Testing backlog forces SSA to run on reduced schedule

Steamship still very low on parking staff and bus drivers.

The Governor is one of the vessels that will be impacted by the SSA's deck officer shortage. —MV Times

The Steamship Authority (SSA) schedule is still being impacted by staffing issues. 

The number of trips in a day for two ferries in the SSA fleet have been reduced, the Iyanough and the Governor. The Steamship is also relying on overtime workers to staff some trips.

During the SSA board meeting in April, SSA general manager Robert Davis said the ferry service was left “scrambling” due to a shortage of licensed deck officers. While the SSA had sent 10 staff members to receive eight-week training over the winter to become pilot mates, they were waiting for word from the U.S. Coast Guard on when these individuals could take a five-part test necessary to work as deck officers. 

“While we continued to try to remedy that situation, there are some service levels that we needed to adjust, and will continue to need to adjust for the remainder of June, as it now appears,” Davis said during the Port Council meeting on Tuesday morning. 

Davis said the testing process used to have a “fast turnaround” of about a couple of weeks at most. “Unfortunately, here we are close to three months later,” Davis said. “Only four of the 10 individuals have been notified that they can test.” The first of the employees took the test on Monday. 

Davis said that Coast Guard’s documentation center is backlogged, and the test application delay is an industrywide issue. 

Steamship COO Mark Higgins added that the Coast Guard put out an advisory about five weeks ago that there would be a backlog in the evaluations of applications, license renewals, and other forms of documentation. He said the SSA is working with the National Maritime Center, and he has contacted the Coast Guard to see whether the process could be expedited.

“We are exploring all [the] avenues to get everybody through the application process so they can test,” Higgins said. 

Until these individuals pass their tests, Davis said, the SSA will be “constrained” in offering the full operating schedule. The SSA needed to “scale back” the schedule, although some of the gaps were filled by overtime crew members. 

Both the Iyanough and the Governor will continue to operate under the reduced “double-crew” schedules. This means four round-trips a day for the Iyanough rather than five, and four round-trips a day for the Governor, rather than seven. Overtime crew members will continue to be used during the weekend. This is the schedule that the vessels have run since May.

It is uncertain how long the vessels’ reduced schedules will need to continue. That will depend on when the staff members get tested. Davis said that at least for the Iyanough, it seems likely it will be until early July.

Joe Sollitto, Port Council chair and Oak Bluffs representative, asked whether the SSA could reach out to representatives or senators to possibly get “preference” in the Coast Guard’s process. Davis said these were conversations that already took place. 

Davis said the SSA is also looking at potentially “switching boats around,” and considerations are being made in case crew members are unable to make trips. 

“We’re looking at alternatives to the schedule,” he said, adding that a priority is getting overtime crew members to run extra trips on the Governor. 

Deck officers are not the only staff members the SSA needs to fill. According to human resources director Janice Kennefick, the SSA needs employees to staff parking lots, bus drivers, and maintenance staff. Hyannis and Oak Bluffs terminals are also looking for workers. She said Oak Bluffs looking for deckhands was not uncommon. 

Numbers shared by Kennefick showed that the SSA has budgeted for nearly 80 employees working at the parking lots and as bus drivers. They currently have around 45 staffers. For maintenance staff, the SSA budgeted for around 55 positions, and currently have 40 on their payroll. 

Kennefick said while many applications are received for various positions, there are times applicants don’t return phone calls, don’t show up to interviews, or do show up but realize they aren’t interested in the position anymore; or they can’t pass a drug test. Kennefick also pointed out that hiring has been difficult overall in the country. 

Kennefick also said some bus drivers don’t join the SSA because the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority offers better rates, although she said the different routes makes the rates comparison “apples to oranges.”

When Robert Munier, Falmouth representative to the Port Council, asked for additional details, Kennefick reiterated the rate issue for the bus drivers and parking attendants, and expanded on recruiting candidates from the Islands.

“On the Islands, honestly, it’s a matter of finding bodies and the ability to pass a drug test,” she said. “That’s the feedback we get from folks on the Islands.” 

However, Kennefick said she was optimistic about the SSA’s staffing situation, considering relatively high employment numbers overall.


  1. The main thing to remember is; this can’t possibly be the fault of Bob Davis or any of his white collar flunkies. Completely impossible to predict or prepare for!

  2. This is easy– Just say no to drug testing.
    Really– They test for marijuana. Somebody who smoked a joint 3 days ago is quite capable of directing cars into parking spots.
    Really, they don’t test to find out if someone was drunk last weekend.
    Any good manager should be able to recognize when somebody is high, stoned or drunk, and fire them on the spot.
    Testing to see of someone has ingested any product associated with Cannabis (which is legal in this state) in the past 7 days is ridiculous.
    Now, I know– some nut cases will read this and claim that I am advocating for the SSA employees to be high while they are on the job.
    That’s why I am preemptively calling them nut cases before they even start.

    • Mr. Keller, I agree with you on the issue you are talking about, but this is not the issue the article is addressing. We are talking about professional qualification testing and not peeing in a cup, so relax, it’s not good for your blood pressure.

      • Mike — the article says ” they aren’t interested in the position anymore; or they can’t pass a drug test. ” sounds like they want people to pee in a cup to me.

  3. Remove the vaccine requirement. Its been deemed unconstitutional in several areas. Bring back those who lost their jobs unconstitutionally. And compensate them for their lost income.

    • Removing the vaccine requirement is beating a dead horse.
      How many SSA employees lost their jobs to the vaccine mandate?
      Will I have to take off my other mitten to count?
      Were they some of the SSA’s finest or just run of the mill malcontents?

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