Coast Guard sidelines Nantucket

As the Island Home sits empty waiting for repairs, a large crowd of passengers gathered to get onto the MV Martha's Vineyard. -George Brennan

Updated 8/17

The Steamship Authority ferry Nantucket was taken out of service Wednesday morning because a repair to a governor on one of the vessels’ engines was required by the U.S. Coast Guard, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll told The Times Wednesday. Petty Officer Ryan Noel, a Coast Guard spokesman, said the port main diesel engine wasn’t operating properly. Noel said the Coast Guard required the SSA to repair the engine “to the satisfaction of the Coast Guard.”

Over the weekend the same governor malfunctioned. SSA director of marine operations Mark Amundsen told the SSA board Tuesday the governor was new, and the part required a calibration procedure that couldn’t get done until Sunday morning, because the person with the expertise to calibrate it wasn’t available until then. “We should have done a better job,” Amundsen said, “and I kind of take that personally, because our team is really very good, and we just didn’t have the right person with the right skill set to dial that in.”

The Nantucket wasn’t the only ferry with recent woes. 

The first crossing of the day on the MV Island Home from Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven did not depart on time Tuesday morning. The loss of the SSA’s largest vessel caused chaos at the terminal, with a line waiting for the 7 am MV Martha’s Vineyard that could only be described as chaotic. That ferry was also not leaving on time.

“An electrical relay switch requires replacement. Repairs are in progress,” Driscoll wrote in a text message about the Island Home. No notice went out to customers about the delay.

Asked why, Driscoll wrote that it had not yet been canceled. Moments later, he wrote that the 6 am and 7 am trips were canceled. As of 9:30 am, the Island Home had returned to service, although there was no announcement on social media or through the SSA’s email system.

The Island Home woes followed a chaotic weekend for the ferry service. The Steamship Authority’s schedule was a mess on Saturday after the MV Nantucket had to be replaced by MV Sankaty, a smaller ferry that has less walk-on capacity.

According to Driscoll, an engine governor needed to be replaced on the Nantucket. The repairs to the Nantucket continued Sunday morning, the SSA reported. At about 8:30 am Sunday, the SSA tweeted that the repairs were complete, and the Nantucket would return to its schedule starting at 8:35 am. Meanwhile, the Sankaty would remain in service “to accommodate vehicles that were unable to travel earlier this morning,” a tweet stated.

The loss of the Nantucket, which runs between Woods Hole and Oak Bluffs, caused delays throughout the day Saturday.

As a result, the MV Martha’s Vineyard missed its first crossing of the day on Sunday due to “Coast Guard–mandated rest hours overnight,” according to a tweet by the SSA. That led to confusion at the terminals on Saturday, and social media lit up with people upset about the inconvenience.

On Sunday morning, the SSA added to the confusion by canceling a ferry in an email blast, and then corrected it. In a text message, Driscoll said customers also received an email telling them that the cancellation was sent out in error; it was posted on social media and the SSA’s website.

The confusion continued into Monday, with the SSA sending out a cancellation of a crossing between Oak Bluffs and Woods Hole that occurred three hours earlier. Driscoll wrote in an email that that cancellation was sent out in error. The 12:20 pm crossing was being diverted from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven, according to a separate announcement. “The cancellation went out in error. The diversion is due to a delay for the Nantucket caused by a Coast Guard inspection of the repairs from this weekend,” Driscoll wrote. “That’s causing a conflict at O.B., hence the diversion.”

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Vineyard representative to the board James Malkin chastised the communication breakdowns. “I know we don’t put out incorrect statements deliberately,” Malkin said during discussion of a new website that’s under construction. “But it’s an information flow issue, as far as I can tell.”

When Driscoll responded that the SSA is working on improving the flow of information so it can be delivered to customers in a “more efficient way,” Malkin responded, “Thank you, and in an accurate way.”



