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Ferry Information


In The Beginning

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.

passenger safety

Passenger Rules of Conduct

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.

  • No disorderly conduct or behavior that may be deemed unsafe or disruptive.
  • No littering – place all trash and garbage in the receptacles provided.
  • No spitting or creating of any other unsanitary condition.
  • Feeding of any animal within the ferry terminals and vessels is prohibited.
  • Lying down on seats and benches within the terminals and vessels is prohibited.
  • Smoking is prohibited onboard the vessels and within all enclosed spaces within the terminals. Smoking is allowed only in designated open areas within the terminal premises.
  • Distribution or posting of any literature or advertisements without a NYC DOT permit is prohibited.
  • Carrying of firearms or weapons within the terminals or on the ferries is prohibited.
  • No person shall skateboard, roller skate or ride a bicycle, scooter or any other vehicle or device (except a wheelchair required for transit) on or through any part of the terminals or ferries. Bicycles and non-motorized scooters must be walked through the terminals and ferries and board the vessel via the lower level.
  • Commercial use of video, photography or audio recording equipment without a NYC DOT permit is prohibited.
  • Playing any audible device without the use of earphones is prohibited. Audible devices include but are not limited to radios, game devices and audio/video playback devices.
    Pets, other than service animals as defined by the American with Disabilities Act, are not allowed in the facilities and/or on the ferry boats, unless they are caged and/or muzzled.
  • Destruction, graffiti or marking of any facility or vessel is prohibited.
  • During an emergency all passengers shall follow the direction of NYC DOT facility personnel or vessel crew members.

Bicyclist Rules of Conduct

  • Bicyclists are subject to all Passenger Rules of Conduct.
  • Bicyclists must board on the lower level at both the St. George and Whitehall Ferry Terminals.
  • Bicyclists must dismount and walk their bicycles to the waiting area and when boarding and departing the boat.
  • Bicyclists must stay clear of pedestrians.
  • All bicycles must be stored in the designated bicycle storage area on the lower level of each vessel.
  • All bicyclists are subject to screening upon arrival at the ferry terminals.
  • Bicycles may not be left in racks on vessels for more than 30 minutes (one trip). Bicycles left on the vessel after each trip will be removed.
  • Bicycles left in outdoor racks for more than 24 hours will be removed.
  • DOT is not responsible for stolen or damaged bicycles.

Safety Management System

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:

  • Control to ensure safe operations and working conditions onboard each ferry and within each facility.
  • Control to establish safeguards for all identified risks.
  • Control to continually improve performance of the system and its personnel regarding safety and pollution prevention.

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.”

NPDES Discharge Elimination

The Staten Island Ferry strives to ensure compliance with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements as part of the Clean Water Act.

  • This includes identifying operational discharges that are applicable to the ferry fleet.
  • Continual implementation of related safety management system requirements.
  • Utilizing additional best management practices to reduce operational discharges.
  • Performing periodic onboard inspections along with documenting instances of noncompliance or violation with permit requirements and to ensure corrective action.
  • The USCG along with the EPA will perform periodic checks to ensure compliance with the regulations.

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.

  • Make a conscious effort to minimize wastewater when using sinks and toilets. Notify vessel crewmembers if sinks, faucets or toilets are observed to be running or leaking.
  • Put litter in its place! Use the designated trash cans that are provided onboard vessels and in terminals. Improperly discarded trash and waste can be washed or blown overboard, polluting the waters of New York Harbor.
  • Do not throw anything overboard while riding the Staten Island Ferry.

interesting facts

Interesting Facts

  • In the 1700s, ferry service was provided by private individuals with small twin mast sailboats called per augers.
  • In 1817 the cost to cross the harbor was 25 cents and half price for children. This was the cost to ride the Nautilus, the first steam ferry to make the famous trip. The Nautilus was commanded by Captain John De Forest
  • Three of the ferries that were built to make the trip across the harbor were bought by the U.S. Navy to fight in the civil war. The Southfield I, Westfield I, and the Clifton I. None of these ferries ever returned to New York.
  • On July 30, 1871 at about 1:30 pm the ferry boat Westfield II experienced a catastrophic boiler explosion while in the slip at Whitehall. Several days after the disaster it was revealed that at least 85 people had lost their lives. Several more were added to the death toll weeks later.
  • The 5 cents fare was established in 1897. On October 10, 1972 the fare was raised to 10 cents. In 1975 the fare was increased to 25 cents. On August 1, 1990 the fare went up to 50 cents. Finally, on July 4, 1997 the fare for foot passengers on the ferry was eliminated.
  • June 14th, 1901 the ferryboat Northfield was leaving Whitehall when it was struck by a Jersey Central Ferry the Mauch Chaunk and sank immediately. Fortunately, there were two full deck crews aboard the Northfield and their swift actions saved many. Out of 995 passengers aboard the Northfield only 5 ended up missing. This accident was one of the major reasons that private operations of the ferries were ended, and the City of New York took control.
  • Soon after Staten Island joined New York City in 1898, ferry service between St. George and Whitehall was transferred to the city Department of Docks and Ferries on October 25th, 1905 and five new ferries — one named for each of the five boroughs — were commissioned.
  • In 1926 the city’s original white color scheme was eliminated in favor of a reddish-maroon. This was changed to municipal orange later so that they could be seen in heavy fog and snow.
  • On February 8, 1958 The Dongan Hills was hit by the Norwegian tanker Tynefield. 15 passengers were injured.
  • In 1960, a bomb was set off on the Knickerbocker. There were no injuries.
  • The Pvt. Joseph Merrill and Cornelius G. Kolff ferries were converted to prison dormitories for Riker’s Island.
  • In 1978, the American Legion crashed into the concrete seawall near the Statue of Liberty ferry port during a dense fog. 173 were injured.
  • Steam was used on the Staten Island ferries up until the 1980’s
  • On May 16, 1981, the American Legion was rammed in the fog by a Norwegian freighter.
  • July 7th, 1986 a mentally disturbed person (Juan Gonzalez) with a machete attacked passengers on a ferry. Two people were killed, and nine others were wounded.
  • On April 12th, 1995 The Ferry boat Barberi plowed into 4 slip in St. George due to a mechanical malfunction leaving 4 slip out of service and injuring a handful of passengers. The doors on the saloon deck were crushed by the aprons.
  • September 19th, 1997 a car drove off the Staten Island Ferry and plunged into the water as the boat was approaching the slip. The force of the impact on the car hitting the water blow out the rear windshield of the car. This rush of water also carried the driver of the car out the back windshield. One deck hand was knocked into the water by the scissor gates at the front of the boat as the car pushed them aside.
  • After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center the Staten Island Ferry transported tens of thousands of people out of lower Manhattan to safety on Staten Island. The captains docked the ferries under zero visibility as the smoke and debris from the collapses filled the sky. The following days passengers were not allowed on the ferries. The fleet was being used to transport emergency personnel and equipment. Since that day the Staten Island Ferry no longer carries cars.
  • October 15, 2003 at about 15:30 the ferry boat Andrew J. Barberi slammed into a maintenance pier at the Staten Island Maintenance Facility on Staten Island. 10 people died that day and an 11th person died two months later due to injuries from the accident.

Some Interesting Facts