San Francisco Bay Ferryboats - Today

by Joe Thompson

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Introduction

Ferry Terminal logo San Francisco Ferry Terminal logo at new Gate E. November 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferry Building Sign Sign at the Ferry Building directing passengers to their boats. October, 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferry Building Sign One month later. Sign at the Ferry Building directing passengers to their boats after Gate E opened. November, 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Modern ferry service on San Francisco Bay began in 1968 when the Red and White Fleet introduced ferry service from Tiburon to San Francisco. Many new services have started since then, encouraged by deteriorating traffic conditions and the occasional natural disaster.

Ferry Building Departure Board A departure board installed in the Ferry Building in early 2013. February, 2013. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Gate # Ferry Building Gate E, used by the Alameda/Oakland, Alameda Harbor Bay Ferries and the Google Ferry. January 2014. Photo by Joe Thompson.

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North Bay Services

Tiburon/San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District took over the San Francisco to Tiburon ferry service formerly operated by the Blue and Gold Fleet in early 2017.

At San Francisco's Ferry Building, the operation moved from Gate B, shared with the Vallejo Ferry, to Golden Gate's own terminal, Gate D.

Tiburon rider sign A sign at Gate B warns Tiburon ferry riders that the operation has moved to Golden Gate's gate D. April 2017. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Tiburon/Sausalito sign A sign at Gate D directs Tiburon and Sausalito ferry riders to different areas. April 2017. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Tiburon sign A sign at Gate D gives the schedule and fares for Golden Gate's new Tiburon service and its long-running Sausalito service. April 2017. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Sausalito/San Francisco

Ferry Golden Gate Ferry Golden Gate approaches the Sausalito ferry landing. September 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferry Golden Gate Ferry Golden Gate at the Sausalito ferry landing. September 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Two companies currently offer ferry service from Sausalito to San Francisco.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District was formed in 1923 to build the Golden Gate Bridge. As traffic worsened during the 1960's, the bridge district decided that ferry service should be part of Golden Gate Transit.

Golden Gate Ferry service from Sausalito to San Francisco began in 1970, using MV Golden Gate. All service operates from the Ferry Building to a pontoon terminal in Sausalito.

Ferry Bay Flyer Blue and Gold Ferry Bay Flyer at the Sausalito ferry landing. September 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The Red & White Fleet launched mid-day tourist service to from Pier 43 1/2 Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco to Sausalito in 1982. Blue and Gold took over this service in 1997 and began operating it from Pier 39. They share the Sausalito landing with Golden Gate ferries.

Larkspur/San Francisco

Ferry Sonoma Ferry Sonoma arriving at the Ferry Building from Larkspur. August 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferry Sonoma Ferry Sonoma just arrived at the Ferry Building from Larkspur. August 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District offers ferry service from Larkspur Landing to San Francisco. The service started in 1976, offering 35 minute service over the 12 mile route, provided by three 25-knot gas turbine-powered, water jet propelled, aluminum monohull boats (San Francisco, Sonoma, and Marin). The schedule was almost immediately lengthened when people complained of wake damage in the Larkspur channel. The steep jump in fuel prices in the late 1970's caused Golden Gate to convert from the gas turbine/water jet propulsion to more economical but slower diesel/propeller propulsion. The boats could only run at 20 knots. Crossing time increased from 35 to 45 minutes and ridership dropped. Ridership has grown again over the years as the service proved reliable and traffic worsened on Highway 101.

The complex at Larkspur Landing including the Ferry Division offices and repair facilities.

High speed catamaran Del Norte (325 passengers) went into service in 1998, and was joined by Mendocino (408 passengers) on 10-Sep-2001. Each can do 36 knots and can cover the Larkspur run in 30 minutes.

Ferries San Francisco and Mendocino Ferries San Francisco and Mendocino at the Ferry Building. San Francisco has just arrived from Larkspur and Mendocino is a new high speed boat just arrived from the shipyard. August 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferries San Francisco and Mendocino New high speed catamaran ferry Mendocino moored at the Ferry Building before entering service. August 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

High speed catamaran ferries Napa and Golden Gate started life as Washington State Ferries' Snohomish and Chinook. Washington State Ferries mothballed its passenger-only ferries in 2007 and Golden Gate Ferries acquired the sisters in 2009.

Ferry Napa/1 High speed catamaran ferry Napa backs away from the Ferry Building. January 2013. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferries Mendocino and Intintoli High speed catamaran ferry Mendocino prepares to leave the Ferry Building for Larkspur. In the background, high speed catamaran ferry Intintoli has just arrived from Vallejo. May 2014. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferry Intintoli High speed catamaran ferry Intintoli at the Ferry Building after a trip from Vallejo. I like the way you can see between the twin hulls. May 2014. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Vallejo/San Francisco

Ferry Intintoli Ferry Intintoli approaches Pier 1/2 at the Ferry Building. April 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Vallejo Baylink currently offers ferry service from Vallejo to San Francisco. High speed catamarans Mare Island and Intintoli perform most of the service. Lower-speed boat Vallejo serves as a backup. The company offers weekend service from San Francisco to the Marine World amusement park, via a connecting bus from Vallejo. Until 2001, the company offered weekend service from Vallejo to Angel Island State Park.