  1. So this is level of competence that garners Bob Davis his glowing performance reviews, contract extension and pay raise? Absolutely ridiculous!

  2. From 1985 until 1991 I lived in the New York City metropolitan area. For most of that time I depended on the commuter rail service of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). Were they perfect? Never! But they did an incredible job. The same should be said for the Steamship Authority. I have no vested interest in them except my well-being. But how often do you hear people compliment them when they meet or exceed your expectation 90+ percent of the time. Don’t forget, you couldn’t live without them.

  3. My boat was running an hour late. Not a peep from the guys at the kiosk. It would have been helpful just to be informed.

    • They don’t know how long it will take to fix the boat until they fix the boat.
      The job of the kiosk people is to continuously ask the people doing the repairs how long is it going take.

      • While that is true it would be possible for them to inform passengers that there will be a delay. I don’t think that would be asking too much.

    • Your point is very much the issue. The SSA’s communication skills are barely even primitive. They are woeful. Delays and cancellations happen for a variety of reasons, but a public that is well informed about them as early as possible is a public that will be less critical and angry – emphasis on ‘less’. The SSA has little if any sense of PR. Why?

    • I’ve ridden the SSA ferries from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven since 1957. We were never aware of boat delays, breakdowns everything worked relatively smoothly until this century began.

      For 30 years I commuted to NYC on Metro North. They too had struggles with weather, fallen trees and maintenance. They too had dreadful communications with their customers. Eventually they figured out how to inform passengers of problems and issues as they happened. Somehow the SSA needs to learn that sharing problems with their customers is the best way to avoid angry passengers. It’s called proactive public relations.

  4. An electric ferry will not be perfect, but it will have about 50,000 less moving parts than a diesel one. — Yeah, that 50,000 number is just an uninformed estimate, completely made up. but who cares ?
    But really, I was on that boat 2 weeks ago, on a really nice day, and had to move around numerous times as the boat changed course to get out of the plume of diesel exhaust, which is a known carcinogen.
    Think about that one– the ssa is subjecting it’s passengers to a substance that they know MAY cause cancer. perhaps one in a million– but still–it matters to that one person and their family.
    I’ll keep promoting the concept of the electric ferries.
    Cheaper, cleaner, quieter, safer.

  5. Living here and not being able to get off or on the Island with ones own vehicle for whatever reason is just unbelievable and frustrating as all get out !

  6. I vote for a bridge. It works on Sanibel Island, FL. The traffic is similar to MV but you can get on and off the island 24 hours a day. In fact, bridges move traffic all over Florida. At least have boats that cater to Islanders ONLY several times a day. Also freight only boats. Semi trucks are dangerous when they hem in passenger cars.

    • And how do you propose the boats get past your bridge? Maybe a tunnel? The water is pretty deep, gonna be really really expensive.

      • scooooottttttt— look at virtually every bridge in the country— or 99.9% of the worlds bridges that cross wide swaths of water. — they have a hump in the middle of them somewhere that is high enough for boats to pass under.
        I am not for a bridge, by the way.
        but really, it’s basic bridge building 101 to have an arch for boats.

  7. Very mechancial diesel powered boats are bound to have occasional breakdowns at inconvenitent times. An August weekend is about as inconvenient as it gets. One has to wonder again if the SSA maintenance schedule is sufficient. Beyond that it’s clear that communication between the SSA and the ridership seems is woeful. Mechanical failures can be repaired. So can bad communications. Why can’t the SSA do both?

    • Amen.
      The quality of life on MV is deteriorating visibly before our eyes and audibly before our ears.
      Town govt does not have a handle on how to steer the aggravations and stresses that result from overpromotion.

  8. Maybe if the SSA and the knuckleheads that run it would buy ONE type of boat instead of six or seven uniquely designed and/or used boats bought at the used boat tag sale it wouldn’t take days to find a specific person with specific skills to fix the specific problem on the suicida specially unique boat.
    It’s not rocket science.

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