History & Organization

“Lifeline to the Islands” Since 1960

In 1960, the Massachusetts legislature created the Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority to provide for “adequate transportation of persons and necessaries of life for the Islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.” This legislation empowered the Steamship Authority to acquire, maintain and operate a boat line between the mainland ports of Woods Hole (Falmouth) and Hyannis (Barnstable) and the Islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

The Steamship Authority’s statutory mission is to serve as the "Lifeline to the Islands" for everyone from year-round residents, who depend on the ferries for all commerce and transportation to and from the mainland, to a significant seasonal population, to the tourists who visit for a day,
a week or longer.


The Steamship Authority provides the only ferry service for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket that carries both passengers and vehicles, including commercial freight trucks. In addition, the Steamship Authority's enabling act provides it its licensing authority to regulate the carriage of freight by water by private operators between the Massachusetts mainland and the Islands, as well as to regulate vessels certified by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry in excess of forty passengers in their operation between the Massachusetts mainland and the Islands. Such provisions, however, do not apply to so-called “grandfathered” services operating prior to May 1973. The Steamship Authority currently licenses private ferry operators to provide passenger service between New Bedford and Oak Bluffs (seasonal), New Bedford and Vineyard Haven (year-round), Falmouth and Edgartown (seasonal), Hyannis and Oak Bluffs (seasonal), Hyannis and Nantucket (both seasonal and year-round), Harwichport and Nantucket (seasonal), Nantucket and Oak Bluffs (seasonal) and New Jersey, New York City and Oak Bluffs (seasonal).


The Steamship Authority has its principal office in Falmouth, Massachusetts, with ferry terminals in Woods Hole and Hyannis on Cape Cod, terminals in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, and a terminal on the Island of Nantucket. The Steamship Authority owns and operates year-round parking lots in Woods Hole, Falmouth and Hyannis, and operates seasonal off-site parking lots in Falmouth, Bourne and Hyannis. The Steamship Authority also has a vessel maintenance facility in Fairhaven and a receiving warehouse in Falmouth, and it rents property in Mashpee for its reservation office.

The Steamship Authority serves a complex clientele including year-round residents of the Islands who depend on the ferries for all commerce and transportation to and from the mainland, a significant seasonal population and tourist group, and the communities that serve as ports through which all traffic to the Islands pass. Each group has special needs and points of view that impact the Steamship Authority and how it does business.

The popularity of the Islands for both residential and recreational purposes has been reflected in increasing traffic and demands for service. The Steamship Authority currently operates ten vessels (including a high-speed passenger-only ferry) carrying passengers, automobiles and freight trucks. The Steamship Authority employs 750 people at peak season with a workforce that is almost totally unionized, with eight bargaining units represented by four different unions.

The Steamship Authority’s budget is supported by operating revenues of around $100 million. Since 1962, the Steamship Authority has had only four annual operating deficits, and it has not had to assess the taxpayers of the participating communities for monetary support since 1963.

The Steamship Authority is governed by a five-member board: a Nantucket resident appointed by the Nantucket County Commissioners; a Martha’s Vineyard resident appointed by the Dukes County Commissioners; a Falmouth resident appointed by the Falmouth Board of Selectmen; a Barnstable resident appointed by the Barnstable Town Council; and a New Bedford resident appointed by the Mayor of New Bedford, with the approval of the New Bedford City Council. Each of the Island board members has 35% of the members' combined vote; and each of the mainland board members has 10% of the members' combined vote. The members are appointed to three-year terms; should their expire without a reappointment vote, they continue to serve until they either resign or a successor has been appointed and qualified.

Current Board Members

  • Moira E. Tierney

    New Bedford
    Term expires Sep 30, 2017
  • Robert F. Ranney

    Vice Chair
    Term expires Dec 31, 2024
  • Robert R. Jones

    Term expires Dec 31, 2023
  • James M. Malkin

    Martha's Vineyard
    Term expires Feb 28, 2023
  • Peter J. Jeffrey

    Term expires Dec 31, 2023

The Steamship Authority also has a seven-member advisory board known as the Port Council, whose members are appointed by the municipal authorities of the following communities: Barnstable; Fairhaven; Falmouth; Nantucket; New Bedford; Oak Bluffs; and Tisbury. They are appointed to two-year terms; like the Board, should their term expire without a reappointment vote, they continue to serve until they either resign or a successor has been appointed and qualified.

To email members of the Board or Port Council, please visit the Contact Us page.

Current Port Council Members

  • John Cahill

    Term expires Dec 31, 2022
  • Robert S. C. Munier

    Vice Chairman
    Term expires Jun 30, 2022
  • Nathaniel E. Lowell

    Term expires Jun 30, 2023

    Term expires Dec 31, 2022
  • Mark H. Rees

    Term expires May 31, 2021

    New Bedford
    Term expires Sep 12, 2012
  • Joe Sollitto

    Oak Bluffs
    Term expires Dec 31, 2022