The Ferries Of The Rockaway Boat Lines

Photo courtesy of John Landers
The dock entrance in Sheepshead Bay (Photo courtesy of John Landers)

If television has taught me anything, it is that one should be wary of any “three hour tours” unless you don’t mind getting stranded on an island with a scientist, a goofy first mate and an angry skipper. Luckily, the tours once advertised by Rockaway Boat Lines only offered tours ranging from one to two and a half hours, saving people the fate of trying to figure out how to wire a radio out of a coconut. The pictures were provided by Sheepshead Bites read John Landers, who had previously sent us a picture of the Columbia, which sailed from Sheepshead Bay to Breezy Point and the Rockaways.

Landers has provided us with more vintage pictures including a shot of the dock entrance at Sheepshead Bay and other ferries docked at the Sheepshead Bay Marina. Thanks for the great pictures John!

Photo courtesy of John Landers
Photo courtesy of John Landers
Photo courtesy of John Landers
Photo courtesy of John Landers

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  1. I vaguely remember that they were run by Circle Line at one point. Does anyone else remember that?

  2. I remember the boats well, but really don’t remember them being run by Circle Line. Sorry babes.

  3. You neglected to mention that getting stranded on that three hour tour would enable you to meet the incredible Dawn Wells and Tina Louise (MaryAnn and Ginger). Dawn Wells was incredibly hot (and not innocent!) in roles well before Gilligan’s Island. And Tina Louise? Well.
    What this has to do with the article is beyond me.

  4. i remember them well and use to be used for fireworks on the 4th and each year they take out two boats of gettho kids for rides .

  5. Hi I worked on the ferris in 1977-80. Sonny Clair owned the ferry, and his dad Francis Clair was 1 of 5 owners of circle line. I was 17 and was a deck hand. Great summers, great memories!

  6. I believe my great grandfather had an interest in the ferry company just after the turn of the century. His name was Philip Howard Reid and he also was a financial baker of the Rockaway Point Bungalow Colony and the Sheepshead Bay Speedway. I am looking for any additional information anyone can share. Thank you.

  7. Your great grandfather did own the Ferry and I believe his father owned a Ferry from Carnise to Rockaway. One of the Ferries was named C Washington Colyer who was an uncle to your great grandfather. He was a banker with the East New York Savings Bank financed the Rockaway Point Bungalow Colony. Email me at if you have questions

  8. So Ron, I assume you were a disciple of Captain Willie Sutherland!
    To this day the unforgetable person I ever met!

  9. Great pictures, thanks for showing them. I started as a deckhand at Rockaway Boat Lines the summer of 1969. Got promoted to Captain a few years later. Taught by one of best Captains Wilie Sutherland. Talk about wooden ships and iron men! RBL was owned by the Clair family in SB, Sonny was the GM. The Clairs were partners in the Circle Line and the Hudson River Dayline. Great family, good business men. Took care of their employees. As far as I know Ed Clair senior is still around, living in Florida. Ed told me years ago, that there were several ferries owned by RBL. The ones that I worked on were the C. Washington Colyer, Commander (still operating in Haverstraw), Columbia and the Frederick Lundy (freight boat). The Manhattan had been sold to the CYO Day Camp in Whitestone just before I worked there. Other boats were the Visitor, Neponsit, Rockaway and one other which name escapes me now. The Manhattan is still operating on an upstate lake. These boats were built during the years 1912 thru 1918 and had steam engines later updated to Greymarine diesels. The Commander still has her Greymarine diesel running! I was on her 5 years ago when she returned to Breezy Points 50th Anniversary. What was amazing about these boats was their passenger carrying ability for boats only 65 feet long, (Columbia was 79′), the Commander could carry 245 passengers and they filled them on Fireworks nights. I can remember the lines waiting to board, 5 across from Pier 10 past Ocean Avenue.
    Would love to hear from anyone with memories, especially pictures and former employees!

  10. I was also a deckhand who came up through the ranks and became a captain. I started in 1966. I did it for 4 or 5 years and it was the best job I ever had. I worked on all the boats, mainly the Colyer. Willie Sutherland was a wry and funny little man. I still remember Andy Waters who worked at the front desk. Billy Allen, another captain , Walter Curran, and Tommy Capodacasa, resident carpenter. My dear friend Joe Mulhern was a captain who sadly recently passed away. My wife and I saw the Commander about 10 years ago in Greenport, LI, being fitted out for its Hudson River run. Sonny and Frank Clare were a big part of Sheepshead Bay. Those were the good old days. Didn’t know about the 50 year Breezy Point anniversary.

  11. I remember these ferries very well. Sometime in the early 1950’s I spent summer days hanging around the ferry docks with a group of three friends. Ferry fares were only collected in Sheepshead Bay. So we got the idea of taking the ferry for a ride part of the way. Objective was to have some fun while conning the passengers. So, one of us would suddenly jump off the boat while the others all hollered “Man Overboard, man overboard! We’ll save him.” Then we would jump into the water ourselves laughing al the time.

    We pulled this stunt several times much to the chagrin of boat captain and crew. Until one day we misjudged the tide and three of us were carried along to the west and then south past the end of the Breezy Point jetty. I was not a great swimmer but I could stay afloat for a while. I was getting very tired at one point and began to think about giving up the struggle. Fortunately, one of the Sheepshead fishing boats came within shouting range and picked us up. It helped I think that we had all stayed together.

    When we reached the pier in Sheepshead Bay a couple of New York’s finest were waiting for us. All we could say at that point was “Please don’t tell my parents!” The men in blue were sympathetic and drove us over the Marine Parkway bridge and dropped us off after we promised not to try that trick again.

    Talk about unforgettable experiences!

  12. During the summer of 1952 I had a job as a cabana boy at the Breezy Point Surf Club. I would commue from Bay Ridge by hitching along the belt Parkway to Sheepshead Bay and catching the ferry. I remember the C. Washington Colyer, mentioned above.. The ferry would stop first at Kennedy’s Breezy Point Casino, proceed east along the point, calling in at the Blarney Castle in Roxbury, then returning to Sheepshead Bay. in bad weather we would sit below watching the big old engine clanking away in our midst.. I loved those old boats.

  13. Frank. My friend Ronny Moss and I worked at Breezy Point the summers of 1951and 1952. We were from Bay Ridge, too, We took the subway or the trolley to Sheepshead Bay to board the ferry. My name is Jason Mavrovitis. The last team was Mavis at that time. I took back the original. Loved it when my sister would meet us at Sheepshead Bay after work and we’s eat a bucket of steamers at Lundy’s. Then get a ride home.

  14. The Ferry Service starts in 1906 with there boats; Sheepshead, Rockaway and Bell Harbor. A 4th boat the Major Edward Gillman was added in 1908, In 1912 the Manhattan (named after Manhattan Beach), Neponset and Frederick Lundy were added. The latter was named for a New York City Politician who was FWIL’s father. His wife later got into a legal battle with P Howard Reid over the dock property. The Colyer and Uncle Sam were added in 1914 than the Commander and finally the Columbia. There were other ferries owned by Howard Reid which Tom Lind had mentioned which served Rockaway Playland. I also understand there was also another ferry company providing service to Rockaway Point from Sheepshead Bay

  15. Swimming in excrement was preferable to riding this death trap on waves. We took it over to Breezy Point one time in the mid 1970s, during a somewhat cloudy / windy day, and the whitecaps were splashing into the cabin. Boat driver seemed to enjoy cutting through wakes and enhancing this “experience”. Moved to Kansas.

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