HYANNIS --- Barges loaded with heavy equipment and materials for the Steamship Authority’s Woods Hole terminal reconstruction project are berthed so close to the operational slips that ferry captains are canceling some trips out of safety concerns, boat line officials confirmed Tuesday.

“They don’t take that decision lightly,” SSA general manager Robert Davis said at the monthly meeting of the board of governors, speaking about the captains.

Although no hard numbers were provided, Mr. Davis sought to explain the frequency of ferry cancellations on the Vineyard route in recent weeks. He said wind and weather conditions have combined at times to push ferries — even the low-profile freight vessel Katama — toward the barges berthed near slips in Woods Hole.

“From a safety standpoint, the captains, when they see these conditions, they may not operate,” Mr. Davis said. “It’s a difficult approach at best and an unsafe one at worst,” he added, particularly at night and in bad weather.

“While they have lights on the barges, on a dark rainy night it is difficult for the crews to [see] those lights,” Mr. Davis said.

He said one vessel recently came within a couple of feet of striking the 160-foot-long barge supporting the construction crane.

“Because of the wind conditions and the tides, it pushed [the ferry] toward the barge,” Mr. Davis said. “We ended up canceling for the rest of the day.”

“Has this been explained to our customers?” asked New Bedford governor Moira Tierney.

“We clearly need to be doing a better job,” Mr. Davis replied.

Communications director Sean Driscoll said the SSA has sent out advance notifications when barge work was likely to affect ferry scheduling.

“Couldn’t we go beyond that? Couldn’t we say, we want to explain, we’ve heard you loud and clear about our communication issues and we want to explain what has happened over the past month or six weeks?” Ms. Tierney pressed. “I think that we really should do that and I think that it probably should come from you. Our customers need to know. So, are you going to do that?” she continued.

“We’ll work on getting better communications out,” Mr. Davis began.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, that’s not an answer,” Ms. Tierney said. “No, no, no, no, no, no. Are you going to do that?”

“Yes,” Mr. Davis responded, several times.

“Yes, he is,” Vineyard governor Marc Hanover said.

Mr. Davis told the board that contractor Jay Cashman Inc. has been responsive to the problem, repositioning the pipe barge during times when work is not scheduled. But moving the barge to the mooring field to get it out of the way of ferries is disruptive to the construction project, he said.

“They’re losing two hours a day to put it out there and two hours a day to bring it in,” he said.

While work is under way, the barges need to be close to the construction site, Mr. Davis said. “We have upwards of 200,000 pounds of steel being put up in the air,” he said

Boat line officials had no firm estimate for when the work requiring the construction barges will be completed.

“I want to say mid-February, but don’t hold me to it,” Mr. Davis said.

The $60 million shoreside reconstruction project in Woods Hole began a year ago and is expected to run for at least another three years.

Meanwhile, some ferry cancellations last week had a different cause, Mr. Davis told the Gazette. The M/V Martha’s Vineyard suffered a pair of unrelated mechanical failures which led to the vessel being taken out of service and other trips canceled.

Mr. Davis said the first blackout, on the night of Dec. 11, was due to an alarm that went off on a backup steering system, signaling a failed power unit for steering gear that had to be replaced.

The second, Sunday evening, Mr. Davis attributed to a control on the wheelhouse console that, when disengaged, acts as a kill switch for the boat’s generators.

A protective cap over the control had apparently vibrated loose until the switch disengaged, Mr. Davis said, adding that it had recently passed inspections by both the Coast Guard and the crew after the vessel came out of a repair period.

“They were two totally different situations,” he said.

In other business Tuesday, governors approved a three-year renewal of a contract with the VTA for shuttle bus service between the Vineyard Haven terminal and the town park and ride lot on High Point Road.

The SSA will also renew its agreement with the regional high school district to transport student groups, including those from Nantucket, for a total of $55,000 during the 2021 fiscal year beginning next July 1.

The contract amount represents a roughly 50 per cent discount for school group travel.

Treasurer comptroller Mark Rozum also gave a quick preview of a mobile ticketing service that will be introduced on the Vineyard route in 2020.

A recent trial aboard the Nantucket fast ferry route was well reviewed by customers who used the Apple Pay or Google Wallet applications to purchase digital tickets with their mobile devices, he said.

Once purchased, the tickets can be scanned directly from a passenger’s device and multiple members of a family group can access tickets on the same account.

“Nobody will be fighting over who has the card,” Mr. Rozum said.

Mr. Davis said Google and Apple both indicated to the SSA that this is the first e-ticketing for a ferry service that they have been involved with.

“It’s quite an accomplishment to get this done,” he said.

Mr. Davis also introduced the board to veteran ferry captain Paul Hennessy, a 29-year SSA employee who has been captaining the boats since 2003 and last month was promoted to assistant port captain.

“He’s going to be a great addition to the office,” Mr. Davis said.

Governors approved the selection of the Fairhaven Shipyard for the fast ferry Iyannough’s upcoming dry dock overhaul and the reappointment of RSM LLP as the boat line’s independent auditors.

They also granted a request from the Seastreak fast ferry to tweak its Nantucket schedule for 2020, adding trips in April, November and December and adjusting its seasonal and holiday departure times.

Nearing adjournment, board members exchanged leadership roles for 2020, following a traditional rotation among the port communities.

Mr. Hanover will take over the board chairmanship from Robert Jones of Barnstable. Kathryn Wilson of Falmouth will replace Mr. Hanover as vice chairman, with Ms. Tierney becoming board secretary.

The board holds its first 2020 meeting on Jan. 21 at 10 a.m. at the administrative office building on Palmer avenue in Falmouth. Meetings are scheduled for the third Tuesday of each month, in Falmouth from January through March and rotating among all the port towns from April through December.