Pensacola Bay Ferry System
Gulf Islands National Seashore Ferry Project Downtown Ferry Landing
Unless you own your own boat, there's only one way to get to Fort Pickens and that's by land. The problem is, that road - State Road 399 (aka Fort Pickens Road) - frequently washes out and becomes impassible for days, weeks, even months at a time. Since you can't actually pave a road with good intentions, repairing it costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year. In the modern age of government "belt tightening," officials with the National Park Service, which owns and operates the historic Fort and the campgrounds, beaches, picnic areas and other public amenities surrounding it, knew that sooner or later the day would come when funding to continue repairing Fort Pickens Road would evaporate, so they set out to ensure public access to the Fort would continue even if the road was gone.
Beginning spring 2018, there will be two new ways to get to Fort Pickens, both by sea. The Turtle Runner and Pelican Perch are the Park Service's new 150-passenger, catamaran-style ferry boats. Purchased with money from fines and settlement payments resulting from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the ferries will shuttle folks between downtown Pensacola, Fort Pickens, and Quietwater Pier on the Santa Rosa Sound side of Pensacola Beach.
But a ferry boat isn't much good to anyone without a nice place to dock. That's where the Downtown Pensacola Ferry Landing comes in. Located at the head of Commendencia Slip between the Port of Pensacola and Plaza de Luna/Palafox Pier, the new $3.5 million dock and terminal building will be iconic additions to Pensacola's downtown waterfront and will serve as the homeport location for the two vessels.
The boats will be operated by a concessioner selected by the Park Service. One vessel will operate clockwise Pensacola - Quietwater Pier - Fort Pickens; the second will run counterclockwise Pensacola - Fort Pickens - Quietwater Pier. Each leg of the journey will last 35-45 minutes and will include narration by interpretive guides. Since the ticket price will be a daily rate, passengers will be able to travel as many of the three legs as they want and hop on and off the boat(s) multiple times in the same day. While the selected concessioner will ultimately determine the schedule, the intent is that the boats will operate between mid-March and the end of October with multiple daily fixed-schedule sailings during the May through August peak season and weekend-only fixed-schedule operations during the early spring and late fall shoulder seasons. A new ferry dock is ready and waiting at Fort Pickens and necessary alterations to Quietwater Pier are being made by Escambia County simultaneous to the City's Downtown Ferry Landing project.