Ferry Intintoli leaving Ferry Intintoli backing out of Pier 1/2. April 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferry Intintoli sailing Ferry Intintoli turns towards Vallejo after leaving the Ferry Building. April 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferry Mare Island Ferry Mare Island lays over at the Ferry Building. May 2013. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferry Mare Island BART's Transbay Tube was closed for trackwork over two weekends in August and September, 2015. This sign, by Gate B at the Ferry Building, give schedules for extra ferry service to Vallejo. September 2015. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Angel Island Ferries

Two companies currently offer ferry service to the state park on Angel Island.

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East Bay Services

Alameda/Oakland/San Francisco

Encinal Ferry Encinal at new Gate E. November 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Peralta New high speed catamaran Peralta backing out of Gate E. December 10, 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Red & White fleet started ferry service from the San Francisco Ferry Building to Jack London Square, Oakland and Alameda as an emergency measure when the 19-Oct-1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake closed the Bay Bridge. The route is currently covered by the Alameda/Oakland Ferry, a publicly subsidized public transit system operated by the City of Alameda and the Port of Oakland.

Alameda Terminal Alameda/Oakland ferry terminal in Alameda. March 2004. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Catamarans Encinal and Peralta cover the five mile route in 35 minutes from Oakland, and 20 from Alameda during rush hour. Two miles of the route, through the Alameda Estuary, have to be run at low speed because of wake restrictions. Encinal can do 25-knots and carry 388 passengers. Peralta, which went into service on 07-Dec-2001 can do 26-knots and carry 344 passengers.

In October 2001, service shifted from Pier 1/2 North of the Ferry Building to the new South Terminal, Gate E.

Some time after running over a sailboat on 13-Sep-2003, Peralta was taken out of service for work. She is due to return in Spring, 2004.

On 10-Oct-2003, I saw a catamaran boat named Klondike Express practising landings at Gate E. She is an Alaskan boat used for glacier cruises. She was leased to fill in for Peralta. Like Peralta, she is an InCat design, built by Nichols Brothers.

Oakland Ferry landing The ferry landing at the Pier 1 1/2 at the north end of the Ferry Building. It was used by Alameda/Oakland ferries until October, 2001. Vallejo and Tiburon ferries continued to use it. August 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Klondike Express practising Alameda/Oakland leased Alaska cruise boat Klondike Express to fill in while Peralta II was in for servicing. Here she practices landings at Gate E. 10-Oct-2003. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Klondike Express Another view of Klondike Express on a practise run. 10-Oct-2003. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Alameda/Oakland/South San Francisco

Eastbay Ferry, formerly known as Oakland-Alameda Ferry, started a new service from Alameda and Oakland to the Oyster Point Marina in South San Francisco on 04-June-2012. This is a rare operation that does not touch San Francisco. A report in the 17-March-2013 San Francisco Chronicle says that ridership on the is far below projections.

Harbor Bay/San Francisco

Harbor Bay Terminal Harbor Bay Ferry terminal in Alameda. March 2004. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Traffic remediation requirements for a new development led to the Harbor Bay ferry service, using the high-speed catamaran "Bay Breeze".

Richmond/San Francisco

Ferry service from Richmond to San Francisco died on 22-Nov-2000.

See the bibliography for more details.

Alcatraz Island Ferries

The Blue and Gold Fleet currently offers ferry service to the national park on Alcatraz.

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Google Ferry

Gate # The Google Ferry shared Gate E at the Ferry Building with the Alameda/Oakland and Alameda Harbor Bay Ferries. January 2014. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Google met with controversy for chartering private buses to carry its tech workers from San Francisco to Redwood Shores. In January, 2014, they added a private ferry from San Francisco to the Port of Redwood City, with connecting buses to Redwood Shores. This was announced as an experiment.

Google chartered catamaran M/V Triumphant for the service. The boat will make two trips south in the morning and two trips north in the afternoon. The trip takes about 47 minutes. The initial permit was for 30 days.

In light of controversies about their buses blocking Muni stops, a Google spokesperson said that the ferry will not interfere with any public ferry operations.

From the All-American Marine website (http://www.allamericanmarine. com/): "The M/V Triumphant is an 83í hydrofoil-assisted catamaran featuring the Teknicraft Design signature hull shape. The vessel carries 150 passengers on harbor cruises, whale watching tours, and special dinner/cocktail event cruises. The vessel is complemented with stadium-style cushioned seating on the fore deck, upper deck perimeter seating, and aft upper deck seating near the outdoor bar. The main cabin and upper deck Captainís VIP Lounge feature Beurteaux lounge seating."

The Google Ferry test service ended in early February, 2014.

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Facebook Ferry

In February, 2014, Facebook started a private ferry from Pier 40 in San Francisco to the Port of Redwood City, with connecting buses to Menlo Park, to allow its tech workers to avoid traffic on 101. This was a 90-day pilot program.

