National Census of Ferry Operators

The National Census of Ferry Operators (NCFO) is a data collection conducted by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).  The biennial census of ferry operators was first conducted by BTS in 2006, and since then there have been five additional data collections, including the most recent, the 2020 NCFO.  The data collection is inclusive of all ferry operators within the United States and its territories, including ferry operators in American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The information collected from the census is maintained in the national ferry database containing information on ferry vessels, terminals, routes, ridership, funding, and more.  
The congressional mandate for the NCFO at BTS was first established in 2005 under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act—A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), P.L. 109-59, Section 1801(e). The SAFETEA-LU required that “The Secretary of Transportation, acting through the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), shall establish and maintain a national ferry database that shall contain current information regarding routes, vessels, passengers and vehicles carried, funding sources and such other information the Secretary considers useful.” The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (Pub.L. No. 114-94) (Dec. 2015) continued the BTS mandate to conduct the NCFO and the requirement that the Federal Highway Administration use the NCFO data to allocate federal funds for ferry boat and terminal construction using a set formula. That formula is based on a percentage of the number of passengers and vehicles boarding, and route-miles served.
This page highlights the results of the 2020 NCFO. The data captured by the 2020 NCFO represents calendar year 2019 operational data from those ferry operators that submitted information about their operations to BTS.


The NCFO is a census of all known ferry boat operations running within and to the United States and its territories, encompassing the 50 States, Washington DC, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In addition to the ferry operations providing domestic service within the United States and to its territories, operations providing service to and from the United States are also included. The scope of ferry operations included in the NCFO comprises those operators providing itinerant, fixed route, common carrier passenger and/or vehicle ferry service as well as railroad car float operations.
Operations that were exclusively non-itinerant, such as excursion services (e.g., whale watches, casino boats, day cruises, dinner cruises, etc.), passenger-only water taxi services not operating on a fixed route, and LoLo (Lift-on/Lift-off) freight/auto carrier series were out of scope for the NCFO.
All 246 in-service ferry operations were encouraged to participate in the 2020 NCFO by an advance letter and follow-up email sent by BTS in July 2020. The letter and email provided unique log-in credentials for each ferry operation to respond online. Non-respondents were contacted by phone and email from August through November 2020 to further encourage participation and to offer questionnaire assistance. Non-respondents received up to three non-response phone calls and two emails over this time-period. Data collection was completed in December 2020.
The 2020 NCFO received complete responses from 164 of the 246 in-service ferry operations. The data provided from these 164 respondents is provided here. The analysis provided herein uses only reported numbers; missing information or responses designated as business-sensitive were not imputed or used to estimate totals.
Geographically, the 164 ferry operations represented 38 states, 6 operations across 3 U.S. territories, and 1 operation in Canada with routes to the U.S.
The vessel characteristics of the reported vessels were obtained from the U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Vessels of the United States data. This data adds 11 variables to the dataset specific to vessel size, weight, and propulsion.
Several operators either did not provide passenger and/or vehicle boarding data or asked that the data they provided not be made public. Similar to the 2018 NCFO, passenger and vehicle boarding estimates were not imputed in the 2020 NCFO. Thus, due to eligible operators who did not respond, as well as those choosing not to provide or make information public for select items, the numbers in this report likely underestimate the true total values. These underestimates would include vessels, terminals, segments and route-miles counts, and total passengers and vehicles boarding in calendar year 2019.
Over the years, the NCFO’s frame of operators and response rate has grown, resulting in better and more data each year; however, due to an inconsistent responding population, care must be taken in comparing NCFO statistics from one census year to the next. Of the respondents that completed the 2018 and 2020 NCFOs, 146 ferry operators responded in both years. However, 35 operators responded to the 2018 NCFO but not to the 2020 NCFO, while 18 operators responded to the 2020 NCFO but not to the 2018 NCFO. Nine ferry operators responded to the NCFO for the first time in 2020.