The other day as we passed through Deepwater Range on our way to a job-site in New Jersey, a scene seen multiple times a day, caught my attention. Sitting in the racks at Whitehall were the Staten Island Ferry “John F. Kennedy” and the Governors Island Ferry “Lt. Samuel S. Coursen”. To the average commuter, these are just a pair of tired old ferry’s – 55 and 64 years old to be exact. Both of these boats are somewhat dinosaurs now – especially since both are powered by Diesel-Electric Drive. Both have been going back and forth next to each other on the same route, since being built.
The JFK was built in 1965 as part of the 3 boat Kennedy class, consisting of the “John F. Kennedy”, “American Legion” and the “Gov. Herbert H. Lehman”, built at Levingston Shipbuilding. The trio were big ferrys of the time – 297′ long and could carry 3,055 passengers and 40 automobiles. Powering the boats were 4 EMD 16-567C engines which each drove a generator. In turn, 4 propulsion motors feed into a single output reduction gear set that drive the propeller – one motor/gear on each end of the boat.
Coming in at about half the size of the JFK, the “Lt. Samuel S. Coursen” has also been plying the same route since being built by John H. Mathis in 1956 for the US Army – who at the time occupied Fort Jay on Governors Island. The Coursen became part of the USCG fleet, with sister ferry “Pvt. Nicholas Minue” when the USCG took over operations on the island in 1966. The pair of boats were designed by Eads Johnson, who designed several NYC area ferrys including those owned by the Electric Ferry Company – one of which, “The Tides” would become a fleet mate to the duo running to the island in 1969. Unfortunately, I have no idea what originally powered them (The Tides was powered by a Cleveland 6-278A) – other then they were repowered in 1965 – and again later on in the case of the Coursen with a Caterpillar, however the original Diesel-Electric propulsion was kept.
NYC DOT has a new order of ferry boats on the way, one of which will be the replacement for the “John F. Kennedy”, which has been the spare boat for some years now. Even being the old boat on the roster, she is still used almost every day. DOT also has a trio of other modern ferry’s, the “Spirit of America”, “Senator John J. Marchi” and “Guy V. Molinari”, each powered by 3 EMD 16-710G3B engines driving an AC drive Diesel-Electric package. The “Lt. Samuel S. Coursen” also has a new fleet mate that arrived in 2019, the “Governors 1”, however she is only equipped to carry passengers, thus the Coursen should be around for a few more years.
Each year the number of Diesel-Electric drive boats is fewer and fewer…
More on Coursen: https://govisland.com/blog/governors-island-fun-fact-who-was-samuel-s-coursen