The perennial mild griping about the Steamship Authority among seasonal and full-time Islanders has taken on a new, sharper tone in recent months, a trend that is as deserved as it is troubling.

There are few institutions with greater impact on how Martha’s Vineyard will evolve in the coming years, and fewer still over which the residents of this Island can have more influence. In the coming weeks, the county commission will appoint the Island’s first new governor in fifteen years, a complicated, unpaid and ultimately thankless position that could be instrumental in setting the boat line on a better course.

Though it has become something of a cliché, the ferry service truly is the Vineyard’s lifeline and needs to be run with the same rigorous attention to dependability and contingency planning as any other operation where people’s lives are stake.

True, no one died when the SSA’s website crashed Tuesday, on the very day the boat line had announced it would begin accepting summer reservations. But management’s failure to anticipate an entirely predictable event — incredibly, the same thing happened two years ago — is exactly the kind of unforced error that fuels worries about who, if anyone, is running the show.

The website fiasco is the latest in an accumulating list of issues — mechanical mishaps, ferry cancellations, the unpopular, ill-advised Woods Hole terminal design — that may stem from different causes but ultimately point to a single problem: an absence of leadership, not just by SSA management, but by the board of governors that is charged with setting direction and ensuring it is carried out.

As the gateway to Martha’s Vineyard, the ferry service is the first exposure many visitors have to the Island. At the very least, ongoing problems at the boat line are an embarrassment to those whose livelihoods depend on tourism. But incompetent leadership holds a much bigger risk, and that is the risk that Islanders will lose control of their boat line altogether.

Created by an act of the state legislature, the Steamship Authority has a unique governing structure that gives extraordinary control over the agency to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the two Islands it serves. The two Island governors on the five-member board of governors each have weighted votes of thirty five per cent; the other three governors have just ten per cent each.

That super-majority presents an enormous opportunity for the Islands — especially if they can find a way to work together — to remake the Steamship Authority into the 21st century transportation agency that residents deserve and should be demanding.

What is given by the legislature can as easily be removed, and already there are scattered calls for a state takeover of the SSA, a suggestion that is dangerously short-sighted. Whatever else it might be, a state-run agency would not be dedicated foremost to the interests of Island residents.

The Island’s outgoing governor, Marc Hanover, deserves our thanks not only for his many years of service to the Island and the Steamship Authority, but for knowing when it was time to hand off the responsibility to someone new.

Now it will be up to the county commission to identify a new governor with the experience, diligence and strength to insist that the Steamship Authority live up to its newly minted mission statement: to operate a safe, efficient, and reliable transportation system for the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket with a commitment to sustainability, accessibility, our port communities, and public engagement.