Most passengers wear masks on the deck of a Cranberry Cove Ferry as it leaves Southwest Harbor. Mask wearing is required on ferries, on docks and in other public areas, per Cranberry Isles selectmen. “We’re policing it the best we can,” said Captain Amanda Bracy of Cranberry Cove Ferry. She also noted that captains do not wear masks as they do not come in close proximity to the public. PHOTO COURTESY OF WINSTON SHAW

‘They are our frontline’: Ferries navigate public health concerns

CRANBERRY ISLES — Mask wearing is an issue most people feel strongly about one way or another. This is true almost everywhere, even on a small island community. 

Cari Alley, the Cranberry Isles health officer, said she regularly fields complaints that not everyone wears a mask on ferries. “I am getting a ton of complaints,” she said. “People are very concerned.” 

According to Alley, ferries to Great and Little Cranberry Islands are “the front line. They’re our barrier between [us and] the world.” Alley continued, “It is my hope that they are following guidelines suggested not only by the Maine CDC, but also the orders put in place by Governor [Janet] Mills.”  

According to the CDC, the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread from person to person in close proximity. It can be transmitted by speaking, coughing or sneezing. Recent studies found the virus can be spread “even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms,” according to the CDC website. Therefore, universal mask wearing in public areas where people are in close proximity is recommended to stop virus spread. 

In an April press conference, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, called mask wearing “yet an additional layer of protection, another layer of the onion, that we can rely on.” 

Governor Mills’ “Stay Safer at Home Order, issued on April 29, required mask wearing on public transportation, including ferries. Though the “Stay Safer at Home Order” was lifted at the end of May, a new order continued the requirement of face coverings on public transportation until further notice. Exemptions are granted for children under 2 and people with medical conditions that make it difficult to breathe through a mask. 

In addition to the statewide order, the Town of Cranberry Isles has its own policies related to mask wearing. A statement released on May 5 by Cranberry Isles selectmen requires people to wear masks on ferries as well as on docks, in stores and in the post offices to prevent the spread of the virus in the small island community without a hospital 

As town selectmen wrote in the statement, “Being sick on an island is very different and can create difficult situations. With the rapid spread and nature of COVID-19, the islands could be the worst place for someone if they are sick. Not to mention the rapid spread to other community members if the proper sanitation and precautions are not taken by individuals.” 

Though the town has clear expectations, Alley said, “In regard to the ferry boats, it is hard to enforceThe ferries are owned by private companies.  

I have had healthy conversations with all of the ferry owners,” Alley said. “I have explained that they are our frontline. Having consistent cleaning and wearing masks on the ferries is an important part of keeping our communities COVID-19 free.” 

Ferries, as well as providing a barrier, also provide an important connection to the mainland, Alley explained. Ferries transport not only people to the islands, but also mail, cargo and groceries. When school is in session, ferries transport students from one island to another.  

Alley said that with school meeting remotely since mid-March, “the children did not have to travel by ferry to school at all during the beginning of the pandemic. I am sure the school board will have many items to discuss about the fall, and what safety looks like for all the kids of the Cranberry Isles.” 

Hayley Fenton, teaching principal for Ashley Bryan School on Little Cranberry Island, said student transportation will be discussed at the next school board meeting.  

Postmaster Joy Sprague said she hasn’t had any safety or health concerns with mail delivery. Mail arrives on the noon Beal & Bunker ferry, and Sprague goes to the dock to sign for it each day“Most people are wearing masks,” she said of the disembarking passengers. “I always have my mask on no matter what.” 

I appreciate the services [ferries] provide,” Alley said, “and I hope that they will role-model to our communities the safe practices we all can take when we have to travel off the islands. 

“It’s sometimes frustrating and discouraging,” Alley concluded, “but I know that most people are trying to follow the guidance.” 

Said Paul Hewes, co-owner of Beal & Bunker Ferry out of Northeast Harbor, “We are all voluntarily following protocols the best we can. We are highly suggesting [mask wearing] to our passengers.” 

Because there are exemptions for people who would have trouble breathing through a mask, Hewes said, his crew are recommending but not strictly enforcing mask wearing. “All they have to say is that they have a medical condition,” Hewes noted. 

Hewes said his crew, with the exception of the captain, wear masks and single-use gloves. “I am not requiring it [of captains],” he said, who have lookout and communication responsibilities under the Code of Federal Regulations. 

“Multiple captains of mine have spoken out against wearing [masks],” Hewes saidIt’s hard enough to communicate across the boat with people and noise from the engine. Communication is the key to safety.” 

Likewise, Capt. Amanda Bracy of Cranberry Cove Ferry out of Southwest Harbor said they follow the same protocol. As for passengers wearing masks, she said, “We’re policing it the best we can. We have signs posted.” If someone is not wearing a mask, however, she said, “we can’t legally ask why.” 

The crew wears masks while taking tickets, Bracy said. Captains do not wear them, they but work in an area of the boat roped off to the public, she said. For captains, mask wearing “creates a hazard,” she noted. “It fogs up glasses; we can’t communicate.” 

The Maine State Ferry Service that operates between Bass Harbor and Swan’s Island has mask requirements for walk-in passengers, both on ferries and in terminals. Passengers who drive onto the boat are not required to wear masks when they stay in their cars, according to the Maine DOT website. 

A Maine State Ferry Service spokesman said ticket agents in the terminal and deck hands are also required to wear masks. The boat captain, in a separate area of the boat, is not required to wear one. 


An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Postmaster Joy Sprague. The Islander apologizes for the error.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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