An industry-wide shortage of maritime workers is hampering the Steamship Authority’s ability to recruit enough crew members for the upcoming season. 

The shortage is part of a nationwide issue, with pilots in particularly short supply. The boat line also has fewer captains and oilers than budgeted.

The news was delivered at Tuesday’s port council meeting by the SSA’s chief operating officer Mark Higgins.

“It’s going to be very tight this summer,” Mr. Higgins told the port council, a group of town appointees who advise the Steamship Authority board of directors.

The Steamship Authority in recent months has had several trips on the Vineyard route canceled due to crew shortages.

“This is seen industry-wide,” Mr. Higgins said, citing the Washington State Ferry system, which last summer canceled more than 1,100 trips due in part to the shortage of maritime labor. “There’s a lack of mariners coming through the pipeline [and] a lot of people are retiring.”

Mr. Higgins said there are several pilots-in-training completing their requirements now and are expected to be on the job this summer. But with 259 people in all, the vessel staff is just four more than budgeted, according to a report presented Tuesday by human resources director Janice Kennefick. That leaves a razor-slim margin for illnesses and other absences, with no margin at all for the deck officers and chief engineers.

“We’re going to have issues over the summer,” Mr. Higgins said.

The authority has hired more than a dozen cadets from Massachusetts Maritime Academy for the summer, along three others from the state maritime academies in Maine and California, Ms. Kennefick said.

Deck officers, however, must be promoted from the ranks of experienced Steamship Authority crew members who have trained for the command positions, she said.

“They don’t come in directly at the [rank of] captain,” Ms. Kennefick said.

The port council also revisited an application from New Bedford-based barging company 41 North Offshore to provide on-demand shipments of freight and heavy equipment to the Vineyard.

The company, which already serves Nantucket under license from the Steamship Authority, would use the Oak Bluffs terminal during the summer season and the Vineyard Haven terminal when Oak Bluffs’ is closed.

“Most of our [Nantucket] demand has been for events,” 41 North Offshore representative Chace Jabotte told the council. “We’ve also brought full construction site jobs — excavators, skid steers, dump trucks, rock trucks. We got a call this morning for a request to Martha’s Vineyard from the Riley Brothers [utility contractors]” he said.

Oak Bluffs port council representative Joe Sollitto said he wanted the Oak Bluffs select board and chief of police to weigh in on the proposal before it goes to the board of governors later this month.

Tisbury member John Cahill opposed the use of the Steamship Authority’s Vineyard Haven terminal for barge service.

“The west side of the harbor... is where our pleasure crafts are. It’s also where our restaurants are,” he said. “On the east side is where our, let’s call it the light industrial side is. That’s where Vineyard Wind is. That’s where [barge and tug service] Tisbury Towing and Transportation is. There’s a boatyard over there. And that would be Tisbury’s preferred location,” he said.

Later in the day, Steamship Authority general counsel Terrence Kenneally, general manager Robert Davis and other top staff listened to more than an hour of protest from year-round and seasonal Falmouth residents who assailed the boat line for continuing to run the 5:30 a.m. Vineyard-bound freight boat in early summer. The route has long been opposed by a number of Woods Hole and Falmouth residents.

The purpose of public hearing on the 2025 operating schedule was not to answer questions but to take public testimony to incorporate into a full written report, Mr. Kenneally said at the outset.

Falmouth select board member Doug Brown reminded the port council that the town is on record opposing the early trip. With the new, larger freight ferries coming into service this year, Mr. Brown urged the boat line to shift freight from the 5:30 a.m. departure to a later trip.

“The 5:30 time frame is not needed because you can transfer your carriage to the larger boats,” he said.

Others spoke in harsher tones.

“The Steamship Authority still has no explanation, real or imagined... to run a 5:30 freight boat out of Woods Hole beyond the convenience of truckers,” said John Woodwell.

About 12 people spoke during the roughly 80-minute hearing, with some returning to make additional remarks.

No one testified in favor of the 5:30 a.m. boat, which has been supported by the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury select boards and other public officials on Martha’s Vineyard including James Malkin, a Chilmark select board who represents the Island on the Steamship Authority board of governors.

Mr. Kenneally urged anyone who wishes to comment on the issue to email within the next few days in order to be included in the final report.

Among other business Tuesday, the port council voted unanimously to recommend that the M/V Katama and M/V Gay Head be declared surplus and marketed for sale.

Two new freight boats — The M/V Barnstable and the M/V Aquinnah — are scheduled to join the fleet in the coming months. The older vessels will then no longer be worth their cost of upkeep, general manager Robert Davis told the port council.