SSA chooses less costly ferry design

SSA chooses less costly ferry design

by -
The SSA cancelled early morning trips of the freight boat Governor.

The Steamship Authority members decided last week that the ability to carry an additional 128 passengers is not worth adding $1.9 million to the cost to build the new ferry that will replace the freight boat Governor.

Meeting in Woods Hole on February 18, the members agreed with a management recommendation to direct the Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle, Washington, to move forward with the construction of a new passenger/vehicle ferry with a capacity of 384 passengers, based on a preliminary estimate that to build the larger vessel would increase construction costs and add $200,000 to annual operating costs.

According to a management report of the Tuesday meeting, the SSA said that a passenger capacity of 384 is expected to be adequate over the vessel’s expected life. “During 2013, the SSA’s large passenger vessels carried fewer than 300 passengers on 84 percent of their trips on the Martha’s Vineyard route and on almost 98 percent of their trips on the Nantucket route,” according to the report.

The SSA said the freight boat Sankaty, with the largest passenger capacity of the freight boat fleet, can carry 290 passengers, “Since this new vessel would most likely be running in conjunction with, rather than in place of a large vessel, the staff feels the proposed capacity of 384 total passengers on board would be adequate under most, if not all circumstances.”

Elliott Bay estimated the cost to construct the new vessel would be about $35 million. It is expected to have an annual operating cost of $4,050,000.

The vessel’s design should be completed and reviewed by the United States Coast Guard by October 2014 so that the SSA can issue an invitation for bids and then award a construction contract for the vessel in January 2015 and have the vessel begin service in May 2016, management said.

The Governor was built in Oakland, California in 1954 and obtained by the boatline as surplus federal government property. The vessel’s draft makes it unsuitable for Hyannis Harbor on the Nantucket route, and its open deck and low sides create problems in rough weather. It’s the only vessel the SSA cannot use on a yearly basis, according to SSA general manager Wayne Lamson.

In August, SSA members endorsed Mr. Lamson’s recommendation that the freight vessel Governor be replaced with a new 235-foot vessel that can operate year-round to either island with a vehicle capacity of up to 17 trucks or 50 car equivalent units and a passenger capacity of at least 384 passengers, including inside seating for at least 250.

Board members also requested an analysis of the costs and benefits that would result if the SSA were to increase the interior passenger capacity of the proposed replacement vessel to more than 500 passengers and were to include more passenger amenities on board, such as a food concession area and larger restrooms.

On track and on trucks

In other business,Mr. Lamson reported that improvements to the Palmer Avenue parking lot are proceeding on schedule and that it should still be completed by mid-May.

Management also reported that Green Seal Environmental, Inc. has prepared a preliminary design for the SSA’s new parking lot off of Thomas B. Landers Road that calls for a “one tier” lot instead of the previous plan to construct the lot in three tiers. Although the one tier lot is estimated to cost an additional $1,500,000 to construct, the new lot should end up with somewhere between 1,850 and 1,900 parking spaces, management said. Construction is expected to start in October and take approximately five months.

Members also approved a charitable giving policy that will continue the SSA’s practice of not giving cash donations to any charities, but rather only passenger tickets that usually are used by the charities as raffle items to raise money for those charities in exchange for promotional exposure for the SSA, according to the management report.

The board also approved a trade sponsorship marketing policy that will continue the SSA’s practice of sponsoring events that take place in Barnstable, Fairhaven, Falmouth, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and New Bedford by donating transportation services in the form of passenger tickets, vehicle/truck reservations, coupons, discounts, gift cards and/or merchandise from the SSA’s online store in exchange for promotional exposure of approximately the same value.

In the final bit of business, Mr. Lamson reported that the SSA has sent out a letter to all of the freight shippers who travel with the SSA on the Martha’s Vineyard route “reminding them to obey the posted speed limits when traveling to and from the SSA’s terminals, to not use their Jake brakes on Woods Hole Road and to not arrive at the Woods Hole terminal prior to 5 am. “In addition, the SSA asked the freight shippers to share the road and respect the right of way of bicyclists, to not idle their vehicles after they arrive at the terminals, and to refrain from using any inappropriate language.”


