two Veth bow thrusters each rated for 544 hp.

American Harmony has six decks, with balconies on every stateroom. Rooms range from 250 square feet for single occupancy to 800-square-foot grand suites and 645-square-foot owner’s suites. The center of the ship features a multistory glass atrium. American Jazz, the cruise operator’s third modern riverboat, is scheduled for launch in fall 2019.

Burger Boat is building a pair of all-electric passenger catamarans for Maid of the Mist of Niagara Falls, N.Y. The lithium-ion batteries from ABB reportedly will take only seven minutes to recharge between excursions.

Artist rendering courtesy Maid of the Mist

In upstate New York, Maid of the Mist Co. is going even further to reduce emissions. The iconic Niagara Falls tour operator is close to replacing its diesel tour boats with two fully electric catamarans. The newbuilds from Burger Boat Co. of Manitowoc, Wis., will undergo final outfitting near Niagara Falls.

The new vessels will be the first all-electric passenger boats built in the U.S. ABB supplied the electric systems, according to Maid of the Mist, including the lithium-ion batteries and shoreside charging infrastructure. Charging will reportedly take about seven minutes after each ride.

In addition to a cleaner ride, the vessels will operate more quietly and smoothly, company officials said. That should make a difference for the roughly 1.6 million people who ride Maid of the Mist vessels each year. The company’s two existing boats dating to the 1990s will be removed from service once the electric vessels are added to the fleet.

Much of the other excursion boatbuilding activity last year occurred on the West Coast. Armstrong Marine USA of Port Angeles, Wash., finished several vessels for operators in Alaska and Hawaii. Chief among the deliveries was the 46-foot aluminum catamaran George Ryan, built for Alaska Tales Whale Watching in Juneau.

The 49-passenger boat is powered by four 350-hp Suzuki outboard motors paired with a SeaStar Optimus EPS steering system. Garmin supplied navigation electronics for the vessel, which operates with three crewmembers. Twin 300-gallon fuel tanks allow for longer voyages, and passengers can relax in comfort no matter the season thanks to Webasto heaters.

A busy year of deliveries from Armstrong Marine USA included George Ryan, a 46-foot aluminum catamaran for Alaska Tales Whale Watching. Four Suzuki outboards deliver 1,400 hp.

Courtesy Armstrong Marine USA

Another Alaska operator, Kodiak Legends Lodge, took delivery of the 35-by-13-foot landing craft Sea Wolf. The vessel has twin Yamaha 300-hp outboards and Garmin navigation electronics, as well as numerous amenities for offshore sport fishermen. Sea Wolf has a hydraulic bow door and 10 tie-downs on the aft deck for transporting supplies or all-terrain vehicles.

Capt. Rafe Oliphant described Sea Wolf as “a solid vessel (that) will be an outstanding platform for our guests’ adventures. We can’t wait to get gear on board and go chase some fish.”

Armstrong also delivered a 46-foot aluminum high-tunnel catamaran to Chenega Future, a nonprofit arm of the Chenega Tribe based along Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. OMC is powered by four Suzuki 350-hp outboards paired with a SeaStar Optimus 360 steering system. Garmin supplied the navigation electronics. The vessel has seating for 15, a full head and a bunkroom for four people.

OMC is named for Charles William Selanoff Sr., known as Old Man Charley, a former chief of the Chenega Tribe. The vessel entered service in Prince William Sound soon after delivery in summer 2019.

Armstrong also delivered two 16-passenger dive boats for Aquatic Life Divers of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The aluminum high-tunnel catamarans Amelia and Johan are powered by twin Yamaha 300-hp outboards paired with SeaStar steering and Garmin navigation electronics. The vessels have freshwater showers and storage for diving equipment.

Categories: American Ship Review, Maritime News