Chesapeake Bay Car Ferries

I’ve noticed queries from the search engines that wonder whether car ferries cross the Chesapeake Bay. Apparently my United States Domestic Ferries page scores high on a related sets of queries but my page doesn’t provide the actual answer. That’s because my page deals with the present situation and doesn’t delve into the historical record. However, I have greater latitude on the Twelve Mile Circle so I will attempt to provide an answer. The short version is that, no, car ferries don’t cross the Chesapeake Bay today.

The Chesapeake Bay is located in the Mid-Atlantic region and is the longest and largest estuary in the United States. One would be in good company to consider that it might be convenient to find some way to cross it. Otherwise a trip between Norfolk and Cape Charles, both in Virginia would involve a 500 mile journey over land rather than just a few miles over open water. Fortunately the problem has been solved.

Were there any Chesapeake Bay car ferries?

Why yes, there were once a number of ferries that crossed the Chesapeake, and they transported automobiles and trucks from one side to the other. They were quite popular for a time, actually.

As an example, the Virginia Ferry Corporation operated ferries that crossed the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. They departed from Little Creek (on the border between Norfolk and Virginia Beach) on the western shore to Cape Charles and Kiptopeke Beach on the Virginia Eastern Shore. The heyday for this corporation wasn’t very long. It ran ferries in the years after World War II and into the 1960’s according to the Chesapeake Bay Ferries website.

A much longer ferry tradition existed further up the bay in Maryland. Ferries existed between Annapolis and Kent Island as early as the nineteenth century. They were probably carrying automobiles by the 1920’s or 1930’s according to the Roads to the Future’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge History. Several lines and operators existed between the Maryland Eastern Shore and the larger portion of the state. These included the Claiborne-Annapolis Ferry operated by a private company and the Sandy Point-Matapeake Ferry operated by the State of Maryland

Why aren’t there any Chesapeake Bay car ferries?

That’s another question I often see in my query logs. The answer is simple: Bridges. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel opened in 1964, connecting the two shores of Virginia with an innovative combination of bridge and tunnel segments. Maryland also connected its shores with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 1952. They weren’t too original with the names, though. This one is just a bridge, no tunnel, as the name clearly states.

The ferries disappeared soon thereafter at both locations. They simply couldn’t compete with the bridges. It might take an hour or two to cross the Chesapeake Bay using a ferry after figuring in waiting, loading, sailing and unloading. It took just a few minutes to drive across a bridge, and travelers didn’t have to worry about sailing times either. Ironically the traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge can get so bad on summer weekends that a ferry is starting to sound pretty attractive again.

Interestingly one can still cross the Chesapeake Bay by ferry today, just not directly and not with an automobile. Smith Island, Maryland and Tangier Island, Virginia are small marshlands in the middle of the bay inhabited by traditional watermen and their families. I’ve been to Tangier Island and I can say with certainty that it’s an amazingly interesting and unique place to visit.

Both of these islands are served by ferries from the eastern and western shores of the Chesapeake. Thus, it’s possible to hopscotch across the bay, using either island as a layover. It would take a little while and you couldn’t take your car with you, but it could be done and it might be an enjoyable adventure.

Car ferries across the Chesapeake though? No, those are a relic of the past. That’s too bad. There’s nothing like a ferry ride on one of the big boats. Wouldn’t it be great if they actually came back, though?

33 Replies to “Chesapeake Bay Car Ferries”

  1. Yes, Ferries accross the Chesapeake would be wonderful. First because the trip, as you said would be enjoyable, and second because I HATE tunnels and consequently drive the dreaded route through Washington.

  2. So the Bay Bridge is always jammed in the summertime with people trying to get to the beaches–especially Ocean City, MD. A ferry that terminated in Cambridge, MD (I’d make the origin somewhere south of Annapolis–maybe Chesapeake Beach. They could create an extension off of Rt 4 for more direct traffic flow.). would put people right on US 50 and a straight shot to the beach. Rather than build a bridge that would be under-utilized in the winter and insufficient in the summer, build a ferry that only operates May through September. Why am I telling you? I bet no one ever reads this anyway…

    1. I had this exact thought while sitting in traffic on the Bay Bridge this Labor Day. I came back, Googled it, found this forum, and read your post.