  1. Just remember the Vineyard is on the hook for 35 per cent of the debt if revenues dont cover all the bills. Steamship Authority is spending alot of money lately.


    1. If, as I did, you read the survey report on the Islander, you would realize that the SSA managed to get every bit (and more) of service out of the old girl before they put her up for sale. She was riddled with corrosion and a host of other issues which made it highly unlikely that she would ever pass a Coast Guard inspection again.

      1. I loved the Naushon but as a twin-screw steam vessel (I think the last commercially operating steamer on the east coast?) she was an environmental catastrophe. Full of asbestos, too—thank you 1957!

  3. San Francisco has just ordered two ferries to take people out to Alcatraz. The cost is 5 million dollars each and they carry 600 passengers. They have electric propulsion in addition to diesel, and they are equipped with a rigid sail that folds down over the vessel when not used to help reduce fuel costs, and this sail provides shade to the passengers when it is lowered over the vessel. This is from NBC news.
    This is 7 times less costly, and far more economical on fuel than their choice. They also equip fuel tankers with sails, smaller vessels etc.

  4. These ferries are solar and sail boosted with diesel as the primary propulsion system, cost 5 million each and carry 600 passengers – each. They are going to be used on San Francisco Bay. . We have to wonder why we are spending 7 times as much for a diesel powered only vessel when this company makes these for ferries, oil tankers, what have you. They use far less fuel than a diesel only vessel. The sail folds down to shade the passengers when there is no wind.

    1. how many cars / trucks can it carry? it needs to replace what is often called a freight boat (or cattle boat according to a brother)

      1. The vessel described in the link does not carry trucks or cars. It will only carry 600 passengers – 200 more than the vessel that is being contracted for 35 million dollars. However, a vessel could be designed to carry automobiles, trucks, trailers which would also be hybrid diesel/electric/sail/solar such as the one described. If you go to the websites you will see that they do outfit oil tankers and freight boats with this technology as well. But one has to ask, if they can design such a boat that will carry that many passengers for 7 times less, then what would the cost be to either – purchase one for 5 million, and another carrying only freight and drivers? Would that be 15 million? If it were then that would be 15 million dollars less expense up front, and the operating costs would be significantly lower. It’s a good question, and one that would have to be answered by asking the company SolarSailor, what an estimate would be. Another option would be to have one vessel that would do both tasks. Somehow though, I believe that would be significantly more expensive and complicated. Just a gut feeling.

  5. How about the Steamship Authority looking into the used market?
    The following link lists many newish double ended coastal ferries for sale.around the world. Included in the list are several boats that appear to be of the right size for our slips. Why spend so much money? This will result in raising the rates and the cost of living on Martha’s Vineyard which none of us need.

  6. The article says that the annual operating costs for the boat will be over 4 million and the boat it is replacing (Governor) works only during the high season. Without knowing exactly how much Governor revenue brings in, let’s assume it is 50% of that number (2 Million) which is a way too high a number. Let’s look at the impact. 2011 Revenue was 83.2 million. 2012 Revenue 85.4 Million. 2013 unknown. The Steam Authority will have to grow its revenue another 5% just to pay for the increase operating expenses alone of this new boat besides all other increased costs of the Steamship Authority boats, oil and personal.. The numbers don’t work. This boat is way to expensive to replace the Governor.

    1. So if expenses will be 4 million then what part of that is fuel? 3 million? If it is, and if they bought an ecologically sound fuel saving vessel the estimated savings would be about 1 million per year – which would theoretically more than justify purchasing one of the SolarSail vessels designed in Sydney Australia as SanFrancisco and NYC have done. What would be wrong with just looking at them to see if it is as great a deal as it appears to be?

      1. I’m no maritime expert but I suspect the weather and wave conditions are quite different between San Francisco Bay at any time of the year compared to Nantucket Sound in the off-season. I am confident that the SSA is weighing the higher cost—but longer lifespan—of a custom-built vessel compared to acquiring, refitting and maintaining an older vessel built for some place else.