staten island ferry: the John F. Kennedy

Posted in PIW person in water, staten island ferry by bowsprite on 2010/10/19

The John F. Kennedy is the oldest ferry in service in the harbor, making the 5.2-mile (8.4-km) run between Staten Island and Manhattan Island in approximately 25 minutes. She’s a beautiful old double-ender with propellers and rudders on both ends. The propellers are connected by a continuous shaft to the engines in the center of the vessel. When going forward, the rear prop pushes, the front pulls, and the forward-facing rudder, is locked into place by a pin which goes through the deck and into a hold in the center-forward section of the rudder quadrant.

forward, the pin is down:

aft, the pin is up (it weighs 90lbs)

The deckhand had just pushed the pin in, the ferry moved out of the slip. “Twenty years! This friday will be my twentieth anniversary of working here. Doesn’t seem that long. No, I’m not taking off, I’ll be here working.

“The funniest story? well, it was actually kind of sad. We were fueling and doing drills, right over there, so we were at the fueling dock. A woman jumps into the water. Well, it’s no problem, we got the lifeboat in the water, so we get over there.

“I tell you, she must have weighed about 350 lbs. And guess what she was wearing? It was summer, probably July. Guess! Spa-a-a-ndex. She was wearing Spandex. We were pulling and pulling— it was not a pretty sight—and we just could not get her into the boat.  So we had to drag her along over the side, over to the pier. Yeah, she was fine, but she was fighting us, so we had to knock her out. But she survived. I told you: funny, but kinda sad.”

Happy 20th anniversary on the Staten Island ferries, dear Sir, and thank you!!

John F. Kennedy

Commission Date: 1965
Builder: Levingston Shipbuilding, TX
Length: 277′ (84.4m)
Width: 69′ (21m)
Draft: 19’1″ (5.8m)
Gross Tonnage: 2109
service speed: 16 knots (30 km/h)
crew: 13
Passengers: 3500 / (40 vehicles, pre 9/11)
Propulsion: Diesel Electric 600 volts DC
Engines: GM-EMD-567C16 (x4)
Horsepower: 6500 (4.8 MW)

29 Responses

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  1. tugster said, on 2010/10/20 at 06:26

    remember when staten island ferries were painted white? well, that hasn’t happened since 1926. the ferry company adopted the color you render soooo well here, since municipal orange makes them more visible in fog and snow. orange . . . safety or municipal … failed to prevent a collision in 1981. what i’d love to see is a staten island ferry in delivery . . . like on the Gulf of Mexico coming from the shipyard in Texas or another one of the ferries in Montreal on its way from the yard in Wisconsin. i love the drawing!

  2. Michael said, on 2010/10/20 at 07:56

    I remember the story when a whale had parked itself in the ferry lane, bringing ferry traffic to a halt. Some official (ferry exec? harbor master) told the captain to bump the whale to get it to move. The captain refused, instantly becoming a folk hero. For me, anyway.

    Ya gotta love the working man who won’t bump a whale…that’s what I say.

    Also…Spalding Gray R.I.P.

  3. Mage Bailey said, on 2010/10/20 at 09:25

    As usual, you knock me out. How wonderful the drawing, and look at that pin. Wow. I’ll come back again and again to see this….and read the story. Thank you.

  4. O Docker said, on 2010/10/20 at 13:29

    Love the sketch, but also the photo with all of the verticals, which lead the eye, eventually, to the green lady, who is remarkable for having remained vertical for all of these years.

    My favorite green lady joke is Woody Allen’s, which I won’t repeat here.

  5. Buck said, on 2010/10/21 at 09:24

    I’ve never taken the SI Ferry. Your drawing makes me want to. I want to ask the deck hand how the rudder is actuated. The connections to the steering must be disconnected somehow, or the steering would jam due to the pin.

    The story is sad and funny. Life guards are trained to be careful of those they’re rescuing. Panic makes people dangerous.

    Love this!

  6. Cold is the Sea said, on 2010/10/21 at 20:02

    Taking the Staten Island Ferry was one of the first things I did when I moved to NYC. Illustrator Stuart Leeds took a bunch of us Parsons kids aboard for a ride. I think I remember being shocked and impressed there was a snack bar aboard. Boy was I a green hand back then…

  7. Vagabonde said, on 2010/10/21 at 20:48

    When we went to NYC in 2008 we took the SI Ferry but I don’t know which one it was. Last week we watched several ferries from the pier and I took photographs. I don’t know if I’ll be able to tell which one it is this time. Also I like the flag that looks like the French flag from a distance, bleu blanc rouge – are those the Staten Island colors too? Or are they just Francophile?

    • paul said, on 2011/03/19 at 14:41

      They told me 3/12 that the JFK was in the shipyard. Does anyone know what shipyard and if they are going to bring it back?

      • john johnson said, on 2012/07/01 at 20:22

        norfolk va.I saw her this morning.07/01/12.

