Citing Staffing Woes, Steamship Cuts Summer Fast Ferry Trips And Swaps Boats On Nantucket Route

Jason Graziadei •

Many vehicles, trucks, and passengers headed to Nantucket this summer will come aboard the freight boat, the M/V Sankaty, this summer due to changes prompted by a deck officer shortage. Photo credit: Cape Cod Times

Staffing issues have forced the Steamship Authority to once again reduce fast ferry service for the summer, and swap out its newest car ferry for one of the oldest freight boats in the Steamship's fleet on the Nantucket route.

The shuffling of ferry schedules disclosed Tuesday during the Steamship Authority's Board of Governors meeting will affect both the Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard routes and is being prompted by a shortage of licensed deck officers. It means vehicle and truck capacity on the Nantucket route will be reduced by approximately 7 percent for the summer.

"It's not ideal," Alison Fletcher, the Steamship’s director of shoreside operations, told the board on Tuesday.

To address the staffing shortages, the Steamship Authority's management team made the decision to run four boats on the Vineyard route instead of the usual five, taking the M/V Governor out of service. The domino effect of that move means Nantucket will lose the M/V Woods Hole as it moves to the Vineyard route for the summer, and the freight boat M/V Sankaty will take its place.

"It's an ugly but manageable situation because we will still have nine (car ferry) trips per day," said Nat Lowell, Nantucket's representative on the Steamship Authority's Port Council. "It will be painful but we'll get through it."

So instead of riding aboard the Steamship Authority's newest vehicle ferry, the M/V Woods Hole, to Nantucket this summer, many island residents and visitors will have to ride the 43-year-old freight boat, the M/V Sankaty, which has less passenger and vehicle capacity, and fewer amenities. 

And for the second summer in a row, the Steamship's last round-trip fast ferry of the day to Nantucket will also be canceled for the summer.

The real challenge - for both customers and Steamship Authority staff - comes with the swapping of the Woods Hole for the Sankaty on the Nantucket route.

"For the Hyannis-Nantucket route, just to put it as simply as I can, it's one semi (trailer) and one to two straights (box trucks) per trip, so six semis per day round trip that we're going to have to hopefully try to find new spots for them if we can," Fletcher said. "Which means if there's some car space on the M/V Eagle and we have enough center space to reallocate them to, then that's what we're going to do...We're going to do our best not to have bump cars and trucks and everyone else. We're going to try to get as much as we can in. Shoreside and vessel crews do an amazing job to maximize what we can on these boats within safe parameters."

The Steamship Authority's reservation office is in the process of rebooking customers affected by the schedule changes. All trips on the Sankaty and the Woods Hole are currently unavailable for booking while that process is underway.

"It's not going to be an easy process for us to do this correctly, we have to go back and look at everyone's packets which the truckers submitted, and basically redo the entire truck reservations - potentially by hand," Fletcher added. "It's going to affect a majority of them (shippers)."

While raising questions and concerns about the situation, the Steamship Authority board voted unanimously Tuesday morning to approve the schedule changes, which will be in effect from June 17 through Sept. 5, 2024.

While there had been hope that one of the Steamship Authority's recently acquired freight boats, the M/V Barnstable, would be in service on the Nantucket route by June, general manager Bob Davis confirmed Tuesday that it will not be in service until after Labor Day. 

Hazlegrove 7883
The M/V Woods Hole will be on the Vineyard route instead of the Nantucket route this summer due to the staffing issues.Photo by Cary Hazlegrove |
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