Flash Back 30 Years: Here's a photo (right) taken in 1973 of the Ferry "Herbert Bonner" when it was new (built in 1970) making the Hatteras - Ocracoke run.

   Hatteras - Ocracoke Free Ferry

The Hatteras - Ocracoke ferry connects the southern end of Hatteras to the northern end of Ocracoke. It is a very busy route, and the lifeblood of tourist traffic to and from Ocracoke. The crossing takes about 40 minutes, and remains close to shore along the ferry channel.

The "Ocracoke" and the "Thomas A. Baum" at Hatteras ferry dock.

The "Croatoan" at Hatteras ferry dock.

Though the lines may be long at the Hatteras ferry dock, it seems they manage to cram a lot of vehicles onto the ferrys. They also run multiple ferrys on the same schedule to accommodate the traffic. Traffic is heavy leaving Hatteras early in the day going to Ocracoke. In the evening, the day-tripper traffic is heavy leaving Ocracoke headed back to Hatteras. Often you will see an empty ferry leaving one dock or the other to fill the need on one end of the line, instead of waiting for a load where it is. This keeps traffic flowing as smoothly as possible. On the day these photos were taken the "Cape Point", the "Frisco", the "Chicamacomico", and the "W. Stanford White" were making the Hatteras-Ocracoke run.
The Chicamacomico passes fisherman on the south tip of Hatteras Island.

The ferry "Cape Point".
The ferry channel runs close to the islands, giving passengers a good view from the ferrys, and fisherman a good view of the ferrys as they cruise by hour after hour. One of the little known sights visible from the ferry is the "breech" that occurred during Hurricane Isabel in September of 2003,. It caused no loss of access or damage to roads, since the highway does not extend that far south on Hatteras Island.

The breech on the south end of Hatteras.
The Hatteras Class ferry "Cape Point" on the Hatteras-Ocracoke run.
When Isabel cut the new inlet between Frisco and Hatteras village it was widely publicized, mostly because it cut off the village (and the ferry docks) from the rest of the island. But there was an unpublicized spot south of the ferry docks on Hatteras where the ocean cut across in a second place, though not deep enough to make a new inlet channel. Such a place is known as a "breech". In the close-up image from the breech photo, the white crest of waves on the ocean beach are visible from the ferry in the sound, indicating just how low the land is here, even after it was filled back in to prevent further erosion. Binoculars are very useful for such sightseeing, so be sure to bring them along. (Learn more about this in the section about the "Dynamic Landscape" of the Outer Banks.)

Ferry passengers on the Hatteras-Ocracoke run get to see the southernmost tip of Hatteras Island as they approach Hatteras Inlet. Surf fishermen and their families enjoy the sand and sun on this constantly changing sandbar, surrounded by crashing ocean waves to the east, and the quieter waters of Pamlico Sound to the west. Again, binoculars are helpful here.

The Hatteras Class ferry "Frisco".
Left is a wide view of Hatteras Inlet, with the southern tip of Hatteras Island on the left of the image, and the northern tip of Ocracoke Island on the right of the image. This is approximately the view from the ferry without binoculars. The ferry usually develops a slight rocking motion as it crosses the inlet and rides the small waves generated by the ocean swells.

Three photos of the "Chicamacomico", a Hatteras Class ferry.
The remains of the 1883 Ocracoke Life-Saving Station.

Another sight of interest is the remains of the 1883 Ocracoke Life-Saving Station at the very northern tip of Ocracoke, just north of the ferry dock. All that is left is a collection of pilings in the shallows at the edge of Hatteras Inlet, just at the tip of the island. Seeing them more closely can be accomplished by foot, walking along the beach from the ferry dock area on Ocracoke. Such an exploration should only be undertaken at low tide. It might also be an opportunity to do some shell hunting as well.

The Hatteras Class ferry "Roanoke".
At the ferry dock on Ocracoke was tied the "Roanoke", shown here at left, one of the newest Hatteras Class ferrys in the fleet. The Ocracoke location seems small compared to the wide paved expanse of the Hatteras loading area. But looks are deceiving, as it has three loading ramps just like Hatteras, and obviously handles the same amount of traffic.

Many of the ferrys in the North Carolina ferry service fleet are included in the extensive photo gallery on the next page.

The River Class ferry
"W. Stanford White".

Next Ferry Page > NC Ferry Fleet gallery  

Additional Ferrys:
NC Ferrys - Page One
Knotts Island-Currituck

NC Ferrys - Page Two

NC Ferrys - Page Three
Minnesott Beach-
Cherry Branch

NC Ferrys - Page Four
Cedar Island-Ocracoke

NC Ferrys - Page Five
Swan Quarter-Ocracoke

NC Ferrys - Page Six

NC Ferrys - Page Seven
NC Ferry Fleet Photos

Related Links -

NC DOT Ferry Division

Copyright © 2003 Fred Hurteau           * Copyright information and image use policy *

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