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

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MV Sankaty at the dock in Woods Hole.

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 island.[1] 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 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.[2][3] The steamship MV Islander retired in 2007.[4]

In 2007, it was reported that the Steamship Authority ferries were dumping sewage into Nantucket Sound, along with other seafaring vessels. But in fact, the SSA has sewage treatment facilities on every vessel, so that discharges contain only "grey" water, NOT raw sewage. From 2011 forward the SSA will be converting its vessels with holding tanks for all sewage effluent, to be discharged into new pumping facilities at each port. [5]

Service to Martha's Vineyard

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[6]

Service to Nantucket

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.

Massachusetts regulatory body

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.[7] All scheduled passenger ferry operations to and from the Islands must, by law, be approved by the Steamship Authority.[7] 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, these include Freedom Cruises to Nantucket, and the New England Fast Ferry and the Pied Piper Edgartown Ferry to Martha's Vineyard. In addition, Hy-Line Cruises (out of Hyannis to both Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard and between the two islands) and the Island Queen (out of Falmouth to the Vineyard) 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. Finally, seasonal ferries from Provincetown to Boston and Provincetown to Plymouth are also permitted to operate as they do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Authority.


The Authority currently operates nine vessels.[8] 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

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
VesselIsland Service BeganIsland Service EndedNotes
Marco Bozzaris18291832
Telegraph18321857aka Nebraska
Naushon18461848Renamed News Boy after sale.
Eagle's Wing18541861
Island Home1855c. 1895
Jersey Blue18561857
Monohansett1862c. 1902
Martha's Vineyard1871c. 1920
River Queen18711893
Island Belle1876Renamed Coskata
Nantucket1886after 1905
Gay Head18911924
Uncatena19021928Last sidewheeler.
Sankaty19111924Renamed Charles A. Dunning after sale.
Islander19231947Renamed Martha's Vineyard
Nobska1925c. 1974Renamed Nantucket, then Nobska.
New Bedford19281942Participated in Atlantic Convoys during WWII
Naushon19291942Participated in Atlantic Convoys during WWII
Gay Head (LSM 286)1947
Hackensack1947c. 1951First double-ender. Renamed Islander.
MV Islander19502007First diesel.
SS Nantucket19571987 [9]Renamed Naushon
Auriga1973c. 1989
MV Nantucket1974Present
MV Katama1988Present
Gay Head1989Present
Martha's Vineyard1993Present
MV Governor1998PresentFormer Governor's Island ferry
Flying Cloud20002007Catamaran Fast Ferry, Nicknamed the "Black Cloud" because of engine problems; sold in Venezuela
MV Island Home2007Present
MV Iyanough2007PresentCatamaran Fast Ferry, Named after Hyannis sachem Iyannough


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