New York Waterway ferry, kayakers collide

A group of 11 kayakers collided Tuesday evening with a New York Waterway ferry near Pier 79 on Manhattan’s Hudson River shore, sending police scrambling to recover the paddlers, five with injuries.

News photographs and social media images from the scene showed first responders on the New York Police Department boat P.O. Edward Byrne and other vessels pulling people from the water, amid drifting kayaks of the plastic, sit-on-top type.

The 88’6”x26’ catamaran ferry Jersey City had departed the mid-town terminal at West 39th Street when the collision happened around 5:45 p.m. The Coast Guard Sector New York station on Staten Island dispatched a 45’ Response Boat Medium to join the NYPD Harbor Police and Special Operations unit, along with fire boats from New York and Jersey City.

Responders aboard the P.O. Edward Byrne. NYPD photo/ J. Peter Donald.

Responders aboard the P.O. Edward Byrne. NYPD photo/ J. Peter Donald.

Police said they arrived within five minutes to find ferry crews trying to assist scattered kayakers who had been in eight boats. Most seriously injured was Jay Cartegena, a senior instructor with the Manhattan Kayak Company, a tour service based at Pier 84 just a few blocks north of the ferry terminal. He suffered severe lacerations to his arm, a broken rib and punctured lung.

“He had lost a lot of blood and was in and out of consciousness,” police Inspector David Driscoll said at a press conference.

The guide was on his kayak and “it was full of blood…we knew we had to get him into the boat,” said police Officer Tommy Le. Le, an emergency medical technician, applied a tourniquet to the man’s arm and triaged two men and two women with shoulder and back injuries who were taken to Manhattan hospitals.

The Coast Guard and NYPD are conducting the investigation “and we are cooperating fully,” said Pat Smith, a spokesman for New York Waterway. Investigators with Coast Guard Sector New York are handling the case, said petty officer Sabrina Clarke.

Local news media citing sources said the ferry captain was cooperating with investigators and passed a Breathalyzer test with no sign of alcohol. Driscoll said sun glare may have been a factor, with late day sunlight cast across the river on the ferry and kayakers near the eastern shore.

Kayak touring is common along the city’s Hudson River waterfront, both with livery services and nonprofit boat clubs.

“It’s a mixed use waterway so you have both commercial and recreational vessels,” Driscoll said. “Both are required to stay out of each other’s way.”

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.


  1. Avatar

    Commercial vessels have the right of way and this is an accident that shouldn’t have happened. I’m surprised that an experienced guide wouldn’t know and observe the rule in spades (sorry he’s hurt). I can remember getting “five-blasted” by the NY ferry during the classic wooden sailboat race in NYC harbor. Yeah, we were under sail, bobbing around in little wind and the ferry was motoring, but the rule giving sailboats right of way is set aside when it comes to commercial traffic. Same is true of paddlers and rowers. The kayakers certainly had to have seen the ferry, glare or no glare.

    • Avatar

      V SUDOL – Can you please cite the CFR or other regulation that requires recreational vessels to give way to commercial vessels? Your statement is contrary to my understanding of the regulations.

      Thank you

    • Avatar
      Capt Tony Greco, 65' Charter Boat Dolphin on

      Speaking as a Charter Boat Captain, these people are nuts. Here on the south shore of Long Island, Lakers fishing in 6 ft kayaks, fishing in channels, with go fast rocket boats doing 50 mph. Now, we have people standing on surfboards with paddles, MOST without some type of PFD, or life jacket, with Go Fast rocket boats doing 50.

  2. Avatar

    I’m from the NW Coast, so I don’t know the local NY rules. Do you have a rule there that the commercial vessels have the right-of-way? We give right-of-way to vessels with restricted maneuverability and try to keep out of the way of commercial craft, but I don’t think we have a blanket rule of the sort mentioned.

  3. Avatar

    Nowhere in the Navigation Rules, Dept. of Homeland Security, USCG, does it say that “Commercial Vessels” have a blanket “Right of Way.” Rather, the rules state conditions under which vessels of limited maneuverability (vessel and channel restrictions) must not be “impeded.” Ferries are neither. Unpowered or fishing vessels are so limited, and are given the right of way wherever possible.

    The kayaks cannot leap out of the path of a fast powerboat bearing down on them. The ferry helmsman SHOULD have known kayaks were in the area. He SHOULD have made sure he had clear passage, sun glare not withstanding. All vessels are required to maintain proper lookout and to make sure that their intended course is clear.

    The ferry people are the experienced skilled USCG-qualified licensed operators here, and even though the kayakers should have kept away from the ferry’s operational area, THE G******D FERRY STARTED OFF FROM REST AND DROVE RIGHT OVER THEM!!

    Clearly, the ferry helmsman was at fault, guilty of negligent conduct. “Oh, I was blinded by the sun” ain’t no defense.

