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Riding a Ferry? Here are 6 Tips for Ferry Travel

For our family, ferry travel is a way of life. From going to work every day to the occasional baseball game, driving or walking onto a ferry is second nature. For some folks, however, getting onto a ferry can be a nerve-wracking experience!

The ferry service in the United States is nothing short of amazing. With so many choices of ferry routes and boats, there is sure to be a trip that fits your needs. However, there are a few ways to make your ferry trip even better.

Types of Ferries

Yellow Car Ferry

There are a few different types of ferries, but the two most common are car and passenger ferries. A car ferry is exactly what they sound like – ferries that carries vehicles. These ferries usually have a ramp that goes down into the water, allowing cars to drive right on and off the ferry. Passenger ferries, on the other hand, usually have a more traditional boat design.

Passenger ferries usually have a few different areas where people can sit, including inside and outside decks. Some passenger ferries also have areas for cars, but these ferries are less common. You can either sit on the upper deck or lower deck, there’s always enough space for passengers.

With a little preparation, however, you can get onto a ferry like a pro, even if you’ve never done it before. Here’s how it is done.

Travel Tips for Riding the Ferry

San Francisco Bay

#1. Check the Ferry Schedule

Event planner timetable agenda plan on organize schedule event
tippapatt / Adobe Stock

Ferries are a lot like trains. They run on a schedule, but they aren’t always on that schedule because with sometimes hundreds of cars to load on and off, delays can happen. The day you’re planning on getting onto the ferry, be sure to go online or call ahead to see if your ferry will be on time.

This will help to minimize wait times that you may face and let you know if the boat might be running ahead of schedule too! Tidal conditions and other factors might also cause your planned crossing to be canceled, which knowing ahead of time is extremely beneficial.

#2. Plan on Arriving At Least 30 Minutes Ahead of Time

Woman is sailing on a cruise ship
zhukovvvlad / Adobe Stock

A ferry can fill up a lot faster than you might expect! You’ll want to arrive about 30 minutes ahead of time at the very minimum to ensure that you get onto your preferred sailing.

If you are getting onto a ferry with a lot of expected truck or commuter traffic and you can’t make a reservation, then you may want to push your advance arrival to 45-60 minutes so that you can get your place on the boat. This is less critical if you’re just going to walk onto the ferry instead of driving your vehicle onto it.

If you are planning to cross over with a car, then finding a good parking spot should be done as early as possible. This means you have to leave earlier, not later because a car will get there first, but because everyone will be planning for a good parking spot.

When picking a spot to sit on a passenger ferry, it’s important to think about the type of trip you’re taking. If you’re taking a scenic tour, it’s nice to sit outside and enjoy the view. If you’re taking a trip to work or school, it’s probably better to stay inside where it’s more comfortable.

#3. Keep Everything With You At All Times

Boy sleeps on seats during exhausting journey on ferry boat
Olesia Bilkei / Adobe Stock

Before leaving for the ferry harbor, make sure to check your ticket and confirm the date and time written on the ticket.

The fastest way to get pulled off of a ferry is to leave your ticket, luggage, backpack, or diaper bag unattended during the boarding process. Always keep your items with you, be prepared for an inspection, and remember that in most locations your vehicle can be inspected as well.

Search dogs are often part of this inspection process in the modern age, so just be aware of where your things are, and where you are, and you’ll get onto your boat with plenty of time to spare.

#4. Bring Food and Drinks With You… If You Can

Washington State Ferriy
Image by Takeshita Kenji used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Many ferries have a galley of which you can take advantage, but the one issue is cost. Ferry food and drink are expensive! Now you generally can’t bring alcohol to consume onto the ferry, so you’ll be stuck paying $7 per glass or $3 a bottle of wine, but you can bring on food to consume that is better than the $6.50 cheeseburgers that cost $1 to microwave.

For extended trips on a ferry that goes beyond 3 or 4 hours, this can save you a lot and you can be certain of the quality of your food! More advanced ferries have a full restaurant on them sometimes with incredible food and fine dining prices – if you can afford it, then maybe skip this tip in this instance.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in France That You’ll Fall in Love With

#5. Turn Off Your Car Alarm

Hand presses on the remote control car alarm systems
Jsnow my wolrd / Shutterstock

One of the biggest pet peeves you’ll find of ferry crew is a vehicle that has its alarm start going off when there’s a crashing wave. Before leaving your vehicle, make sure that you’ve turned off your vehicle’s alarm or that you don’t set it off while locking your vehicle.

