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Eye on Maritime Design: Better Ferries by (EBDG) Design

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Greg Trauthwein

Elliott Bay Design Group is a well-known, long tenured Seattle-based naval architecture and marine engineering firm.We checked in with John Waterhouse, Chief Concept Engineer at EBDG, for insights on some of the design elements on the new Staten Island Ferries.

Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) served as the design lead on the new "Ollis" class of Staten Island Ferries. "We started with them at the end 2014 to make a preliminary design investigation," said John Waterhouse, Chief Concept Engineer at EBDG. EBDG evaluated the overall operation, including the condition of existing vessels, crewing, maintenance routine, as well as a demand study for forecast growth. While the big orange passenger vessels may look identical to the general public, the process to design an asset intended to operate efficiently for 40-plus years entails much detailed planning. First and foremost, the new 4,500-passenger vessels had to interface seamlessly with existing terminals to ensure that the free ferry service maintains its "brisk schedule," said Waterhouse.

imageAccording to Waterhouse, part of this resiliency is the Voith Schneider propulsion units, which allow "a great deal of maneuverability and control of the vessel when coming into places that might not be its normal dock." Photo: Staten Island Ferries

In addition, the new ferries were designed with a number of "resiliency features" in mind, as in the wake of 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy the vessels would be used if necessary to help evacuate New York City.

According to Waterhouse, part of this resiliency is the Voith Schneider propulsion units, which allow "a great deal of maneuverability and control of the vessel when coming into places that might not be its normal dock." In addition, the new design features side doors so that they can load passengers alongside instead of solely through the ends of the ferry. Some design alterations are simple tweaks with a big impact.. For example, by looping in the Staten Island Ferry maintenance crew, the EBDG team found that on some vessels "there are more than 100 different types of light bulbs used. One of the goals on the new boats was to reduce that number," said Waterhouse.

While safety ranks number one in Staten Island Ferry operations, maintaining its schedule is a close second. To that end, Waterhouse and the EBDG team took nothing for granted and examined the embarkation and debarkation process holistically. "They operate a fairly tight schedule, so anything that delays the loading and unloading of passengers impacts their schedules," said Waterhouse. "We took a lot of time observing their different boats and looking at the kinds of things that slow passengers from moving on and off the vessel."

According to Waterhouse, the EBDG team tried to take into account the diversity of people using the ferry: Is it a daily commuter? Is it a mom with a stroller? Is it a tourist who has never been in NY, maybe never ridden a ferry? How do people decide which door to take? What are their sightlines so that they don't pause just inside a door?

"It was all, in one sense, very subtle changes," said Waterhouse, noting sightlines, wide doorways and ample spacing of 'things' to give people time to make decisions on where they wanted to go. "One thing we observed: the John F. Kenney is probably the favorite boat in the fleet, and I think a large part of that is because of the way it's laid out, and the way people can move around in it."

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Mar 20, 2020


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