When Bill and Sue Ewen stood on the porch of their cottage in the Camp Ground in Oak Bluffs a few weeks ago, they heard something through the sharp autumn air that delighted them. Two miles to the west, they picked up the sound of the ferry Nantucket leaving Vineyard Haven, thanks to the old-time cry of a steam whistle that Mr. Ewen had given to the Steamship Authority to install on the boat.

The whistle comes from the ferry Brinckerhoff, a sidewheel ferry built in 1899 to serve on the Hudson River between Poughkeepsie and Highland, N.Y. Today the whistle stands as a bronze-capped ornament above the wheelhouse of the Nantucket, built in 1974. Rigged up during off-season maintenance work this fall, the whistle trades the blatting horn of a shuttling, dieselized old ferry for a voice that recalls an era when every voyage aboard an Island steamboat felt almost as adventurous as a start across the broad Atlantic.

It is the third steam whistle the Steamship Authority has installed on an Island ferry since 2006, but this is the first to come from a vessel that never had anything to do with Island service. The first was given to the ferry Eagle, a vessel that serves Nantucket exclusively; that whistle once belonged to the Nobska, a steamer that sailed to the Vineyard and Nantucket from 1925 to 1973. The second was given to the ferry Martha’s Vineyard; hers belonged to the Charles A. Dunning, which ran here as the steamer Sankaty from 1911 to 1924.

With no other steam whistles of Island provenance available, the Steamship Authority accepted an offer from Mr. Ewen — an artist, historian, lecturer and author of a forthcoming book on the Island steamers — to lend the Brinckerhoff whistle to the Nantucket open-endedly. The whistle is part of his collection of steamboat memorabilia and he was glad the boat line accepted.

“A whistle is maybe decorative, but it’s a voice, a voice of a ship, and it has to be heard, I think. It’s the voice of industrial America,” he said, and after a moment he added two words, and a smile, to how it felt to hear the Brinckerhoff whistle pipe across the Camp Ground from one town away: “It’s satisfying.”

The conversion of the ferry horns to steamboat whistles began eight years ago when the late H. Flint Ranney, then the SSA board member from Nantucket, and Brian Dawicki, long a master chief in the Coast Guard, obtained the whistle of the Nobska from the New England Steamship Foundation. After her retirement, the foundation had tried to save the Nobska and return her to Island waters as a passenger-carrying museum, but the effort failed and she had been scrapped. Mr. Dawicki’s late father Joe was the chief engineer who shut down the Nobska’s steam engine for the last time at the end of the 1973 summer season.

With the Nobska whistle at work again, the Eagle began to sound a throaty call whenever she sailed into or out of Nantucket harbor. “We got a lot of positive comments about it,” said Wayne Lamson, general manager of the boat line. “People could hear it all over the island. And it was kind of a branding thing for the Steamship Authority. Where it was so well received, we thought we would try to expand it to the other larger vessels.”

Mr. Ewen grew envious of what Nantucket got to hear every day. He wrote Marc Hanover, the Vineyard SSA governor, that the Sankaty-Dunning whistle might be available for a ferry that served the Vineyard. It belonged to Conrad Milster, the chief engineer of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Mr. Milster agreed to lend that whistle long-term to the ferry Martha’s Vineyard in June 2012.

Mr. Ewen then offered the Brinckerhoff whistle to a third ferry, and the SSA installed it this autumn on the Nantucket, which serves the Vineyard in the off-season and Nantucket in the summer. Higher-pitched than the first two, the wail still suits Mr. Ewen fine: “I think it would be nice if they were all a little different so you could tell them apart,” he said.

As recounted by Mr. Ewen, the Brinckerhoff served in New York for 42 years until the opening of the Mid-Hudson Bridge. She was sold in 1941 to the city of Bridgeport, Conn., which ran her as an excursion boat. In 1950, William H. Ewen Sr. and Freeman Hathaway, president of the Steamship Historical Society of America, convinced the mayor of Bridgeport to donate the Brinckerhoff to Mystic Seaport, where she lay as a pierside exhibit until 1961. Apparently Mystic did not think her worth keeping, and she was sold to a man in Pawcatuck, Conn. who was going to make a marina of her. That never happened and she burned while lying on a riverbank.

But before the Brinckerhoff departed Mystic, the organization gave her whistle to Mr. Ewen’s father and Bill Ewen inherited it from him. Though voiced today by compressed air rather than steam, all the whistles still work as they once did — an officer on the bridge pulls a handle and the sound rises from a deep tuba blast to a yearning reveille. The whistles are used ceremonially for departures. To keep things simple and routine on the bridge, the regular horns are used when necessary on the run.

The Steamship Authority plans to install old whistles on two more boats. Carl Walker, director of maintenance and engineering, recently bought one, unidentified so far, on eBay for roughly $2,700. That will go on the ferry Island Home this winter. The boat line is looking for yet another for the new super-freight boat, the Woods Hole, which should arrive in the spring of 2016.

Meanwhile, neither Mr. Walker nor Mr. Lamson were surprised to learn that the Ewens can hear the Brinckerhoff whistle hit the high note from the ferry Nantucket two miles away. Mr. Walker, who lives in East Falmouth, can hear the steam whistles from Woods Hole. And Mr. Lamson can hear them from farther away than that.

“I live in Falmouth, and it was about 10:45 yesterday morning, and I heard the whistle,” he said. “I said, that boat is not in Woods Hole. That boat is getting ready to leave Vineyard Haven – unless I don’t know something, unless they switched schedules. I said, Oh, my God, I can hear that all the way from Vineyard Haven.”

Vineyard Haven lies seven miles from Mr. Lamson’s house.