Red & White Fleet
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Red and White Fleet is San Francisco’s original sightseeing provider and has been cruising the Bay since 1892. The family-owned fleet is located at Pier 43 ½ in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf and offers daily sailings under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz narrated in 12 languages. Red and White’s bay tours are a spectacular and convenient way for visitors to discover the City by the Bay.
The company offers a variety of scenic daytime and sunset tours of San Francisco. Red & White Fleet also offers some land based tour packages in concert with other suppliers and offers a number of charter packages, as well.
Tour packages include the Golden Gate Bridge, views of Alcatraz and sunset buffet cruises.
Overview Red and White Fleet was founded in 1892. The historic, family-owned business is renowned for its popular San Francisco Cruises. Red and White Fleet is committed to providing a one-of-a-kind San Francisco bay experience that creates memories of a lifetime. Additionally, the company’s core values are focused on its commitment to environmental sustainability and community education, for which the company has been honored and recognized many times over.
It all started in 1892 when seventeen-year-old Thomas Crowley launched the first of many companies, which would one day be a fixture of the San Francisco Bay. Using $80 he had saved, he purchased a used Whitehall boat, and in so doing entered the competitive boating business of the time. His inaugural boat was just eighteen feet long and less than five feet wide, and he rowed it alone through the waters of the bay.
Tom, like other boatmen in the area, transported not only miscellaneous goods and supplies, but also professionals whose work relied upon such travel. Serving the ship traffic twenty-four hours a day, Tom soon expanded his fleet to three Whitehalls.
Reinvesting his profits brought by the Whitehalls, Tom soon bought several gas-powered launches which were bigger, faster and more efficient than those upon which he had previously relied. This new company was incorporated in 1906, and was to be called the Crowley Launch and Tugboat Company.
During the 1906 earthquake the fleet transported some of the coin and dollar deposits for the Bank of Italy (now the Bank of America) vault from the burning City of San Francisco in milk cans to the Berkeley Pier.
However, in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, many ferry services halted their operations. Crowley's transportation services not only continued, but in fact increased, as his boats continually crossed the bay carrying people and their belongings from the battered streets of San Francisco. One of his launches actually anchored in the middle of the Bay, full of securities from several damaged banks.
Tom Crowley, through these times, continued the expansion of his business. With his purchase of the Piper-Aden company, he now controlled a fleet of scow-schooners, boats made specifically for the trafficking of materials such as grain, lumber and sand. Simultaneously, he entered into the tugboat business, competing with much larger companies such as Shipowners and Merchants Tugboat Company.
In 1913, planning started for the Panama Pacific International Exposition, a World's Fair to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. Crowley Launch and Tugboat Company played an integral role in the execution of the event, offering up manpower and equipment as supplies were taken to the Exposition. It also was Crowley's first attempt at offering consumer excursions on San Francisco Bay to visitors of the fair.
This included exclusive sightseeing excursions via ferry to the U.S. Battleship Oregon, which at the time docked in the bay. Two double-deck boats, the Crowley 17 and Crowley 18, were constructed for this purpose.
During World War I, Crowley’s vessels were used to carry goods between San Francisco, South America and Australia. In the years following the War, Crowley's influence in the boating and shipping industries in the Bay continued to flourish. He became the general manager of the Shipowners and Merchants Tugboat Company, once his primary competitor, and gained economic control of several other competing firms.
Crowley's passenger services continued to flourish, relying strongly upon tourists' desires to visit the several historic battleships docked in the Bay. When the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge were completed in the 1930s Crowley's fleet of ships offered breathtaking views of the bridges from the Bay below. In 1939, his vessels were also present at the Golden Gate International Exposition, as more than 17 million people came to view the magnificent bridges. This was the origin of Red and White Fleet's popular Golden Gate Bay Cruise, San Francisco's longest running narrated tour under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz.
