Katama loses steering while underway

Passengers stuck out in Vineyard Sound for close to two hours.


Updated Dec. 27


The Steamship Authority ferry Katama lost steering en route to Woods Hole the night of Monday, Dec. 23. The partially crippled vessel waited in Vineyard Sound for one to two hours before tugboats from the Vineyard, the Sirius and Thuban, took it to a slip at the Vineyard Haven Terminal. There, passengers and vehicles were transferred to another ferry. 

The Katama’s steering problem was first reported to the U.S. Coast Guard at 6:24 pm, according to Petty Officer Nicole Groll. The Katama did not drop anchor at any point, she noted. At 8:15 am on Christmas Eve, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll told The Times repairs had been completed on the steering system, and the Katama crew awaited a U.S. Coast Guard inspection. However, the vessel did not go back into service. At noon Christmas Eve, the Katama left the Vineyard Haven Terminal under escort by the same tugs that retrieved it the night before, according to Ralph Packer, president of Tisbury Towing and Transportation. The vessel traveled to the SSA Fairhaven facility via Woods Hole, arriving at just after 3:30 pm, according to Driscoll.

On the 23rd, passengers and crew aboard the Katama totaled 67 people, according to the Coast Guard. Trucks and other vehicles totaled 29, according to the SSA. The SSA stated 78 people were on board, however the Coast Guard indicated it got its figure directly from the captain of the Katama. It’s unclear why there’s a discrepancy. 

Tisbury Towing and Transportation dispatched the tugboats Sirius and Thuban to rescue the Katama. The Sirius towed the Katama, while the Thuban was at the stern, according to Randy Jardin, captain of the Sirius. 

The Katama left Vineyard Haven on a 5:20 pm scheduled crossing, according to a statement from Driscoll.

“During that crossing, the MV Katama lost some of its steering capabilities outside of Woods Hole passage,” Driscoll wrote. “The crew members [were] making regular announcements and [were] able to keep the vessel positioned in such a way as to not affect the passage of other vessels in the area. There have been no injuries, and those on board are in no danger.”

Tugboat crew accounts and ship positioning apps place the Katama off West Chop when it was taken under tow.

At around 6:20, the SSA made a loudspeaker announcement that the boat was experiencing technical difficulties, according to passenger Liz Dengenis of Chilmark.

“All of the sudden we were rocking really heavily,” said Dengenis, who was on her way to visit family in Dennis. “I was grateful I didn’t get seasickness.”

Dengenis said passengers on the boat were “shockingly calm,” and the SSA staff was friendly and helpful. One official loudspeaker announcement was made, and other updates came from an SSA spokesperson, who answered questions from passengers.

“It was spooky floating out at sea with no idea how far we were from shore,” Dengenis added. She commented that one passenger shared his phone charger with others on the boat.

Passengers got a full refund, according to Dengenis.

At about 8:20 pm, the Katama maneuvered into the slip in Vineyard Haven stern-first using a combination of its twin screws, its bow thrusters, and tugboat assistance.

Passengers walked off the open freight deck, crossed to the adjacent slip, and boarded the MV Martha’s Vineyard. Trucks and other vehicles followed suit.

The Martha’s Vineyard pulled out for Woods Hole just after 8:30 pm. 

Authority engineering and maintenance personnel are on board the Katama working to diagnose and repair the vessel overnight,” Driscoll wrote in a follow-up statement. “All passengers who wished to continue to Woods Hole boarded the MV Martha’s Vineyard, including vehicles, and arrived in Woods Hole at approximately 9:15 p.m. The Authority provided complimentary food and beverage on their trip on board the MV Martha’s Vineyard to those customers who were affected, and we thank them for their patience this evening.”

Driscoll went on to state that the Katama lost partial steering at “6:06 pm just off the coast near Nobska Light, but still had full shipboard power, its propulsion, and use of its bow thrusters.”

Asked why it was collected closer to West Chop, Driscoll told The Times the captain may have repositioned the vessel to keep it out of the ferry lanes. He also said the reason it did not get towed to Woods Hole was because of “wind and tide conditions.”

In his statement, Driscoll noted, “The crew was able to safely maneuver the vessel to a safe location and keep its position without having to drop anchor. At no time were the customers or crew in danger.”

The MV Gay Head substituted for the Katama Tuesday morning. At one point it had to linger in Vineyard Haven’s outer harbor while the Martha’s Vineyard was in the sole operating slip. The SSA has announced travelers should expect some delays due to the Katama being out of service. 

While at Fairhaven, a “complete review of the steering system is being done, but [there are] no conclusions so far,” Driscoll emailed. He noted a hydraulic ram connected to the steering system was replaced when the vessel was in Vineyard Haven. 

The incident is considered a marine casualty, and is under investigation by the Coast Guard, Groll noted. 


Updated with additional information about the condition of the Katama. Brittany Bowker contributed to this report. 



  1. When will this monopoly be over? The SSA is a joke! Constantly rebuilding the terminals and vessels with no positive outcome. It’s time another company is allowed to successfully transport the islanders and tourists back and fourth. It’s a complete joke.

  2. “There’s no issues with the boats…. Again, there’s no problem with the boats.”

    “The real issue is weather…. The weather’s outrageous.”

    From the chronically ill-informed Steamship Authority Vineyard Board member Marc Hanover in his report to Dukes County Commission members on Wednesday.

  3. more breakdowns today it only gets worse and better isnt even visible at this point. the deplorable nature of the vanilla responses are unacceptable imho

  4. It would appear the Steamship is on track for another fall/winter of constant failures and shutdowns. Clearly there is something wrong with how the SSA is being managed. When will the board hold management accountable for their mistakes and failure to provide reliable service? It would seem it is time for a management change- Davis needs to go! Spend millions on architects and buildings that are not wanted/needed, raise fares at a rate higher than inflation, but ignore the infrastructure that is vital to transportation – that seems to be the motto of the last several years…. Families are now heavily delayed getting to their holiday destination with again no promises on restoration of services. How about dock a day’s pay for the GM for every boat that is cancelled or missed trip due to mechanical issues? Then changes would be made!! This is looking more and more like the mess of the MBTA!!!

  5. we have seen these kinds of systemic issues with corporations, government agencies, and organizations many times. Unfortunately it is often after a “series of unfortunate events” that resulted in a catastrophic accident with loss of life. We are witness to a deteriorating bureaucracy.
    Last year, the ssa paid a few hundred thousand dollars to have a consulting firm tell them to communicate better with their passengers. Well, this time they did, and that’s news.. A pretty low bar has been set. Let’s hope that the ssa does not need a ship to sink to be told how to safely operate a ferry service.

  6. It Blows my mind that islanders will Rally at 5 corners for all types of political issues that have no bearing on their day to day life, yet they won’t Rally for a Better SSA. As stated above, How long must we sit back and watch their drunken sailor spending with little regard to providing us with ferry service?

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