In the 18th century, ferry service between Staten Island and the city of New York was conducted exclusively by private individuals using “per augers”. These shallow-draft, twin-mast sailboats were used at the time for local traffic in New York harbor. In the early 19th century, Vice President (and former New York governor) Daniel D. Tompkins secured a charter for the Richmond Turnpike Company as part of his efforts to develop the village of Tompkinsville. Although this was originally intended to build a highway across Staten Island, the company also received the right to run a ferry to New York. The Richmond Turnpike Company is the direct ancestor of Staten Island’s current municipal ferry. In 1817, the Richmond Turnpike Company ran the first mechanically powered ferry between New York and Staten Island- the steam-powered Nautilus. This historic vessel was commanded by Captain John De Forest, the brother-in-law of a young man named Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1838 Cornelius Vanderbilt, a tycoon in the New York steamboat business, bought out the Richmond Turnpike Company. Excluding a brief period in the 1850s, Vanderbilt remained the dominant figure in the ferry service until the Civil War. It was then he sold his empire to the Staten Island Railway, conveniently led by his brother Jacob Vanderbilt. During the 1850s, Staten Island developed rapidly, and the ferry grew accordingly. Despite its rapid growth, the poor condition of the boats became a source of chronic complaint as did its limited schedule. The opening of the Staten Island Railway in 1860 further increased traffic and newer boats were acquired as such. These boats were named after the towns of Richmond County that covered the entirety of Staten Island. At about 1:30 in the afternoon of July 30, 1871, the Westfield came to grief when its boiler exploded while sitting in its slip at South Ferry (Manhattan). Within days of the disaster, 85 were identified as dead and hundreds more injured; several more were added to the death toll in the weeks following. Jacob Vanderbilt, president of the Staten Island Railway, was arrested for murder though he escaped conviction. The engineer of Westfield was a black man, which aroused openly racist commentary in New York’s newspapers despite Vanderbilt’s continued defense of his employee. The victims of this event were never compensated for damages. In 1884, each competing ferry service owned by Vanderbilt was sold to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to be operated by the Staten Island Rapid Transit Railroad (predecessor to Staten Island Railway). On June 14, 1901, the SIRT ferry, Northfield, was leaving its port at Whitehall when it was struck by a Jersey Central Ferry and sank immediately. Fortunately, there were two full deck crews aboard Northfield and their swift actions ensured that out of 995 passengers aboard, 990 survived. This accident, though minor in comparison to the Westfield Disaster, was seized upon by the City of New York as a justification to take control of the SIRT ferries; ferry service was assumed by the city’s Department of Docks and Ferries in 1905. Five new ferries, one named for each of the new boroughs, were commissioned. The first ferry to make the now famous trip across New York harbor as a Staten Island Ferry was named the Manhattan.
The following New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) Staten Island Ferry Passenger conduct shall be adhered to by all passengers to ensure the safety of the public and all employees. Any passenger in violation of these regulations may be prohibited from boarding the ferryboat and removed from the facility.
On October 13, 2005, the American Bureau of Shipping presented the Department of Transportation with a “Voluntary Document of Compliance Certificate” for the DOT Staten Island Ferry Division and “Voluntary Safety Management Certificates” for all operational ferryboats. The presentation of these certificates culminates a year-long effort to develop and implement a safety management system and clearly demonstrates the commitment of the City of New York to this effort. The New York City Department of Transportation is now the first ferry operator in the United States to voluntarily comply with this internationally accepted safety regime. The safety of passengers and employees is the top priority of the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) in its operation of the Staten Island Ferry. The NYCDOT shall implement and maintain a Safety Management System (SMS) that provides:
The SMS shall ensure that the NYCDOT Staten Island Ferry is in compliance with mandatory rules and regulations as well as revelant voluntary guidelines. The SMS shall follow the objectives of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code ” to ensure safety at sea, prevention of human injury or loss of life, and avoidance of damage to the enviroment, in particular the marine enviroment and to property.”
The Staten Island Ferry strives to ensure compliance with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements as part of the Clean Water Act.
As a passengers on board the Staten Island Ferry you can do your part for the environment and assist in the Staten Island Ferry’s compliance with these environmental regulations.