In the late 1940s, Crowley repainted the vessels - red and white - and took the present name Red and White Fleet. New vessels were built and the fleet was expanded.
The ticket booth formerly located at Pier 16, was re-opened at Fisherman's Wharf and the sphere of passenger services was expanded. Throughout the 1950s, the fleet began its ferry service between San Francisco and Tiburon, and there was an increase in the frequency of sightseeing excursions on the Bay.
In 1960, Tom Escher, grandson of the founder and the present owner, started working as a sweeper and a mechanics helper on the vessels. New vessels were added, and in 1982 ferry services were initiated between Sausalito and Fisherman's Wharf.
In the immediate aftermath of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, Red and White Fleet provided free transportation to 15,000 stranded commuters and initiated new service routes with an expanded fleet.
In 1997, Tom Escher purchased Red and White Fleet to continue the family tradition of offering premiere San Francisco Cruises to visitors from around the world.
Red and White Fleet is ideally located in the center of San Francisco’s most popular destination. Steps from the landmark Fisherman’s Wharf sign, cruises leave from Pier 43½, which is right in the heart of Historic Fisherman’s Wharf at the foot of Taylor Street. Nearby attractions include USS Pampanito; Jeremiah O’Brien; Musee Mecahnique; Boudin Bakery; Wax Museum; Ripley’s Believe It Or Not; Franciscan Restaurant; and Scoma’s.
The Harbor King is Red and White Fleet’s smallest vessel with a capacity of up to 150 passengers. It became famous for its appearance in the Hollywood classic “The Birdman of Alcatraz.” Completely remodeled in 2006, the Harbor King is now in use for Red and White Fleet’s Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise and Golden Gate Bay Cruise. It is also available for private and corporate charters.
The Harbor Queen, one of Red and White Fleet’s two medium-sized vessels, has a capacity of up to 300 passengers. The vessel’s interiors underwent a complete remodel in 2007. The Harbor Queen is used mostly for the daily Golden Gate Bay Cruises, the California Sunset Cruise and also private and corporate events.
The Harbor Princess is also one of Red and White Fleet’s two medium-sized vessels and has a capacity of up to 300 passengers. The vessel’s interiors were remodeled in 2006 and the boat is used mostly for the daily Golden Gate Bay Cruises, the California Sunset Cruise and also private and corporate events.
The Royal Prince is Red and White Fleet’s largest vessel with a capacity of up to 400 passengers. This vessel offers three decks with ample viewing space for passengers. A complete remodel was completed in 2007and included two new engines. The Royal Prince is used mostly for the daily Golden Gate Bay Cruises, the California Sunset Cruise and also private and corporate events.
As the only San Francisco Bay tour company to offer audio tours in 12 languages, Red and White Fleet is the city’s original sightseeing company, celebrating its 120th anniversary in 2012. The company features three ongoing, distinct cruise options, namely the Golden Gate Bay Cruise; California Sunset Cruise; and the new Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise. Additionally, the fleet offers seasonal cruises for Mother’s Day, Fourth of July, San Francisco PRIDE and Fleet Week.
Original Golden Gate Bay Cruise Launched in 1939 as part of the Golden Gate International Exposition, the Golden Gate Bay cruise has been a highlight of any visit to San Francisco for more than 70 years. Passengers sail along San Francisco's breathtaking waterfront, under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, and cruise closely around notorious Alcatraz Island. Guests discover this city’s colorful history and world famous landmarks through personal headphone audio in 12 languages.
Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise Red and White Fleet launched the new bay tour in 2011, the only one of its kind. Introduced to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, passengers have the opportunity to cruise under both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge (which also celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2011). The cruise features these magnificent architectural wonders where the views are up close and personal. Includes headphone audio tour in 12 languages.
