Before the ravages of Covid-19 set in, the U.S. ferry market was showing just how dynamic a sector it is.

In 2019, ferries carried 113.6 million passengers, up from 110.7 million in 2017, according to the recently released 2020 National Census of Ferry Operators (NCFO).

Sixty-seven percent of operators reported passengers using ferries to commute to work and 59% of operators take passengers to recreational destinations, according to figures from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). (Operators may choose multiple responses, so percentages may not total 100.)

The 246 operators who responded to the survey provided service through 760 terminals on 1,106 unique route segments in 40 states, three U.S. territories, and two Canadian provinces, using a fleet of 839 vessels.

Data collection began in June 2020 for the biennial report the government uses to set funding formulas. The 2020 data is available here.

Here’s a look at some of the comparative numbers from BTS: 

                          2018                             2020                          

Passengers     110.7 million                       113.6 million

Vehicles              24.2 million                    27 million

Fleet size             739                                 839

High volume states

New York

Passengers          28.3 million                  31 million

Vehicles                2.2 million                  2.1 million      


Passengers          27.4 million                   28.7 million

Vehicles              11.5 million                   11.9 million




Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.

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