Each year, hundreds of thousands of passengers rely on the Fire Island ferry to carry them from Long Island’s South Shore to Fire Island’s beaches.
Since 1948, the Fire Island Ferries company has seen changes in ownership, rough seas and a controversy or two, but the motors start each day, ready to travel across the Great South Bay as the largest of three of Long Island’s long-standing ferry providers.
In interviews, the company’s owners and employees shared their memories of the 70 years that transformed the ferry from ragtag salvage boats running from Bay Shore to Ocean Beach to a modern fleet that serves eight Fire Island communities.
Watch the videos below to find out more about the ferry’s past and test your Fire Island knowledge with reporters Laura Blasey and Rachelle Blidner and Fire Island Ferries president Timothy Mooney.
How did the ferry get started?
In 1947, founders Elmer Patterson, Bill White and Ed Davis won a bid to operate the Ocean Beach ferry terminal because the original ferry operator failed to submit one after 25 years in business, company officials said. Watch Laura Blasey explain.
What kinds of boats made up the first fleet?
Founder Elmer Patterson scrambled to put a fleet together. Among the vessels he salvaged were Prohibition-era rum runners, upgraded with surplus engines from the military. Watch Timothy Mooney describe the fleet.
How did the original fleet operate?
The ferry originally didn’t have a schedule. The boats continually made trips between shores, but sometimes service was canceled abruptly because the boats lacked equipment to navigate in foggy or icy weather, ferry officials said. Rachelle Blidner shares the ferry’s past.
Did any of the ferries sink?
Fire Island Ferries is proud of its record of never having to abandon ship, but it came close in 1976, when the Fire Island Queen got stuck on a sandbar in the Captree channel, according to Edwin Mooney Jr.’s book, “Ferries to Fire Island: 1856-2003.” Rachelle Blidner explains.
How did the Fire Island Ferries expand?
For the May 1, 1948 maiden voyage, there was only one destination: Ocean Beach. Today, the company carries passengers to eight Fire Island communities. Watch Timothy Mooney share more.
Which celebrities have been spotted onboard?
Even for celebrities, the ferry was the preferred way to travel to Fire Island. Famous faces aboard the boats included Marilyn Monroe, Liz Claiborne, Martin Luther King Jr., Milton Berle, Ethel Merman and Joseph Heller, ferry officials said. Laura Blasey explains.
How did the company find enough parking as they expanded?
Open space along the Great South Bay is hard to find. The founders had to create their own by dredging and filling a channel on unused swampland before the current Bay Shore terminal opened in 1952, Timothy Mooney said. Rachelle Blidner has the answer.
What name were unruly passengers given last year?
When company officials canceled the 1 a.m. boat from Ocean Beach in 2017, they placed the blame on drunken customers in a company Facebook post. The passengers got into fights and increased security costs, the company said. Watch Rachelle Blidner explain.
What’s the “death boat”?
When the weekend ends, so does the vacation for 9-to-5 workers. The first ferry back to Bay Shore left at 5:50 a.m. in the summer, earning it the nickname “death boat” from ferry employees, Edwin Mooney Jr. said. Watch Laura Blasey explain.
Produced by Laura Blasey