The Maine State Ferry Service announced Oct. 30 that it will implement a new winter schedule on the ferry route serving the island of Vinalhaven. The changes will go into effect Sunday, Nov. 4, to coincide with the end of Daylight Saving Time.

The modifications will mean that the Vinalhaven schedule will revert to the pre-2010 winter schedule for 17 weeks in the winter. The number of trips per day will not change, but vessel departure times will be adjusted to move the last boat time to 3:15 p.m. (from 4:30 p.m.) to keep the ferry passage in daylight conditions. These changes come after a Vinalhaven Route Safety Assessment was conducted at the request of MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt in September. The Vinalhaven route is the only ferry schedule change as a result of the assessment.

“In response to safety concerns raised by the MSFS captains who regularly serve on the Vinalhaven route, Commissioner Bernhardt asked the MSFS to conduct an emergency route assessment with participants from the ferry service, United States Coast Guard and the town of Vinalhaven,” said MSFS Manager Mark Higgins. “After conducting the assessment, we found that the risk of continuing a 4:30 p.m. trip to Vinalhaven in dark hours, during winter months, was unacceptable without further study and implementation of mitigation measures.”

The MSFS ferry crossing from Rockland to Carver’s Harbor in Vinalhaven is the service’s longest daily route, according to a ferry service press release, and undoubtedly the most navigationally challenging. Even in good weather and visibility conditions, the last 30 minutes during the approach around the southwest side of the island to access the harbor are demanding because of the narrow and shallow channels, particularly in Lawry’s Narrows and The Reach. Fishing fleet congestion and visibility issues caused by modern LED illumination on wharfs and approaching vessels compound the safety concerns in this area.

“While we understand that the schedule change will present inconveniences to some of our customers, safety must take priority when making operational decisions,” said Bernhardt.

The new schedule is available online at mainedot.gov.