  8. billcanoe said, on 2010/10/21 at 21:05

    ferry launch in Wisconsin see:

    WWII submarine launch in Wisconsin see:

  9. Dennis @ Marine Electronics said, on 2010/10/21 at 21:13

    Is having a rudder system where having propellers both at the front and the back a rare thing? I would not have thought of a vessel having such a setup. Is there a need to reverse one rudder if the rudder on the opposite side of the boat can go into operation?

  10. […] 22, 2010 in Blogroll, Delaware watershed, Moran, New York harbor, Salish Sea, ferry, photos Bowsprite’s rendering of the orange aka ġeolurēad Staten Island ferry John F. Kennedy feels like a sip of warm cider on […]

  11. Tommy Krenshaw said, on 2010/10/23 at 04:51

    I’ve spent a lot of time on the Staten Island Ferry, and I think it is a unique piece of NYC history (like many people).

    Thanks again…. you’ve managed to work your way onto my favorites list. Love this blog.

  12. […] For a close-up view of another New York City ferry, click here. […]

  13. Mage Bailey said, on 2010/11/03 at 08:56

    I was waving at you as you headed north through the locks into the cold.

  14. […] sixth boro:  mild weather and 60+ degree temperature won’t last long.  Chat outside on the JFK, […]

  15. Wndlass said, on 2010/12/06 at 05:50

    I must say “staten island ferry” is so old but so beautiful. Nice found with lot of details. Indeed a interesting post.

  16. Medyum said, on 2011/03/31 at 10:25

    I must say “staten island ferry” is so old but so beautiful. Nice found with lot of details. Indeed a interesting post.

  17. John ( Marine Supplier) said, on 2011/04/15 at 06:34

    I would say its a nice boat STATER ISLAND FERRY.

  18. Ecositebuilder said, on 2011/09/21 at 02:15

    350 lb A beautiful weight 🙂

  19. Apoto said, on 2012/04/10 at 01:42

    This is an awosme post I also like to have practical feel on this boat

  20. Clarence.R.Stephenson said, on 2012/07/06 at 08:16

    I was 14 years old when this ferry was side-launched at Levingston shipyard in Orange, Texas. My father Norman D. Stephenson Sr.(a true man of steel) was the a layout-man on this project. It was a proud day in the USA to watch it hit the water.

  21. Wayne Currie said, on 2012/10/01 at 11:14

    I personally helped to build this ferry along with two other ferries: John F. Kennedy, Herbert H. Lehman, and the American Legion beginnig around 1964 until they left the shipyard (Levingston) in Orange Texas. This was a memorable experience for me. I’ve never been on one of them while in service, but have seen them many times in movies, tv, etc.

  22. boat safety course said, on 2012/11/04 at 02:59

    I will immediately seize your rss feed as I can’t in finding your email subscription link or newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Kindly allow me recognize in order that I may just subscribe. Thanks.

  23. ron woodard said, on 2013/01/01 at 23:28

    What was the Christening about the JFK Ferry boat like? Who was present? Are there picture? What are further unexpected stories associated (folklore, myths, tabloid)?


    • Wayne Currie said, on 2013/01/02 at 11:57

      Boy, this goes back 48 years ago. The ferries (3) were launched on side launching skids. It made a spectacular launching scene with water being thrown up and out on the leading side. I don’t know who was there for the launch. Typically dignitaries representing the owners and architects and maybe political figures would be there. Typically a lady dignitary would perform the christening. There were three of these ferries, The Herbert H. Lehman, the John F. Kennedy, and the American Legion. It was a proud day at the shipyard when it was announced we had secured the contract to build these vessels. I was a young man just starting my career in shipbuilding. I made 20 years at Levingston and was laid off when the shipyard was closed in 1983 due to severe economic downturn. One unique feature of the ferries is the main or car deck down was constructed of carbon steel and everything above the car deck was constructed of aluminum. They were beautiful ferries and were the pride of Levingston Shipbuilding.

  24. Dwight Barron said, on 2015/01/03 at 23:35

    My name Is Dwight Barron. I worked on the John F Kennedy in 1965. I was part of the paint crew. We put the finishing touches on just before it sailed, heading for New York.

  25. Frank Nachman said, on 2015/02/17 at 14:04

    The specifications above state the propeller at each end of the boat are directly connected to the diesel engines. Unless they made some major changes, the boat was built as a diesel electric, each of the 4 diesel engines driving a DC generator. At each end of the boat there are 4 DC motors connected to a large gear box that drive the propeller at each end. The propeller pushing moves the boat forward and the front propeller rotates in the opposite direction to reduce drag. Electrically the four (4) DC generators and and eight (4) DC motors, four (40) at each end, are connected in a loop by large electrical cables. I was told the marine architects did not want any electrical contactors / relays in the main power loop for safety reasons, eliminating any potential failures of said contactors /relays.

    As a young engineer for EMD my job was to calculate the boat’s horsepower during the sea trials. A nice the ride down the Sabine River out into the Gulf of Mexico, a few visits to the sumptuous sea food buffet on board for the officials of the New York Port Authority before the sea trials started and I had to go to work.

    It was a good gig.

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