With a seemingly endless landscape of rivers, inlets, and sounds, maritime transportation has been a part of life in Eastern North Carolina as long as people have lived here. The current North Carolina Ferry System traces its roots back to the mid-1920s, when Captain J.B. "Toby" Tillett began a tug and barge service across Oregon Inlet.
In 1934, the North Carolina Highway Commission began subsidizing Tillett's business in order to keep tolls affordable to the ever-increasing amount of residents and visitors in the area. Eight years later, the Highway Commission fully reimbursed Tillett in order to eliminate the tolls. This continued until Tillett's business was sold to the state in 1950.
The first "official" route of the North Carolina Ferry System was established in 1947, when a private ferry across Croatan Sound between Manns Harbor and Roanoke Island was purchased from T.A. Baum.
Today, the Ferry System runs 22 boats on seven regular routes across five bodies of water: Currituck and Pamlico Sounds, and the Cape Fear, Neuse, and Pamlico Rivers. Our ferries transport about 850,000 vehicles and two million passengers a year, making it the second largest state-run ferry system in the United States. We not only carry visitors, but residents, commuters, and school children as well. Two of our routes (Hatteras-Ocracoke and Ocracoke-Cedar Island) are officially part of The Outer Banks Scenic Byway.
In addition, the North Carolina Ferry System runs an emergency route between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe that provides a crucial transportation link between Hatteras Island and the mainland when NC Highway 12 is damaged due to storms and other issues. The emergency route was used in 2011 after Hurricane Irene, in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy, and in 2013 while emergency repairs were made to the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge.
The North Carolina Ferry System is proud to be a part of the daily life of coastal North Carolina, and an integral part of millions of vacation experiences. We hope you enjoy your voyage on the North Carolina Ferry System and your stay in this place we call home. Welcome aboard!