The Governor’s days are numbered.
The Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority (SSA) in Massachusetts recently ordered a $36.5 million replacement for the Governor, the oldest of its nine vessels. Built in 1954, the 242'×46'1"×12'7", 250-passenger/42-vehicle, steel-hulled ferry operates only in the summer because it can’t run in rough weather.
“We bought it from the federal government as surplus property,” said general manager Wayne Lamson. The Governor worked in San Diego and Seattle, then for the Coast Guard in New York Harbor before joining the Steamship Authority’s fleet in 1998.
The vessel is pushing the age limit on ferries and its 384-passenger replacement is one of several on order or out for bids in this busy segment of the passenger market.
“Where we’re seeing activity is the ferry boat side,” and not so much with dinner boats, harbor cruises or overnight vessels, said John Waterhouse, chief concept engineer, Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG), Seattle, which designed the SSA’s new vessel. “People are looking to invest and build for the long run.”
A number of customers have asked about a ferry’s life expectancy. For most commercial operators, it’s 20-25 years of useful life, he said. But U.S. river or harbor ferries can last 40 to 60 years.
All American Marine Inc. also is seeing pent-up demand from the municipal and government sector for passenger ferries.
“We hope that continues into the future,” said Joe Hudspeth, vice president of business development for the Bellingham, Wash., company that’s building two 105'×33', 250-passenger aluminum catamarans for the King County Ferry District in Washington state.
The private sector has been a little slower to reenter the newbuild market, he said, with more demand from eco-tourism, harbor tours and whale watching than dinner boats.
ROSY OUTLOOK FOR 2015
But the private sector is optimistic about the year ahead as the economy continues to pick up steam and corporate business gradually improves, and lower fuel prices help operators save money and passengers spend it. A few operators, such as New York’s Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, are expecting new boats as part of ambitious growth plans.
For 2015, both individual and corporate business “seems to be starting off good,” said Capt. Mike Simpson, co-owner and operations manager, Island Queen Cruises, Miami. He’s hoping for a 10% increase on the individual side and 15% corporate.
“Companies are maybe reaching a little deeper into their pockets,” he said. Last year was “definitely a rebounding year,” even as the World Cup diverted a lot of travelers from Miami to Brazil.
Lower fuel prices “could be a very positive thing for our industry on the individual side,” he said. “This adds $10, $20 or $30 a week to somebody’s pocket.”
Fuel cost savings will be a big plus for Capt. Dan Wilk and his wife Denise, 25-year owners of Orcas Island Eclipse Charters, Orcas, Wash., which offers whale-watching tours.
They are repowering the 56' Orcas Express, built in 1974, with two Cummins QSMII Tier 3 660-hp engines. They’re lighter than the current Detroit Diesel engines, so the Wilks hope to cut annual fuel costs by 20%.
Business has been up the past two years, and the company expects 2015 will be good as well. “We have a lot of repeat people,” Denise Wilk said, and they run online specials to attract new passengers.
Hudson River Cruises, Kingston, N.Y., is luring new customers, too. They changed their lineup to appeal to a younger crowd with ladies nights and barbecue specials replacing murder mysteries.
“This year, we had good turnouts for both,” said Capt. Jeff Whitaker, operations manager. They also lowered fares and shortened sailing times for music cruises on the 103'4"×28'6"×7'2" Rip Van Winkle.
“Business is up. We had a good year,” he said. “It’s not back to where it was 10 or 11 years ago, but we had a good summer and a very good fall.” And in 2015, “we’re looking forward to a better year yet.”
A Florida panhandle operator also switched gears. About 18 months ago the company got out of the dinner cruise business they’d been in for 40 years to concentrate on sightseeing and fishing outings, said Pam Anderson, who with her husband, Ken, owns the 60'4"×26'8"×6'2" Capt. Anderson III and are part owners of Capt. Anderson’s Marina in Panama City Beach. The ecotour boats take passengers to see dolphins and nearby Shell Island.
The sightseeing business has been good for the company. “I think it’s going to continue getting bigger and better,” she said. The recession didn’t hit them as badly as other areas, since they are a drive-to destination. But the BP oil spill “slammed the wedding business for the Lady Anderson” and it never fully recovered. The dinner boat’s final cruise was in 2013 and the 300-passenger boat was sold to Beauport Princess Cruiselines, Gloucester, Mass.
New York Cruise Lines Inc., owner and operator of Circle Line Sightseeing, last year named a new CEO and ordered three 165'×34' vessels from Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding, Duclos Corporation, Somerset, Mass. To be delivered starting in 2016, the 600-passenger vessels were designed by DeJong & Lebet Inc., Jacksonville, Fla.
The new vessels will have three decks instead of two, better sight lines and high-quality concessions, said chief executive Danny Boockvar, who said he was hired “to continue to innovate and grow Circle Line.” Boockvar’s ambitious plan is to double the number of passengers over the next five years from one million to two million. Circle Line, which turns 70 this year, is New York’s oldest and largest provider of scheduled and chartered sightseeing and special event cruises.
Boockvar said the company is still evaluating the fate of its older boats when the new ones enter service. Circle Line has six vessels in its fleet, plus The BEAST speedboat. Its sister company, World Yacht Dining Cruises, has two vessels.
