Ferries continue to be a dynamic sector of the workboat industry, with steady passenger growth and innovative design — bigger, faster vessels for major metropolitan markets, and a new wave of hybrid propulsion.

Designers and builders are responding to demand for cleaner-operating vessels, pushed by California air-quality mandates and moves by Washington State Ferries toward developing hybrid and electric power. On the East Coast, ferry operators tend to stick to proven Tier 3 emissions-approved designs. But there’s also interest in hybrid-electric drive for making new ferries good neighbors in densely populated waterfront neighborhoods.

The first U.S. passenger ferry with Tier 4 emissions controls went into service March 4 with the San Francisco Bay Ferry system. The $23 million 445-passenger high speed Pyxis is the fifth new ferry built for the system service administered by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) since the agency started acquiring its new Hydrus class in 2017.

“They operate on a longer route than the Hydrus boats. We’re a one-hour trip,” said Martin Robbins, general manager of the Bay Ferry’s Vallejo division. “These are waterjet boats so they’re designed for 34 knots. They will make 37 or 38 knots running light.”

The first of three new 142.7'x39.4'x5.4', all-aluminum boats being delivered by Dakota Creek Industries, Anacortes, Wash., in 2019, the Pyxis serves the growing Vallejo route. It is the first new vessel on the northern bay since 1997, and very similar to earlier waterjet ferries by conceived by designers at Advanced Multihull Designs (AMD) of Australia.

“It’s largely the same design, 2.6 meters (8.5') longer so we can get passenger capacity up from the mid-300s to 445,” said Robbins. “We’ve seen steady (passenger) growth for five to six years. We slowed down a little bit, and that might have been because of our capacity limits. The parking lots are full and we’ve had to turn people away. Hopefully these new boats will help turn that around.”

Two MTU 16V4000M65 engines rated at 3,433 hp each drive a pair of HamiltonJet HT810 waterjets through ZF 9055 gears. Propulsion integration by Pacific Power Group, Kent, Wash., includes the Tier 4 emissions control, a first for U.S. ferries. Earlier PPG supplied power packages and emissions controls for the Hydrus-class boats surpassed their nominal Tier 3 ratings, classing them two years ago as the cleanest U.S. passenger ferries.

San Francisco Bay operators were early pioneers in cleaner propulsion technology. The 320-passenger Solano, delivered by Dakota Creek in 2004, was equipped with an early, experimental selective catalytic reduction (SCR) emissions system that was not so efficient “but it proved very educational,” said Robbins. “In the next 12 to 14 years the technology has become more advanced.”

Each of the new ferries for Miami will have three lounges — two separate lounges on the main deck — one for residents and one for employees and a lounge on the second deck for residents. St. Johns Ship Building photo

St. Johns Ship Building, Palatka, Fla., is building four new 152'x52'x12' 150-passenger, 30-vehicle ferries for Miami’s Fisher Island.

Designed by Seattle-based Elliott Bay Design Group, the new boats, featuring 8' drafts, can handle heavy equipment – including loaded concrete trucks for construction projects on the exclusive residential community.

Each ferry has three lounges inside the offset deck house — two separate lounges on the main deck, one for residents and one for employees, and a lounge on the second deck for residents. Internet, music and satellite television are provided. The boats have 40' air draft for bridge clearances. The pilothouse is 30' above the water surface.

The twin engine propulsion package will feature two Caterpillar C-18 diesel engines, producing 600 hp at 1,800 rpm each. The Tier 3 Cats connect to Hundested VP10 CPG 4-bladed 67"-dia., nibral props through Hundested CPG 38 marine gear with 5.53:1 reduction ratios. The propulsion package will give the boats an operating speed of 10 knots.

St. Johns is also building the new class of 350-passenger aluminum catamaran ferries for Hornblower and its NYC Ferry fleet. Ordered to increase capacity on the popular public transit system, St. Johns’ Hull 90 was delivered in mid-summer 2019, with two more under construction for delivery in winter 2020.

The 97'1"x27'11"x5'3" design by Incat Crowther is powered by a pair of Baudouin 12M26.3 diesels turning 1,300 hp at 1,800 rpm though ZF 3050 marine gears at a 2.609:1 ratio and 5-bladed Michigan Propellers, for a service speed of 24 knots.


