A highlight of many Hatteras Island vacations is the day trip to adjacent Ocracoke Island. With 14 miles of beaches, and a small beach community that’s just four square miles, Ocracoke is a remarkable attraction with a character all its own. Half of the fun, of course is the 40 minute free ferry ride that originates in Hatteras Village and crosses Hatteras Inlet to arrive at the northern end of Ocracoke Island.
While the ride itself is a stunning new way to see Hatteras and Ocracoke, planning and boarding the ferry can occasionally be fraught with misconceptions, as evident by an August Island Breeze article which interviewed long time ferry personal on some of their stranger questions and requests. One passenger asked if Ocracoke Island accepted American currency, another asked what time the ferry workers let the dolphins out, and yet another asked which Hatteras Island ferry went to New Jersey.
Naturally, most questions aren’t colorful ones, and knowing the basics of the ferry operations will go a long way in planning your Ocracoke day trip and make preparations a breeze. So let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions before you board the ferry, and once these questions are answered, all you’ll have to do is remember to bring the day-old-bread for the hungry seagulls off the back of the boat.
What time does the ferry leave? From April through October 27, the ferry departs both Hatteras and Ocracoke terminals every hour from 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 a.m., every half hour from 7:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m., and every hour from 8:00 p.m. – Midnight. If there are many people who want to ride the ferry, the ferries will occasionally make runs every 15 minutes. After October 27, the ferry runs every hour, from 5:00 a.m. – Midnight.
What’s the ferry ride like? Passengers are welcome to get out of their cars and explore the boat. Many folks like to find a good part of the deck to settle in and enjoy the views. On hot or cold days, the climate controlled passenger lounge provides a great place to relax, and all the ferries have public restrooms. You can even feed the seagulls who follow the ferries, provided you throw the crumbs off the back of the boat. Pets are also welcome on the ferries, (provided they are on a leash or remain in the car), but there is no smoking allowed once on board.
When’s the best time to go? During the peak season, a ferry ride can be popular, and while there’s plenty of shops, restaurants and attractions to keep you occupied, if you’re in a hurry, the best time to leave is in the early morning before 10:00 a.m. or in the afternoon. Planning a two week vacation? Try to catch a Saturday or Sunday ferry, when in the summertime, the terminals are generally less crowded. For photographers and sightseers, an evening ferry ride is a must, as the sunset over the inlet is purely picturesque.
How does the ferry get across? Many folks remark that it seems strange to see folks wading in the sound up to their waist just 50 yards from the ship’s path. It’s true that the sound’s waters are shallow, but the ferries navigate through deep, manmade canals that have been purposely formed to allow the ferries to cross.
Do the ferries ever stop running? The ferries operate 365 days a year, 5:00 a.m. through midnight, rain or shine. The only time a ferry does not run is when high winds, (generally over 35 or 40 mph), make crossing the inlet a safety hazard. If an extremely windy day arises, simply check the NC Ferry System’s website, http://www.ncdot.org/transit/ferry/ or call 1-800-NC-FERRY for more information.