The Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority

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The Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority
MV Sankaty.jpg
Area servedCape Cod and the Islands
LocaleSoutheastern Massachusetts
Transit typeFerry
Number of lines2
Chief executiveRobert B. Davis (General Manager)
HeadquartersOne Railroad Avenue, Woods Hole, MA 02543
Began operation1960 (1960)[1]
Number of vehicles9 ferry vessels[2]

The Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority, referred to colloquially as The Steamship Authority or simply the SSA, is the statutory regulatory body for all ferry operations to and from the islands from the Massachusetts mainland, as well as being an operator of ferry service from the mainland Cape Cod to the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and the only ferry operator to carry automobiles to the islands.[3] The Authority also operates several freight vessels, thus serving as the main link for shipping any commercial goods to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket that are not transported by air.


The Steamship Authority's former terminal in Woods Hole, razed in 2018.

The present Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority was formed from the New Bedford, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamboat Co., which in turn was a consolidation of earlier companies dating to the early 19th century, just before the railroad arrived. Early steamers included the Marco Bozzaris, Telegraph, Massachusetts, George Law, Naushon, Helen Augusta, Metacomet (1854), Canonicus (1856), Eagle's Wing (1854–1861), Monohansett, River Queen, Island Home, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Gay Head, Uncatena, Sankaty, Nobska, New Bedford, Naushon, Mercury, and Hackensack. The motor vessel MV Islander retired in 2007.[4] The last steamship in regular service was the SS Nobska which ran the Woods Hole to Nantucket route until the early 1970s.

In 2007, it was reported that the Steamship Authority ferries were dumping sewage into Nantucket Sound, along with other seafaring vessels. From 2011 forward the SSA converted its vessels with holding tanks for all sewage effluent, to be discharged into new pumping facilities at each port.[citation needed]

Service to Martha's Vineyard[edit]

Frequent passenger and auto ferry service is operated to the Martha's Vineyard towns of Vineyard Haven year round, and to Oak Bluffs from Memorial Day to Labor Day from the mainland terminal in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Sailing time is approximately 45 minutes to both Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. In early 2001, the SSA purchased the 130-foot MV Schamonchi, along with the New Bedford-Martha's Vineyard route. They operated passenger-only service on this route until 2003, and generated operating losses of about $800,000 per year in the three years that it operated the route. The ferry has since been sold, and a year-round high-speed catamaran service is now operated between New Bedford and Vineyard Haven and seasonally to Oak Bluffs by The New England Fast Ferry Company[5]

Ferry cancellations of 2018[edit]

During the first four months of 2018, 549 ferry trips have been cancelled between Martha’s Vineyard and Falmouth due to mechanical problems on the ferry boats. The majority of the mechanical problems occurred on the Woods Hole-Vineyard Haven route. The rate of cancellations in 2018 is approximately 15 times the yearly average of breakdowns and cancellations.[6]

Service to Nantucket[edit]

Year round passenger and auto ferry, as well as freight service is operated to Nantucket from the mainland terminal in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Sailing time to Nantucket takes approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. A one-hour, passenger only catamaran service, is operated with the new (2006) MV Iyanough from mid April through late December from Hyannis to Nantucket.

On the night of June 16, 2017, Iyanough crashed into a jetty in Hyannis harbor, injuring nine passengers.[7][8][9]

Massachusetts regulatory body[edit]

In addition to running ferry service, the Steamship Authority (hence the name) also regulates many commercial aspects of ferry operations to and from the Islands, those that are not regulated by the US Coast Guard.[1] All scheduled passenger ferry operations to and from the Islands must, by law, be approved by the Steamship Authority.[1] This generally precludes any ferry service that would directly compete with the Steamship Authority, essentially giving it a legal monopoly on all auto ferry service to the Islands. However, approval has been granted to other companies to operate smaller passenger ferry operations to the islands, including Freedom Cruises (Harwich Port to Nantucket), Seastreak (New Bedford to Oak Bluffs), the New England Fast Ferry (North Kingstown, Rhode Island to Oak Bluffs), the Pied Piper Edgartown Ferry (Falmouth to Edgartown). Hy-Line Cruises (Hyannis, Nantucket, and Oak Bluffs) and the Island Queen (Falmouth to Oak Bluffs) are allowed to provide certain services as grandfathered carriers due to their existence prior to the SSA's creation. Additional services provided by Hy-Line are licensed by the SSA. Seasonal ferries between Provincetown and Boston and Plymouth do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Authority.


