US Workboats, Hubert, N.C., is building a new aluminum, 92'x26'x7' passenger-only ferry for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The ferry will operate between Hatteras, N.C., and Ocracoke Island, a popular tourist destination located on the Outer Banks.
Shoaling over the past few decades has caused a real problem for the state’s ferry operations between Hatteras and Ocracoke Island and its popular Silver Lake destination. Currently, there are only passenger/vehicle ferries that operate on the route.
“The Corps [of Engineers] tried dredging Hatteras Inlet,” Jed Dixon, NC Transportation ferry division deputy director said at the Passenger Vessel Association's Annual Convention in Savannah, Ga., this week. “The day they finished the project, we couldn’t run a ferry over it.”
The ferry route had to be altered, doubling in length from four miles to eight. “We went from 52 departures a day to 42, which had a huge impact on our service,” said Dixon. “The tourist numbers were down. People were having to wait two and a half hours to get to the island. We had to start thinking out of the box.”
That out of the box thinking resulted in plans for a new passenger-only ferry that would run a different, longer route than the car ferries, bringing passengers all the way to Silver Lake (25 miles) in 70 minutes. (Normally it’s a 30- minute drive from the Ocracoke ferry landing to Silver Lake.)
The $15 round trip for the passenger only ferry that will carry 99 at a time is expected to generate almost $1 million each season, Dixon said. “Part of the project was to see if we could get some of those cars off the road,” he said. “About 65% of the visitors are day trippers.