  4. Avatar

    I totally agree with you V SUDOL, but I bet It won’t end up that way in the end. Those poor kayakers. Commercial traffic ALWAYS has the right of way in traffic. Makes it even better the pilot was sober and cooperating. I hate to say it, but I wonder if the guide was sober.
    I do hope that they all recover.

  5. Avatar

    I have run across this issue myself, dealing with kayakers crossing channels or just cutting right in front of you without any attention being paid to what is coming.

    A few years ago I had one crossing in front of me with 4 foot chop. As I was heading into the waves, he was running the ditch. I didn’t see him until I was 20 feet away from him. This guy just looked at me as if though I had no right to be there and I needed to take evasive maneuvers to avoid hitting this inconsiderate moron. I gave him a good blast with the horn and let him know what the rules were as I passed by. He could have cared less.

    I have since taken to the term of calling kayakers “Speed Bumps.”

  6. Avatar
    Capt. Rod West on

    We have the same issues here in Destin Harbor in Florida. Kayaks, paddle boards, jet skis, and rental pontoon boats. With the narrow entrance, it looks like a Mario video game all summer long. Gotta love the tourist.

    • Avatar

      I have dealt with those kayaker in the past and they typically hug very close to shore often 10-20 feet off the pier head with out a stern lookout you can’t see them

  7. Avatar

    I suggest all commenting read the Colregs. They will find that there is no “right of way” for anyone; the concept is being confused with the stand-on and give-way requirements that actually are in the Rules. Commercial traffic nowhere has a privileged position merely by being commercial rather than recreational. There are rules dealing with narrow channels, restricted drafts ,power boat and sail boat and paddle driven craft responsibilities, Everyone needs to remember that the informal Rule #1 (big over little) is NOT an official rule, but one that I would tend to follow if I were in the little craft (out of an instinct for self-preservation).

  8. Avatar
    captain george adams on

    I am a captain in seattle and yes there are particular situations for one thing passenger vessels are protected under the home land securiy act and are supposed to have a no go zone around them. also if this is a regulated or restricted water way under rule 9 regulation the commercial vessel has the right of way. also the artical fails to say whether the ferry sounded the astearn propulsion warning. and we dont know what the stearn watch could see with piers and such i almost did the same thing backing out from between two long piers the kyacers were in my case right off the pier ends

  9. Avatar
    Stephen P. Keller, Rocklin CA on

    As mentioned, there is no automatic right of way a certain type of vessel has. Ferries have regular schedules, and boat operators in their vicinity should know them. Recreational boaters, including kayakers, are mariners, and are expected to know the rules of the road.
    For 8 years, I was a navigation/communications supplier in the Tug & Barge industry, out of Staten Island, NY. Using my industry & Navy experience, I gave safety talks at boat clubs & outdoor stores.
    As a boat club Commodore, I organized escort kayaks for the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim & other events. That was a good example of commercial & recreational boat cooperation.
    The “sit on top” kayaks in the photo are less maneuverable, and more subject to wind, than “sit inside” kayaks.
    In the 1980s, NYC Parks Dept. established kayak launch sites. There was one by the Alice Austen House on Staten Island. We used it for a trip from Staten Island to our clubhouse, off Jamaica Bay. I announced on VHF that 5 kayaks were launching & crossing The Narrows, Staten Island to Brooklyn. A tanker asked where we were crossing. I told him where; he asked if we could wait until he departed. I agreed & we watched him proceed to sea. Unfortunately, irresponsible kayakers interfered with vessels at anchor, & the launch site was officially closed.
    I recommend that commercial operators contact kayak clubs & invite them for a safety talk. They could mention that the latest edition of COMDTINST M16672 is the official authority, & is for sale in most boating stores.

    • Avatar
      Gayle MacBride on

      I cannot agree more. Please continue to contact paddle groups– we all need to understand the rules of the road. I’m an ACA Certified Kayak instructor and an officer of Northwest Indiana Paddling Association. There is a deep water port on the southern tip of Lake Michigan and waterways shared with commercial traffic. My general understanding is that the least maneuverable boat has the right of way. I usually paddle a sea kayak. Common sense tells me that I am more maneuverable than a large boat (tug with barge in tow for instance) since visibility is a major issue. So my rule of thumb is to avoid confrontation with a power boat. Should we be in the same vicinity, communication is key, including knowing commonly used sound signals. Far as I’m concerned they have the right of way.

  10. Avatar

    We have an accident waiting to happen at Tybee Island, Ga. There is a company that rents Kayaks to people who apparently have no experience on the water. As they will depart in large groups blocking the entire channel as they are leaving Lazaretta Creek.
    You would think that the company renting the Kayaks would inform the people renting the Kayaks of their responsibility not to impede deeper draft or power vessels that can only navigate in much deeper water than a Kayak. It would be much safer if they could stay to the right side of the channel, or close to shallow water.

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