The Authority currently operates nine vessels.[2] Four of these are auto/passenger ferries featuring roll-on/roll-off ramps for cars traveling to the islands, as well as climate-controlled seating and a bar and concession stand for passengers. The fifth vessel, the MV Iyanough (built in 2007) is a passenger-only catamaran operating fast ferry 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph) one-hour service between Hyannis and Nantucket. - MV Island Home, built in 2007 - MV Iyanough, built in 2007 - MV Martha's Vineyard, built in 1993 - MV Eagle, built in 1987 - MV Nantucket, built in 1974 - MV Woods Hole, built in 2016

Four of the other ferries are open-top roll-on/roll-off ferries, primarily for larger trucks and freight. However, ordinary passengers taking vehicles to the islands are usually permitted to travel on them, space permitting. - MV Katama, built in 1981, acquired by SSA in 1988 - MV Gay Head - MV Sankaty, built in 1981, acquired by SSA in 1994 - MV Governor, built in 1954, acquired by SSA in 1998

Steamship Authority powered vessels serving Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket
Image Vessel Island Service Began Island Service Ended Notes
Eagle 1818 1818
Connecticut 1824 1828
Hamilton 1828 1828
Marco Bozzaris 1829 1832
Telegraph 1832 1857 aka Nebraska
Massachusetts 1842 1858
Naushon 1846 1848 Renamed News Boy after sale.
Osceola 1848
Eagle's Wing 1854 1861
Metacomet 1854 1857
Souv-Island Home.jpg Island Home 1855 c. 1895
Jersey Blue 1856 1857
HSL-s70203-Monohansett maybe at West Chop Wharf.jpg Monohansett 1862 c. 1902
Souv-Martha's Vineyard.jpg Martha's Vineyard 1871 c. 1920
Hsl-River queen-neg.jpg River Queen 1871 1893
Island Belle 1876 Renamed Coskata
Hsl-mv5032.jpg Nantucket 1886 after 1905
Mv5035-Steamer Gay Head.jpg Gay Head 1891 1924
Hsl-pc-steamboat pier and Uncatena pre-1908.jpg Uncatena 1902 1928 Last sidewheeler.
Hsl-Sankaty-neg.jpg Sankaty 1911 1924 Renamed Charles A. Dunning after sale.
Islander 1923 1956 Renamed Martha's Vineyard in 1928.[10]
Nobska gov.jpg Nobska 1925 1973 Renamed Nantucket, then Nobska. Whistle now in use on the Eagle.[10]
New Bedford 1928 1942 Participated in Atlantic Convoys during WWII
Nantucket 1928 1957 Previously Nobska
Naushon 1929 1942 Participated in Atlantic Convoys during WWII
Gay Head (LSM 286) 1947
Hackensack 1947 c. 1951 First double-ender. Renamed Islander.
Islander 2009.JPG MV Islander 1950 2007 First diesel.
MV Naushon Sept 1979.jpg SS Nantucket 1957 1987 [11] Renamed Naushon in 1973[11] or 1974[10].
MV Uncatena 1965 1993 Lengthened by 52 feet in 1971.[10]
Auriga 1973 c. 1989
MV Nantucket August 2017.png MV Nantucket 1974 Present
MV Eagle.jpg Eagle 1987 Present
MV Katama.jpg MV Katama 1988 Present
Gay Head 1989 Present Built 1981 by Moss Point Marine (Escatawpa, Miss), converted 1987 by McDermott Shipyard (Morgan City, La.)
Martha's Vineyard 1993 Present
MV Sankaty.jpg Sankaty 1994 Present
MV Governor 2014.png MV Governor 1998 Present Former Governor's Island ferry
Flying Cloud 2000 2007 Catamaran Fast Ferry, now Gran Cacique IV in Venezuela.
Schamonchi 2001 2003 Built in 1978, operated privately before being acquired by the Steamship Authority. Later sold into private ownership.[12][13]
MV Island Home.jpg MV Island Home 2007 Present
MV Iyanough 2007 Present Catamaran Fast Ferry, Named after Hyannis sachem Iyannough
MV Woods Hole 2016 Present


  1. ^ a b c "About". The Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Vessels". The Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  3. ^ The Steamship Authority, Serving the Islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Archived 2012-12-30 at the Wayback Machine.. Official website.
  4. ^ Seccombe, Mike (March 2, 2007). One Ferry Begins, Another Ends: Events Run Through Monday. Vineyard Gazette Online.
  5. ^ Kinsella, James (July 5, 2005). An Old Ferry Sails to New York; Schamonchi Reborn as Party Boat. Vineyard Gazette Online.
  6. ^ Rocheleau, Matt (2018-05-11). "Cancellations on Martha's Vineyard ferry skyrocket". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2018-05-11.
  7. ^ "Ferry crashes in Hyannis Harbor - The Boston Globe".
  8. ^ "At least nine people were injured in a high-speed ferry crash in Massachusetts". 17 June 2017.
  9. ^ "At least six injured after ferry crashes into jetty in Mass".
  10. ^ a b c d "Final Chapter: The Islander and Other Bygone Ferries". (August 1, 2010). Martha's Vineyard Magazine.
  11. ^ a b "Steam-Powered Ferry Makes Its Final Run". (October 31, 1987). The Boston Globe.
  12. ^ "Final Chapter: The Islander and Other Bygone Ferries". (August 1, 2010). Martha's Vineyard Magazine.
  13. ^ "Steamship Authority Will Buy Schamonchi; Deal Opens Door to New Bedford Service". (January 11, 2001). Vineyard Gazette.

Further reading[edit]

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