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NYC Ferry deckhands make sure sailing stays smooth

Up at 3:30 a.m., Matthew Kleinman sails the South Brooklyn route.

Deckhand Matthew Kleinman describes his NYC Ferry duties

Deckhand Matthew Kleinman describes his NYC Ferry duties to amNY reporter Abigail Weinberg while traversing the South Brooklyn route earlier this month. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

The water glimmers under the noonday sun as the Sunset Crossing — an NYC Ferry vessel — glides toward Sunset Park. Deckhand Matthew Kleinman, 29, steps onto the deck, and passengers follow him as they often do. He warns them to stay back while the boat is in motion.

“For your safety,” he says.

The ferry arrives. He opens the gate, holding down a button to lower the mechanical ramp leading to the platform. Passengers emerge from the cabin and walk down the ramp to shore.

Kleinman then collects tickets from the next load of passengers, carefully monitoring the ferry’s occupancy — 149 max — with the clicks of a small green counter. No more than 11 people get on at any given stop today. He raises the ramp, closes the gate, and maintains his post as the boat embarks for Red Hook.

Kleinman performs this ritual at six stops — seven on weekends — along the South Brooklyn route of the NYC Ferry service, shuttling tourists and commuters from Bay Ridge to Wall Street and back in round trips of about an hour and a half.

Five million people have ridden the ferry service, including routes servicing Astoria and Rockaway, since its opening day on May 1, 2017. Kleinman is one of the many NYC Ferry employees who work behind the scenes to provide New Yorkers with a reliable alternate form of transportation.

Kleinman’s almost done for the day. He woke up at 3:30 a.m. and drove from his home on Long Island to “home port” in time for his 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift. Daily duties include provisioning the boat with food, water and cleaning supplies; checking fuel and water levels; emptying the waste tank; checking in with the captain; and making sure that no water comes in from the outside.

“Just ensuring the safety and security of the vessel before getting underway and starting the day,” he says humbly.

He has no complaints about the long hours.

“I grew up on the water into a boating family. I’ve been a boat owner myself for years, since I was like 15,” he says. “I just really had a love for being on the water, and I always wanted to get into it professionally.”

After completing a degree in technology studies from Farmingdale State College and interning on a tall ship, he joined the NYC Ferry service.

Kleinman, a former Eagle Scout, keeps in his waistband a marlinspike, a sailor’s rigging knife, a flashlight and a sailor’s multi-tool, “like a Swiss Army knife, but it comes with pliers.” Always prepared, he at one point rushes to the aid of a woman whose baby stroller and coffee fell on the ground. He then dashes into a backroom for a mop.

“I have all the duties and responsibilities, except for what the captain is responsible for,” he says.

He likes to chat with passengers between stops when he gets the chance. Sometimes people get seasick, and he guides them toward the centerline in the back of the boat, where the sailing is smoother. But for the most part, riders quietly enjoy the quick trip across the city’s waterways.

Kleinman enjoys it, too.


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