While San Francisco cuts diesel emissions, Washington State Ferries is planning how to meet Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2018 directive to work toward a zero-emissions fleet.

The agency’s 20-year plan calls for 16 new vessels by 2040, including a new class of five hybrid-electric boats, and full electrification of its terminals. That will span a timeframe when ridership is expected to grow by 30% and the fleet is recapitalized “with a focus on building a reliable fleet that has a lighter footprint on the environment and outperforms (carbon dioxide) reduction targets,” according to the WSF plan.

“This electric-hybrid propulsion fleet will also cost less to operate. In addition, WSF’s retiring vessels should be replaced with those that are strategically designed to more easily accommodate growing ridership, with flexible passenger and car-deck space to better serve the particular demands of a route,” the report says. During the same time almost all WSF terminals will be fully electrified and upgraded to support charging vessel batteries.

The first five hybrid newbuilds will come out of an extension for the open contract for Olympic-class vessels. “With some modifications, the existing Olympic-class design can be reworked for hybrid propulsion and also certified as an international vessel with opportunities to serve the Sidney, British Columbia, route as a service or relief vessel,” the plan said.

Kitsap Transit's 150-passenger Waterman is the first hybrid-electric ferry on Puget Sound. All American Marine photo

All American Marine Inc., Bellingham, Wash., cracked the hybrid passenger vessel market in a big way, partnering with propulsion provider BAE Systems. The yard was the first to build a full hybrid-electric ferry for Puget Sound. After delivering the hybrid electric tour vessel Enhydra, WorkBoat’s 2018 Boat of the Year, to San Francisco’s Red and White Fleet, All American in February launched the 70'x26', 150-passenger hybrid-electric ferry Waterman for Kitsap Transit.

Designed by Glosten in Seattle, the aluminum catamaran has a BAE HybriDrive system that uses fixed pitch propellers, a generator, propulsion power converter, house load power supply and control system.

“The hybrid system is fully automated, assessing the power loads, both hotel and propulsion loads, and manages the entire system,” Matt Mullett, All American’s president and CEO, said at the time of the launch. The system requires lower engine operating hours and is more streamlined than a conventional drive, requiring fewer parts and service. That brings savings in fuel and maintenance costs, while using battery power to operate almost silently while passengers are boarding and exiting


Mounting traffic and transit delays are marketing opportunities for metropolitan ferry operators on the East Coast too. In Washington, D.C., passenger demand is growing steadily on the Potomac River, where Entertainment Cruises’ Potomac Riverboat Co. has a new fleet of four catamarans from Louisiana-based builder Metal Shark.

Designed by BMT, the 88', 149-passenger high speed aluminum catamaran vessels Potomac Taxi IPotomac Taxi IIPotomac Taxi III, and Potomac Taxi IV feature a service speed of 24 knots, running twin Scania DI13 081M engines delivering 500 hp at 1,800 rpm. The Scanias spin Michigan Wheel 31.5"x33.5" bladed nibral propellers through Twin Disc MGXZ-5114 marine gears with 1.74:1 reduction ratios.

Metal Shark is building on success, after constructing its first ferries for the NYC Ferry public system in New York.

Yet another New York ferry service could soon be on the way, as the city of Glen Cove, N.Y., on Long Island negotiated with potential operators for its long-anticipated commuter connection to Manhattan.

“The boats are all available,” said Shea Thorvaldsen of TMS Waterfront, Port Chester, N.Y., consultants who have been assisting Glen Cove city officials. They are aiming for a two-year pilot project, using boats up to 150-passenger capacity that could tie in to stops on the NYC Ferry system or offer direct service to Manhattan.

A Glen Cove ferry could start in spring 2020. New York City developers RXR Realty, which is working with partners to build the Garvies Point residential development of 1,100 apartments and condominiums next to the terminal, promised a $1 million subsidy over two years for the ferry. “Longer term, we’re looking at the potential to change over to electric,” said Thorvaldesen.

Across Long Island Sound, Derecktor Shipyards, Mamaroneck, N.Y., builds hybrid-electric aluminum catamarans — most recently the Capt. Ben Moore, a small freighter built for food and produce purveyor Harbor Harvest, Norwalk, Conn., to connect upstate farms with suburban customers. New ferries with quiet electric drives could find a warmer welcome in those waterfront towns.

Contributing 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 an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 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.