On some busy weekends there is one ferry after another moving traffic between Galveston and Port Bolivar, but there are times when just as many vehicles are waiting but fewer ferries running. Houston Public Radio’s Rod Rice reports that the number of boats in the water nowadays depends on the number people available to run and maintain them.
There is always at least one ferry operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There was a time not too long ago when the number of ferries operating was based on the number of vehicles waiting to cross.
“Through the Coast Guard we have to have a crew of six. Currently the off shore market is very strong, so we’re competing and have a very high turnover rate. Other areas of challenge that have always been existent are maintaining the fleet.”
Bill Mallini is the Galveston Ferry Operations Manger. In addition to the required six crewmembers for each ferry it takes 15 to 20 people to maintain a boat. As far as the on the water crew goes, you can’t just put anyone on a ferry.
“The six crew members are one licensed Master, one licensed Marine Engineer, three deck hands, two of whom have to be Able Seaman. One can be entry level, known as Able Seaman, and then one additional person to assist the Engineer, which is called a wiper.”
To become an ordinary seaman takes a month or two and includes a physical and a license and costs about a hundred dollars.
“And that would be to work on any vessel, so that’s a get your foot in the door requirement. Now, what we’ll do is, if people come in and they’re interested we’ve got the paper work for that to help them if they’re interested.”
Bill Mallini says it takes additional training and licenses to advance from Ordinary Seaman to higher ranks, but from entry level to being Captain of a ferry can be done in five to six years.
“We assist people in paying for training and classes and spending time, so I mean someone who wanted a job at entry level and were hired, there ability to move up with the state’s assistance is there, so there is a great opportunity there for someone who wants to take advantage of it.”
Mallini says the attraction of the private sector is that licensed seaman can make a lot more money, but are on the job and away from home for weeks and weeks at a time.
“The advantage of working for TXDOT, specifically the ferry, if you stay along time it becomes worth it. If you want to make a lot of money quick this is not the place you want to be, but if you want long term security and benefits, then it’s a good job.”
It takes about 18-minutes to make the 2.7 mile trip between Galveston and Port Bolivar. The route crosses on of the busiest waterways in the world. The Galveston ferry carries about two million vehicles and six million passengers a year. For more about ferry service in Texas, you’ll find a link here: http://www.dot.state.tx.us/services/maintenance/ferries/default.htm.