“The dinner business is an area of focus,” he said. “We’ve been innovating.” Last year, the company launched the North River Lobster Company, which Boockvar described as “one of the world’s first floating lobster shacks.”The vessel is getting a 20'×30' stern extension that will increase its length to 120'. The job should be completed in April at Mayship Repair Corp., Staten Island.
In Chicago, Shoreline Sightseeing is keeping its prices level. “I think we’ve reached a sweet spot,” said Matt Collopy, vice president and part owner of the 75-year-old company that runs 10 touring vessels and eight water taxis.
Shoreline’s sales grew in 2014, and they repowered and rewired several vessels. The company sees the potential to build a couple of more vessels in the next few years, he said. “The industry remains pretty strong, and we’re fortunate we’re in a vibrant big urban area.”
But he said it’s become more and more difficult to run the business. “Regulations are more stringent and difficult, compliance costs continue to go up.”
One regulation hanging over operators is the Nontank Vessel Response Plan, which requires vessels 400 GT or more to have written plans for preventing and responding to oil spills.
“This is a major undertaking for our guys to get approved,” said Ed Welch, legislative director, Passenger Vessel Association, Alexandria, Va., noting that the passenger vessel industry doesn’t have a history of oil spills.
Vessels 79' or less just got a three-year reprieve from complying with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) incidental wastewater discharge permit requirements. The EPA’s Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP) was scheduled to go into effect Dec. 19, but the exemption was included in the Coast Guard appropriations bill and signed into law Dec. 18.
A persistent challenge is a provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that deals with trained service animals. The law is very clear. However, it gets murky with people who say they have service animals, but the animals don’t meet the definition in federal regulations.
The law says that with one exception only a dog can be considered to be a service animal, “and the dog must be trained to perform some kind of task for a disabled person,” Welch said. The tasks include helping someone to walk or retrieve items or recognize seizure symptoms. The exception is a trained miniature horse.
Emotional support animals don’t qualify, even though some people think they do. “It is a constant problem,” he said.
NEWBUILD FERRY PROJECTS
Back-up systems and higher speeds are among the features ferry operators are looking for in newbuilds.
“Some customers are looking at diesel-electric configurations, so if they’re down a generator, they can still remain in operation,” said Waterhouse of EDBG. “Most ferry operators don’t necessarily have spare boats lying around.”
On the cosmetic side, operators want vandalism-resistant finishes, fabrics that don’t fade in sunlight and easy to clean materials.
EBDG designed SSA’s 384-passenger, 55-vehicle, 235'×64'×18'6", $36.5 million ferry, The Woods Hole, being built by Conrad Shipyard, Morgan City, La.
Due out by May 2016, it will make 16 rather than 11-12 knots on year-round runs serving Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Another Cape Cod operator, Hy-Line Cruises, Hyannis, Mass., is having a 157', 493-passenger, three-deck high-speed ferry built at Gladding-Hearn. The vessel, which will have a speed in the mid-30-knot range, is due for delivery in early 2016.
“High speed is the way people want to go now,” said Murray Scudder, vice president and principal of Hy-Line. As for business in general, 2014 ridership through October was up 5.6% over 2013, and, he said, we’re “looking for continued strong ridership in 2015.”
Other new ferry projects include:
• The San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) was expected to award a contract in February for two 135'×38'×6', 400-passenger, 50-bicycle, 27-knot aluminum catamaran ferries. Delivery is expected in two years. They will replace the Encinal and Express II in WETA’s 12-vessel fleet, a spokesman said.
• The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) issued a request for bids in June for two 88'6"×29'6"×4'11", 150-passenger, 30-knot aluminum catamaran ferries for the Boston area. MBTA expects to award the contract early this year, a spokesman said. The new vessels will be additions to the fleet. MBTA owns two vessels and leases one.
• EBDG picked up more ferry work last summer when the New York City Department of Transportation chose the company to design a new class of ferries to operate between the boroughs of Staten Island and Manhattan.
Q&A with Eric Christensen of PVA
Capt. Eric Christensen was named director of regulatory affairs and risk management for the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) last spring after a 27-year Coast Guard career focused on marine safety programs. He discussed his new job with WorkBoat.
WorkBoat: How has your perspective on the industry changed?
Christensen: I think I had a pretty good handle on the industry having worked in marine safety programs. It was an easy transition to make to PVA from the Coast Guard. People keep asking me what it’s like working for the other side. Safety has only one side. You’re either for it or against it. And both PVA and the Coast Guard are for it. I just consider myself playing for another team.”
WB: What’s your view of the regulatory environment in which passenger vessels operate?
Christensen: This is a highly regulated environment, and it has been a highly regulated environment since 1958 when small passenger vessel regulations were first promulgated. More and more the Coast Guard is getting things to do that aren’t their own doing like TWIC and the [Environmental Protection Agency’s] Small Vessel General Permit. Yet the Coast Guard is the one responsible for doing spot checks. Many passenger vessels operators are small businesses, so when it comes to regulations, where’s the balance between safety and cost/benefit?One of the things PVA is trying to do is have any regulatory body look at what the cumulative impacts are. Let’s add this up and see if there’s any time to sleep. Sometimes the Coast Guard has no choice when Congress says you must write a regulation. The balance is identifying where there is a need and at the same time what is that cost to small business and is it worth it. I’m hoping to be able to help them comply in a reasonable way. It’s not just cost. It’s do you have the time to comply and still run your business?
— D.K. DuPont