    2. I was riding with my daddy when he was driving for Va chemicals out of west Norfolk va we were the last vehicle off the ferry. When we crossed the loading dock they cut the ribbon on the bridge great memories riding the ferry

    3. I read your post too. I was in Onancock last night and wished there had been a vehicle ferry there to take s back straight west to the mainland around the route 360 area.

      1. Douglas! PERFECT. I do believe plenty of us in Richmond would rather go out 360 and then cross on a ferry. I’d rather see the water than drive under it any day! I believe a ferry making the round-trip from the Northern Neck or the Middle Peninsula to the Eastern Shore could be busy nearly year-round.

    4. I read it too and was sad to hear that there’s nothing from the Northern or Middle Neck of Virginia to the middle of the Virginia peninsula.

    5. I am reading it now and that sounds like a great idea but what would the people think that would live near the new bridge and all the new traffic going through their town
      Yes toe revenue might go up but enough for them to want the

  3. Not sure why they do not have a ferry from southern Maryland to the eastern shore. Solomons?

  4. I live in Lusby, down by Solomons Island. My family and I love to go to Ocean City but we hate the drive. My father has a place down on Elliott Island and often needs my husbands help. However for us to go to the eastern shore we have to make a complete U. Go all the way North only to go all the way South again! When I’m mapping things out online, Cambridge always comes up as 25 miles away, yet we can’t get there in 25 miles. I really wish they would put a ferry service for us Southern Marylanders who get the short end of the stick when there is clearly ways to make it easier. All this worry about trucking goods over to this side through a ferry? Well if it’s a cheaper way then why not? It just makes sense to me to have a service that saves our economy. You sit in traffic for hours on that bridge during back ups so add that time to the already long trip. I would think that if more were to fight for this service maybe we could get it.

  5. We love our ferries here in Washington State through our San Juan Islands, Seattle to Bremerton, etc. It makes for wonderful day trips on a summer day.

  6. AGREED! Seasonal car ferries across the Chesapeake Bay would add so much to the economies of so many towns in this region. We are contemplating a trip from Solomons then across to Crisfield and down to Cape Charles, but the added “U” (as mentioned in a post above) we have to take will probably cancel these plans (because that “U” adds at least 4 hours to a trip that could be only 1-2 hours)…too bad for all the places we would have stopped and spent money. By adding seasonal car ferries, these regions could capture a wider spread of tourists–they could pull from Richmond and farther west like Charlottesville…With a ferry system, all of this beautiful/watery geography would be open to a much wider audience with tourist $$ in their pockets. Someone should visit the Seattle/Bremerton/San Juan ferry system…it is timely, easy, organized, relaxing, etc.

  7. What ever happened to the ships themselves, that ferried in the early 50’s? The DELMARVA, POCAHONTAS, OLD POINT COMFORT are ship names that I remember from those days.

    1. The linked site seems to say that all three of the specific ones you mentioned were sold in 1964 to the Cape May-Lewes ferry in Delaware (note that the site spells it “Lewis”, which doesn’t appear to be correct).
      Best I can figure out, the former two (under different names by then) were sold somewhere else sometime in the 1970s, as the Delaware ferry service was able to acquire better ships; I couldn’t find to where exactly (or what happened to them later).

      I was lucky enough to find the full history for the last one, however. M.V. Old Point Comfort was renamed M.V. Atlantic when sold to Delaware, but didn’t stay there long and was sold further to Uruguay in 1966/67, being “renamed” M.V. Atlantico (with an O). It then worked as a ferry between Colonia del Sacramento (Uruguay) and Buenos Aires (Argentina), until about 1993 – when it was abandoned on the Argentinese coast, where it sadly remains to this day.

