November 4, 2010

Sound-class ferries are all repaired, but routes to
and from Ocracoke are now on winter schedule

The sound-class ferry Pamlico, newly repaired, arrived back on Ocracoke on Friday, Oct. 29, after undergoing extensive repairs for almost a week.

Since Oct. 21, ferry runs on the Swan Quarter-Ocracoke and Cedar Island-Ocracoke routes were modified due to the temporary loss of the Pamlico. 

The return of the Pamlico brings the complement of toll ferries at Ocracoke back up to four.  However, the modified schedule will remain in effect. It is, essentially, the winter schedule, which went into effect on Nov. 2, according to Lucy Wallace, public affairs officer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division.

Wallace explained that while four sound-class ferries operate from Ocracoke, only three will be in service now through the winter months, even with the return of the Pamlico. That’s because the Silver Lake will be out of service for maintenance.

Like the Pamlico, the Silver Lake is one of the oldest in the four-vessel fleet. Both were built in 1965.  The Carteret was built in 1989, and the Cedar Island was built in 1994.

Next summer, folks heading to Ocracoke via Cedar Island or Swan Quarter may experience fewer delays with the addition of two new ferries being built in Texas.

The first new ferry, approved Oct. 1, 2009, by the Board of Transportation, will cost $13 million and is federally funded, Wallace said. The second one was approved Oct. 4 for $14.9 million, and was made possible through The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

This year, Wallace said, the Ferry Division restored the number of runs to the same levels as 2008 after having to cut some runs in 2009 because of budget constraints.

“We do everything we can to operate 365 days a year to serve the residents and businesses of Ocracoke,” she said.

The free ferry route between Hatteras and Ocracoke will go to a winter schedule also on Nov. 2, but crews there can add boats as traffic warrants.

“We don’t have extra boats in the sound but we do at Hatteras,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Rollinson Channel, which is the ferry route between Hatteras and Ocracoke, was dredged and a new navigation channel marked in early October after extensive shoaling from Hurricane Earl and the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole made the channel impassable.

The Ferry Division suspended all ferry runs Sept. 24 to 26 between Hatteras Village and Ocracoke.

Penny Schmitt, chief of public affairs for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), Wilmington district, explained that the recently completed dredging created a “controlling depth of eight and one half feet at mean low water,” which is sufficient for the ferry and charter boats.

Rom Whitaker, captain of the charter boat Release, out of Hatteras, noted that the channel going out to the ocean is fine now but that a sandbar in the channel going out to the ocean is forming and cautioned boat captains to pay attention when heading out to sea.

“Where they have the buoys is not the deepest,” he said. “The channel moves around almost weekly.”

The Rollinson Channel is dredged by the federal government through the Corps.  Schmitt said the Corps continually surveys all seven North Carolina ferry routes. 

While a final United States budget for fiscal year 2010-2011, which began Oct. 1, has not yet been passed, dredging is funded under a “continuing resolution” of the U.S. Senate, enabling government services to continue while the new budget is hammered out, Schmitt said.

There is $50,000 in the proposed budget for dredging the Rollinson Channel in 2010-2011, yet each year this number is different because of the dynamic nature of the channel, she said.

“It’s like sweeping—you have to do it on a periodic basis,” she said. “And there’s always more need than there is money.”

There are 1,000 miles of federal channel in North Carolina, Schmitt explained, including two deepwater ports at Morehead City and Wilmington, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, and several inlets, including Hatteras, Oregon, and Little River.
All recent surveys of inlets and channels are published on the ACE’s website:


The Hatteras Inlet route began hourly runs Nov. 2, but has the ability to add extra runs as traffic volume demands. Ferries leave Ocracoke and Hatteras on the hour from 5 a.m. until midnight.
The Ocracoke-Swan Quarter and Ocracoke-Cedar Island winter schedules are as follows:

  • From Swan Quarter, departure times are 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.;
  • From Ocracoke to Swan Quarter, departure times are 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.; and
  • From Cedar Island and Ocracoke, departures are: 7:30 a.m., 10:30, 2 p.m. and 5 from both sides.
For up-to-date information on ferry schedules, call 1-800-293-3779 (BY-FERRY), and press1, or go to  NCDOT also offers ferry travel information on Twitter, a free website. Citizens can get brief updates, or “tweets,” for ferry routes by signing up at

(Connie Leinbach is also a reporter for The Ocracoke Observer)

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