California Sunset Cruise and California Twilight Cruise These cruises run seasonally with the Sunset Cruise available from April to October and the Twilight Cruise available from November to March. Both of these options are casual two-hour tours where passengers enjoy views of the city’s spectacular nightscape, live guitar entertainment, hearty appetizers prepared by Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf chefs and a hot or cold beverage from the bar. Nestled into the warm and cozy atmosphere of Red and White Fleet’s historic ferry boats, passengers pass along the dramatically lit skyline of San Francisco.
Special Features of Red and White Fleet:
Audio Tour in 12 Languages: Red and White Fleet is San Francisco’s only bay tour operator to offer multilingual bay cruises. Twelve languages are available on both the Golden Gate Bay Tour and the Bridge 2 Bridge Tour in the following: English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Thai and Hindi.
Theme Events and Private Parties: Although Red and White Fleet can customize any private charter, the standard cruise line up already features such thematic parties as jazz and casino sailings; California Sunset & Twilight Cruises; Treasure Island Wine Cruises; Bollywood-Style Indian Sunset Cruises; and Weddings.
Private Transfers: Popular with corporate and non-profit groups, Red and White Fleet is available for private transfers from its home base at Pier 43½ to several other Bay Area ports of call, including Treasure Island, USS Hornett, Crane Way Pavilion, Angel Island and Sausalito.
Sailing Past San Francisco’s Historic Landmarks (Photo Tour Of San Francisco): While cruising on any one of Red and White Fleet’s primary cruises, passengers will enjoy the best panoramic views and photo opportunities that include, but are not limited to: San Francisco city skyline; Golden Gate Bridge; Bay Bridge; Alcatraz; Sausalito; Fort Mason; Angel Island; Treasure Island; AT&T Park; Fisherman’s Wharf; Aquatic Park; and Coit Tower.
Red and White Fleet’s Place In San Francisco History: Red and White Fleet is the original San Francisco bay tour company, started by local business icon, Thomas Crowley in 1892. The first vessel to transport passengers around the bay was a Whitehall rowboat (18–20 feet long). The company has gone on to serve millions of passengers over the last 120 years.
San Francisco’s Historical Family-Owned Landmarks: Red and White Fleet is one of the last local, family-owned hospitality icons. The original San Francisco bay tour company is in great company with such landmarks as: The Wax Museum; Scoma’s Restaurant; Musee Mechanique (mechanical museum); and Alioto’s.
Building Toward The Future (Fisherman’s Wharf): The goal of the Pier 43½ and promenade development project is to improve the public realm by removing most of Pier 43½, repairing and reconstructing the shoreline and existing seawall, constructing a pedestrian promenade, making sidewalk improvements and installing several small commercial enterprises (vendor carts and some outdoor dining).
Protecting The Environment: Red and White Fleet has earned great accolades for its conservation efforts, including the State of California’s WRAP award for 13+ years. The company’s practices support the protection of marine life and conservation of natural resources and shoreline. Initiatives include use of marine bio-diesels; beta testing use of alternative fuel; and working with local and state-wide agencies to implement new fuel sources for Bay Area vessels.
Corporate Culture: This family-owned business is unique in the Bay Area’s bay tour industry because the employees really matter. They are encouraged to take ownership for their individual roles and they feel valued. Above and beyond, the “crew’s” sense of value transcends financial goals. Additionally, Red and White Fleet’s objectives to cultivate community, preservation of local history and incorporate environmental sustainability are all important factors in the commitment the company has with its entire staff.
Inland Boatman’s Union (IBU): Red and White Fleet employees are members of the IBU and the company is supportive of the union’s objectives and initiatives.
- Red and White Fleet in the Movies --- “Birdman of Alcatraz” and Sean Connery’s and Nicolas Cage’s “The Rock” - Local Attractions --- Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Wax Museum, Boudin Bakery, USS Pompanito, Hyde Street Pier, Sausalito, Angel Island, California Academy of Sciences, etc. - San Francisco Travel
See also 
- The General Frank M. Coxe was a former United States Army ferry which was later operated by Golden Gate Scenic Steamships as a tour boat.
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