If you’re going to have a choppy trip, it’s also a good idea to set the parking brake as you park. It’s often tight quarters on the car deck, so if your mirrors turn in you might consider doing that as well. Just don’t forget to turn them back out before you drive off of the boat!

See Related: Best Places to Visit in Northern Germany

#6. Have Fun!

Tourists with a straw hat stand on the deck of a cruise ship
MagioreStock / Shutterstock

Being on a ferry is usually a wonderful experience! From friendly chatter to a cool breeze on your face, it’s the perfect opportunity to take your stunning travel photographs, read a book, or just relax with the ones you love. Ferry accidents are few and far between!

If you do want to prepare for an emergency, sit near the emergency assembly locations or next to where the life vests are stored so that you can quickly don them if need be.

With our family, we tend to sit near where there are children’s vests stored so we can quickly break the seal of the container and get the little ones prepped for an emergency if the unlikely need arises.

No matter where you’re headed on your ferry, the adventure is just beginning! These travel tips will help you make sure you get onto the scheduled ferry on time with a minimum of hassle. If you do happen to miss your boat, don’t worry – it’s the perfect time to grab some coffee and explore for a while until the next boat arrives!

Scenic Ferry Trips You Should Take

Many ferry companies operate scenic ferry trips in the US that offer beautiful views of the American coastline

Seattle to Bainbridge

Cruising Seattle Ferry

The Seattle to Bainbridge Island ferry is operated by Washington State Ferries. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Washington State. The ferry ride takes about 35 minutes and offers stunning views of the Seattle skyline, Mount Rainier, and Puget Sound.

Visitors can enjoy a meal or a drink in the ferry’s cafe while they take in the sights. There is also a gift shop onboard where passengers can purchase souvenirs. The ferry ride is an enjoyable experience for all ages and is a great way to see some of Seattle’s most famous landmarks.

Staten Island Ferry

New York City Staten Island Ferry
Image by Norbert Nagel / Wikimedia Commons License: CC BY-SA 3.0

The Staten Island Ferry is one of the most unique experiences New York City has to offer. Not only is it a great way to see some of the city’s most famous landmarks, but it’s also a great opportunity to relax and take in the sights and sounds of the city. The ferry ride itself is relatively short, but it’s still worth taking the time to enjoy the views.

On a clear day, you can see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and even the Manhattan skyline. And at night, the ferry ride is even more beautiful, as the city lights up and comes to life.

The ferry from Portland, Maine to Nova Scotia

Closeup of ferry leaving Portland, Maine, heading into Casco Bay
Jo Ann Snover / Adobe Stock

The ferry from Portland, Maine to Nova Scotia is one of the most scenic and enjoyable ways to travel between the two areas. The trip takes about seven hours, and passengers are treated to some of the best views of the Atlantic Coast. Along the way, they can see iconic landmarks such as the Cape Cod Canal and Block Island.

The ferry also stops in Bar Harbor, Maine, allowing passengers to explore this charming seaside town. In addition to the scenery, traveling by ferry is a great way to meet new people and enjoy some time away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing vacation or an adventure-filled journey, the ferry from Portland, Maine to Nova Scotia is sure to please.

San Francisco Bay Ferry

San Francisco Bay Ferry Boat
sheilaf2002 –

The San Francisco Bay Ferry is a convenient and affordable way to travel between San Francisco and East Bay. The ferry ride offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and the San Francisco skyline.

The ferry terminals are located in downtown San Francisco and Oakland, and there are several different routes to choose from. The ferry service is operated by several different companies, so passengers can choose the route and company that best suits their needs.

See Related: Best Day Trips from San Francisco, California

Final Thoughts

No matter where you’re headed on your ferry, the adventure is just beginning! These travel tips will help you make sure you get onto the scheduled ferry on time with a minimum of hassle. If you do happen to miss your boat, don’t worry – it’s the perfect time to grab some coffee and explore for a while until the next boat arrives.

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