VESSEL REVIEW | Ocracoke Express – Catamaran ferry for seasonal transits in North Carolina’s Outer Banks islands

Photo: North Carolina Department of Transportation

US Watercraft of Hubert, North Carolina, has completed construction of Ocracoke Express, a new passenger and bicycle ferry ordered by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT).

US Watercraft took over construction of the catamaran ferry midway through the project after the original builder ceased its operations. Design work on the vessel was provided by the Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle and BMT Nigel Gee of the UK.

The aluminium catamaran will be operated by the NCDOT via its NC Ferry System arm across Pamlico Sound between Hatteras Island and Silver Lake Harbor on Ocracoke Island with each one-way trip lasting approximately 70 minutes. Six sailings are scheduled for each day from 09:30 to 19:30 including weekends during a specified travel season that lasts from the middle of May to late September. The 2022 service was ended just prior to the forecasted onset of the region’s hurricane season.

Photo: North Carolina Department of Transportation

Development of the ferry came about after the NCDOT decided to include a passenger-only service between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands to complement the vehicle ferry service that operates on the same route year-round. Although Ocracoke Express‘ sailings will be limited to only a few months each year, the vessel’s operation will help shoulder the volume of passenger traffic that will otherwise also be accommodated by the NCDOT’s larger vehicle ferry.

Ocracoke Express has a length of 92 feet (28 metres), a beam of 26 feet (7.92 metres), a draught of only four feet (1.2 metres), and a displacement of 88 tons (79 tonnes) at full load. The ferry’s main deck cabin has 96 passenger seats and air conditioning while another 26 passengers can be accommodated on the open-air upper deck. The NCDOT observes a protocol of reserved seating on each trip to avoid the problem of long queues prior to boarding.

Power is provided by four Caterpillar C18 diesel engines that each produce 803 hp (598 kW) at 2,100 rpm. The engines drive Thrustmaster Doen DJ170 waterjets via ZF gearboxes to deliver a maximum speed of 28 knots and a service speed of 25.5 knots. A Thrustmaster ESC200 control system assists in steering.

The ferry’s other onboard features include wheelchair tie-downs, 16 bicycle racks, and a concession area that serves snacks and drinks.

Ocracoke Express
Type of vessel:Ferry
Owner:North Carolina Department of Transportation, USA
Operator:NC Ferry System, USA
Designers:Elliott Bay Design Group, USA; BMT Nigel Gee, UK
Builder:US Watercraft, USA
Hull construction material:Aluminium
Superstructure construction material:Aluminium
Deck construction material:Aluminium
Length overall:92 feet (28 metres)
Beam:26 feet (7.92 metres)
Draught:4.0 feet (1.2 metres)
Displacement:88 tons (79 tonnes)
Main engines:4 x Caterpillar C18, each 803 hp (598 kW) at 2,100 rpm
Gearboxes:4 x ZF
Propulsion:4 x Thrustmaster Doen DJ170 waterjets
Steering system:Thrustmaster ESC200
Maximum speed:28 knots
Cruising speed:25.5 knots
Other equipment installed:Wheelchair tie-downs; bicycle racks
Type of fuel:Diesel
Accommodation:Concession area
Operational area:Outer Banks Islands, North Carolina, USA

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