Southern Brooklyn

Boatlift – The Story Of 9/11’s Heroes Of The Sea


Well known are the stories of heroism on the part of firefighters, police officers and other first responders on September 11, 2001. But there’s yet another story of heroism that has largely gone under the radar, involving ordinary civilians who put their life and property in harm’s way to save others.

Boatlift chronicles the story of the largest sea evacuation in history, when a fleet of civilian and Coast Guard vessels voluntarily navigated to the seawall of lower Manhattan, and helped evacuate nearly 500,000 people in less than nine hours.

Sheepshead Bay’s own Vincent Ardolino, captain of the Amberjack V, was one of those who played a pivotal role on that September morning 11 years ago. Seeing the attack on the news, he boarded his vessel and set out to ferry evacuees between the boroughs – long before the Coast Guard put out a call to all available ships for help in the evacuation. Ardolino is heavily featured in the film, as are captains from around Brooklyn and New York City, as well as New Jersey.

Boatlift was executive produced by Stephen Flynn and Sean Burke, and co-directed by Rick Velleu. It premiered on September 8 at the “9/11 Tenth Anniversary Summit: Remembrance/Renewal/Resilience” in Washington. The summit kicked off a national movement to foster community and national resilience in the face of future crises. See to learn more.


Comment policy


  1. Not to rain on anyone’s parade and while def appreciating their actions that helped and maybe even saved some ppl, but can these actions really be thought of as heroic? are we not devaluing the true meaning of the word? 

  2. How is it not heroic? Sure, today we know there were no attacks in NYC to follow the second plane. But on that day, in the chaos and confusion, these guys piloted their vessels into a thick cloud of smoke a debris, into uncertainty, and into a very volatile situation so that they could help return people to their families. No, I don’t think I’m devaluing the true meaning of the word.

  3. Those people were very brave. There had been 4 attacks in a few hours, they had no idea if there would have been more. They may not have ran into the burning towers, but they absolutely put themselves in danger. Most people fled the area or stayed clear, these people went in blind to save strangers. That’s a hero to me. 

  4. my friends father was a deck hand on the Staten island ferry. He passed away last yr from cancer and it was a confirmed to be 9/11 related. He choose to be there with his crew evacuating people. He left behind to teenage sons and a wife. He risked the resr of his adult life to be there, he is a true hero. 

  5. Yes, they were heroic! If nobody had been brave enough to help out, there would have been a lot more deaths. Een just saveing 1 person makes a difference. And the people didnt know if there would be a second attack, they wererisking their own lifes!!!

  6. i think there’s a different threshold for heroic vs brave acts.  were they brave?  absolutely! but heroic? i stick by my original opinion.  i don’t believe that the fact that more attacks might be coming made anyone a hero per se.  doing something in the face of uncertainty isn’t heroic, doing something in the face of danger is.  it’s like calling all cops showing up for work heroes bc they MIGHT encounter danger.  they aren’t.  brave – yes.  heroes – no, not until they give a chase to a criminal or save someone who’s in IMMINENT danger.  not someone who may or may not be in danger.  

  7. I’m sure at the time they were performing the acts of heroism they were not thinking of being harmed themselves and were only thinking of rescuing people that were helpless. Everyone of those people that boarded a ship would most likely call them heroes. I would have named my first born after one of them.

  8. Thanks for featuring this short documentry. There were a lot of shots I never saw before. The emotion in the after thought of the rescuers hits home. Very well put together but that’s why it made it to the Summit.

  9. Seriously, people?  Yes, they did brave potential danger and so yes, they were brave, I am not arguing they weren’t, but I would still stop short of calling them heroes.  Let’s re-frame it, lets look at what heroism is from the perspective of people probably best qualified to recognize it.  The Army awards its “Distinguished Service Cross” for “Extraordinary heroism”.  It is given for “extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy
    force. Actions that merit the Distinguished Service Cross must be of
    such a high degree that they are above those required for all other U.S.
    combat decorations but do not meet the criteria for the Medal of Honor”.  Even if one strips out the combat requirement since the boat lift wasn’t in the war zone, what those brave seamen did still falls short of “extreme gallantry and risk of life” “of
    such a high degree that they are above” anything that would have warranted a “lesser” award. 

  10. I can sense that you really do not mean any disrespect, but why are you so focused on semantics? Like the quote in the beginning of the film, “A hero is a man who does what he can.” There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that what these guys did was a great thing and I see no point in devaluing it because you don’t think they fit your definition of the word. A quick search for the definition of “hero” returned this:
    1.    remarkably brave person: somebody who commits an act of remarkable bravery or who has shown an admirable quality such as great courage or strength of character
    2.    somebody admired: somebody who is admired for outstanding qualities or achievements
    I think that even you can’t argue that these guys fit this definition entirely.

  11. I obviously mean no disrespect.  The guys were brave and did a great thing, no question about it.  But to me, calling them, and lately, if you follow the news/TV, many other people “heroes” devalues what that means relative to the actual heroes.  Is it fair to equate their acts to those of firemen running up the towers? or soldiers going back to retrieve the wounded? or someone jumping on the subway tracks to pull someone out from an oncoming train? Clearly these acts of valor aren’t the same, not in my book anyway.  Should we call these later ppl superheroes? You see where I am going with this. 

  12. My father was part of the “boatlift” on 9/11 – he was working on a small Sea Tow boat out of Venice Marina.  Has lots of photos from that day.  He even tied up and directed people to the water to get onto the boats.  Very proud of him.  

  13. My father worked for sea tow at the time and took countless people off of the island. Being at the site for hours actually made him sick and helped contribute to his current COPD. He’s most certainly a hero. He potentially saved lives and if that isn’t heroic I don’t know what is. This is a great film and I’m so happy that these people, who didn’t expect any recognition, are being featured here. 

  14. That depends on what you believe to be the “true meaning of the word”. Webster’s says a hero is someone who displays “bravery”, who puts others before themselves. These men, who took part in the largest sea evacuation in history, had no idea if there would be another attack, didn’t know if breathing the fumes would endanger their own health and did it with no training or planning.  They weren’t “first responders” who were trained and expected to act, they were “regular guys” who happened to be on the water that day…not to split hairs but, isn’t this the definition of the word hero?  I showed this film to 6th graders, who were born in 2001 and have no memory of that day…they thought they were heroes!

  15. well, in that case maybe we should think of lesser and greater heroes, bc there’s no way you would convince me that their actions, as brave as they were, came close to, say, those of someone returning to the battle field to retrieve a wounded comrade, to cite just one example. 
    As to the ” the largest sea evacuation in history”, you might want to familiarize yourself with Dunkirk evacuation.  And speaking of, those were def greater heroes.Finally, you don’t honestly believe that having 6th graders think something is a good argument, do you? cheers!

  16. Actually, the evacuation at Dunkirk saved 359,000 soldiers in nine days…The “Boatlift” captains  saved more than 500,000 people in less than nine hours so, yes, it was the “greatest sea evacuation in history”.  That being said, i didn’t mean any disrespect to “real” heroes, but we were defining “heroes” in the classic literary sense and made the observation that these boatmen behaved heroically; I was only trying to give little children, born in 2001, something positive to associate with this day.  I think you’d be surprised at how 6th graders can think!  So, cheers to you too.

  17. They certainly were heroes and i hope that this film becomes required viewing in school every year…I know in my classroom, it is! Wish your father well and say thanks…my kids were amazed by the story and I will share it with new students every year!

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