In less than a year New York’s Citywide Ferry system plans to have a completely new fleet of small passenger ferries plying routes between Manhattan and the boroughs.

The city and its operator, Hornblower Cruises & Events subsidiary HNY Ferry Fleet LLC, chose Gulf of Mexico shipyards – not primarily because of price, but because of the promise of speedy construction, city and company officials say.

In deals that could ultimately approach $80 million, Metal Shark Aluminum Boats, Jeanerette, La., and Horizon Shipyard Inc., Bayou La Batre, Ala., have been contracted to deliver boats in the first quarter of 2017, in time for the city's hoped-for June rollout of the new ferry service.

The Incat Crowther-designed 85’4”x26’3” aluminum catamarans will be Coast Guard Subchapter T approved vessels for up to 149 passengers, with modern amenities like free public wi-fi and snack bar service. For a subsidized public transit fare of $2.75, the boats would give workers of modest means an experience more like what Wall Street commuters have on private ferry service.


A French-built Baudouin 6 M26.3 Tier 3 diesels. Baudouin photo.

At least, that is the ambition of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. Skeptics of the program – including hometown ferry operators, whose bids lost out to San Francisco-based Hornblower – cast doubt on the selection of Gulf builders, and of the French-built Baudouin 6 M26.3 Tier 3 diesels that will be used to power the new ferries.

“Will the product be a chimera?” wrote Tom Fox, a founder of New York Water Taxi, in a June 27 op-ed column in Crain’s New York Business. “Or if the boats do materialize, will the city end up with a fleet with production problems, a short lifespan, and high operating and material costs?”

The shipyards say they can do it, with their mass production capabilities proven in offshore and military contracts, and with Crowther’s engineering support. With 19 boats planned at nearly $4 million each, the contracts are good news for a region hit hard by the recession in the offshore energy market.

These hard times have proven the value of having diverse product lines and customers. If Horizon and Metal Shark can make their mark on New York waters, it could open a world of opportunity.

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.