No Island institution has escaped the crushing effects of the coronavirus crisis, including the Steamship Authority. Traffic on ferries is now all but at a standstill. Cash is running dangerously low.

The boat line which is the lifeline to the two Islands is facing a historic and unprecedented financial crisis — one that is entirely not of its own making.

But the financial emergency has not been handled well in recent weeks by senior managers and board leaders, who pressed the panic button too soon with their letter to Governor Baker last week, shaking public confidence precisely at a time when calm, open public discussion and a level-headed approach was needed.

The letter from SSA general manager Robert Davis to Gov. Charlie Baker last Friday urgently seeking a financial bailout came out of the blue, and an accompanying press release only amplified the sense of crisis. The boat line was losing a million dollars a week and would be out of money by May 31, Mr. Davis said. And while not stated in so many words, the takeaway was unmistakable: ferries might have to shut down.

It all had the troubling effect of instilling fear among Islanders and consternation among people who are hoping to return to the Island when the pandemic threat abates.

The 1960 Steamship Authority enabling legislation, which has been revised several times, spells out procedures for boat line finances. In the event of an operating deficit, there is a process for seeking financial assistance from the state, after other avenues are exhausted, including the use of reserve funds. Ultimately any deficit would need to be made up by the taxpayers of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Barnstable, Falmouth and New Bedford.

That has not happened since 1962. So going to the governor to ask for money was a big deal.

Explaining the haste in getting out the letter with no prior public discussion and just days before a board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Mr. Davis said he had learned about a possible new source of funding that required state approval, and had been advised by Beacon Hill politicians that the window was closing rapidly.

Then at the meeting Tuesday the letter was barely discussed. Other sources of funding were beginning to line up, and it appeared the urgency had suddenly faded.

It was the first meeting of the board since the outbreak began more than a month ago.

Islanders who know their history know that going to the state legislature for anything is a slippery slope, especially when it comes to Steamship Authority matters. The lesson was well learned in the late 1990s when powerful New Bedford politicians staged an aggressive coup to break apart the boat line for their own special interests. The two Islands fought back, and in a political compromise won the right to control a newly constituted governing board. It was a narrow escape from a state takeover for the ferry line, unique in the country because it operates without state and federal subsidy.

Some kind of subsidy may still be needed to bring the SSA out of this crisis; it’s too soon to say. But it should be an avenue of last resort.

The calamitous decline in ridership should be no surprise while both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard remain under stay-at-home orders. But the Steamship Authority has the opportunity to play a positive and constructive role in how and when the Island reopens and how that message is communicated.

Suggesting that it may soon be out of business is a poor way to start.