Facebook contracted with Tideline Marine Group, a water taxi service, to operate the route using one of their catamarans, the 30-passenger New El Dorado III. The boat will make one trip south in the morning and one norh in the afternoon, only on Tuesdays and Thursday.

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Service to Pac Bell Park and Candlestick Point

1914 Larkspur Ferry

China Basin Terminal The ferry landing at Pac Bell Park. July 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

When the San Francisco Giants' new Pacific Bell Park opened in the 2000 baseball season, it was easily accessable by ferry.

Ferry Bay Flyer Blue and Gold Ferry Bay Flyer at the Pac Bell Park ferry landing. September 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Golden Gate Ferry Golden Gate ferry at the Pac Bell Park ferry landing. September 2001. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Ferries at Ballpark A Golden Gate Spalding ferry and an Alameda/Oakland ferry at the Pac Bell Park ferry landing. July 2013. Photo by Joe Thompson.

1914 Larkspur Ferry A Golden Gate Ferry graphic promotes taking the Larkspur Ferry to the game.

Some companies offered ferry service to 49'ers games at Candelstick Park. They played their last game there in 2013.

See bibliography for more details.

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Auto Ferries in the Delta

There used to be many small ferries in the Sacramento River Delta. Most have been replaced by bridges or abandoned. Five operate today, but only two are really open to the public. Three have one terminal on private property.

Real McCoy Ferry Real McCoy crosses Cache Slough. February 2004. Photo by Joe Thompson.

I wrote this after visiting the Delta ferries in 2004. The Real McCoy was replaced in 2011. The Real McCoy, built in 1945, crosses Cache Slough from a point near Rio Vista to Ryer Island. The Real McCoy is a free running Diesel-powered boat that makes the short trip on demand. People claim that it is the oldest piece of equipment used by CalTrans. There is room on deck for 6-8 vehicles, but I was the only passenger the day I rode.

Real McCoy at terminal Ferry Real McCoy at the landing on the Rio Vista side. February 2004. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The new Real McCoy, which went into service in early 2011, has so far proved to be undependable. Its unusual hydraulic propulsion system has had many problems. Real McCoy II was built by Nichols Brothers.

J-Mac Ferry J-Mac crossing Steamboat Slough. February 2004. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The J-Mac, built in 1966, crosses Steamboat Slough at the other side of Ryer Island. It also operates on-demand. It is Diesel-powered but cable-drawn. It has room for 4 vehicles, but I was again the only passenger. The ferry had shut down the week before because a bad storm had put a lot of debris in the river, which could have snagged the cable. Real McCoy had continued to run. I remarked to the operator on the beautiful scenery. He said it was less interesting after the first few hundred times he saw it.

J-Mac end view An end-on view of ferry J-Mac pulling itself across Steamboat Slough. Note the cable in the foreground. February 2004. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The other ferries which are not open to the public are cable-drawn ferries across Little Connection Slough and across the Middle River to Woodward Island from Bacon Island Road. A study is underway to replace the Woodward Island ferry, which is currently the only way for vehicles to reach the island, with a bridge. Victory II, which takes vehicles from Jersey Island to both Webb Tract and Bradford Island, is free-running.


The Blue and Gold Fleet

The Blue and Gold Fleet started in the 1970s offering tours from Pier 39. In 1997, Blue and Gold Fleet acquired Crowley Maritime's Harbor Carriers (Red and White Fleet), becoming the dominant tour and ferry operator on the bay.

Blue and Gold's current fleet:
BoatBuiltBuilderCapacitySpeed in KnotsClass
Bay Clipper1974Colberg69315Clipper
Bay Flyer1971Colberg69315Clipper
Bay Monarch1976Colberg69315Clipper
Golden Bear979Nichols Bros39612Oski
Harbor Emperor1974Colberg50012Clipper
Old Blue1979Nichols Bros39612Oski
Oski1979Nichols Bros39612Oski
Royal Star1969Blount65013Clipper
Zelinsky1986Nichols Bros38826Catamaran

Blue and Gold also operates the Alameda/Oakland ferry using boats jointly owned by the cities.

Blue and Gold services its boats at San Francisco's Pier 9.

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The Red and White Fleet

The Red and White Fleet, originally known as Harbor Carriers, grew from the Crowley family's many maritime activities, first offerring boat tours during the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. In 1997, Blue and Gold Fleet acquired the Red and White Fleet. To prevent a monopoly, regulators forced Blue and Gold to sell some of its fleet, allowing the formation of the modern Red and White Fleet by Thomas Crowley Escher

Pier 43 1/2 Pier 43 1/2, home of the Red and White Fleet. June 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Red and White's current fleet:
BoatBuiltBuilderCapacitySpeed in Knots
Harbor King1958Colberg22512
Harbor Princess1959Colberg44412
Harbor Queen1954National Steel, Oakland44412
Royal Prince1962Colberg50012

Red and White pioneered the current ferry era on San Francisco Bay, starting Tiburon-Ssan Francisco service in 1950. Its last service, Richmond to San Francisco, ran from September 1999 to November 2000. They are interested in getting back into the ferry business.

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Last modified 31-May-2017