The pair of new ferries expands the fleet traveling between Hampton and Norfolk that serves commuters and tourists. Photo: Hampton Roads Transit

Two New Ferries to Run Between Norfolk & Portsmouth, VA

Visitors and commuters between Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, will now be able to travel in new and updated ferries.

Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) held a ribbon cutting ceremony this week, announcing the arrival of two new ferries. The new ferries, named Elizabeth River Ferries VI and VII, will transport people between downtown Norfolk and downtown Portsmouth. The ferry service between the two downtown areas has carried almost 17 million passengers since service began in 1983. 

The new boats were built by St. John’s Ship Building Inc., in Palatka, Florida. St. John’s builds a variety of commercial vessels for governments and businesses. In addition to ferries, they build tugs, a variety of barges, pushboats, and specialized vessels to support offshore wind facilities. They even build landing crafts. The two new ferries cost $6.4 million, funded by a combination of local, federal, and state sources.  

According to HRT spokesperson Angela T. Gregory, the new ferries are a lot like the old ones. She said, “We did however add some lighting upgrades, better heating system, better air conditioning system in the pilot house, better camera systems. The engines, propulsion, and steering systems were also modified. The new ones have larger propellers, modified shafts and the engine was reconfigured to make things like oil changes easier to complete. We also reconfigured the pilot control panels to make the vessel easier to maneuver from the captain’s perspective.”

They retained the fake paddlewheel because visitors like it.  “Everyone loves the nostalgia,” she said.   

The boats are popular with tourists, but are also used by commuters. People that work in downtown Norfolk and Portsmouth find it more relaxing to ride the ferry to the office than to sit in traffic inside an underwater highway tunnel. It is a quick and enjoyable ride. You might also catch a glimpse of dolphins or an aircraft carrier.  

While owned by HRT, the ferries are actually operated by Norfolk by Boat, a contractor. According to David Jordan, owner of Norfolk by Boat, “Whether they are riding to go to work, shopping, lunch or dinner, to attend a festival, concert or baseball game, or just to get out on the water and sightsee, there is a comradery among our riders, a feeling of friendliness, goodwill, and familiarity.” Jordan noted that the ferries are almost always on time.  

Gregory added, “HRT is very excited about increasing the size of our fleet. This is going to make getting people where they want to go so much easier, especially during events like Harborfest, the Portsmouth Seawall Festival, Tides baseball games, and the multitude of concerts between Norfolk and Portsmouth.”  

Next time you are in either downtown, you should take a ride.  It is not just practical transportation, it’s fun.  You can find the schedule here.