  8. I have recently purchased property in the Reedville VA area and would love to have ferry service going across so my family could go to the eastern shore for short trips in the summer and to the ocean beaches for a day without having to do all that driving in a U therefore taking up much of the day and would have to stay over night it does not justify the trip which means we probably would not go. There has to be someone out there that could do this hell they have had them between Long island and Connecticut for years and they are fantastic

  9. We built in the Northern Neck of VA and our daughter lives in Md. She has to drive 4 hours at best to visit. If there were a ferry from Md to Reedville it would cut the trip in half! The Bay Bridge Tunnel is often slow and backed up and it takes even longer. I sure wish they would bring back the car ferries!

  10. My husband and I are planning a trip and wanted to include a trip to the Bradford’s Neck area of the Eastern Shore. But as the above comments indicate it involves a lot of extra driving. We were hoping to do some historical searching as my maternal grandmother was related to John Bradford, the son of Nathanial Bradford who was,as I understand it the first Bradford on the Eastern Shore.

    I have searched and do not find a ferry that carries cars. I am disappointed.

  11. I read it and would live for the ferry to return. I hate to imagine a national emergency where there it’s only one way out. It takes 4 hours to get to the other side of the Chesapeake without cruising the bay bridge!

  12. I was born in Cape Charles the same day thathat the Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened. To the point though, I travel up and down US 13 on business several times a year often several timed a month with stops on both sides of the bay. Often I have to decide between the two necessary evils and come close to cursing (a line sometimes crossed) wishing for a ferry service. When you have a businesses Internet down to a point where they cannot process sales for lack of a technician that us at best 5 hours away and at worse a day or two, you really could use a car ferry. I wonder if we screamed loud enough would they here us in our state and federal capitals.

  13. Wow! Either everyone here is in a hurry or angry–or else none of you paid attention in Spelling or English classes! Wow!
    Anyway: Yes, a ferry would make common sense, between several communities around the Chesapeake. Most Americans have two weeks vacation a year–who wants to spend it driving!!! But with Donald Trump running first in the GOP right now, there does not seem to be much common sense anywhere. Good luck those of you who live around the Chesapeake. I do hope you get your ferries. Yes, lobby your lawmakers. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

    1. Its called “phone qwerties” are too small for accurate typing, and voice to text is never accurate either. Theres absolutely no reason to correct spelling in a forum, or have to switch my qwerty over to the symbol board just so i can put the apostrophe in “it’s, or I’m or there’s etc.” ITS just not important.

  14. Oh man, it would have been nice to ride the ferry and bring your car over to the other side from southern Va or Northern NC to Cape Charles, Va to ride Rte 13 up to Ocean City, MD. That Tunnel is scary, if should there be an accident down there, you’d never be able to leave the tunnel with fumes running its course down there. No air. And the pressure system will pop ears, cause dizziness. Ppl will panic.

    I hope something turns up for cars to boat over.

  15. Friend had purchased tickets for Johnny depp July 2st in Connecticut
    She had airplane ticket from ria Richmond international airway to Connecticut
    She is very upset flights all canceled!
    She has VIP ticket to greet and meet Johnny depp!
    She paid outrageous price for hotel greater than six hundred just for
    So her poor daughter and son in law up consoling mom.
    If she could exchange VIP ticket for July 3 in atlantic city New Jersey
    And if she can exchange hotel reservation to hotel in New Jersey
    Then if a ferry could take her car from reedville Virginia to crisfield Maryland
    Then she could catch lewes ferry to New Jersey.
    Avoiding most of I 95 and Washington and Maryland business traffic.
    Many people would take car ferrys from Virginia to Maryland when the weather is good.
    Since fifty million Americans are disabled they will not be taking passenger ferrys they need
    The vehicle to transport equipment such as wheelchair or mobility chair,
    Oxygen generator , air purifier , etc….
    Most don’t go because the obstacles are too great.
    Can you imagine a oxygen travel unit expires mid trip
    Because of traffic?

  16. As a very young child I remember riding on a ferry from Solomons to Patuxent River in a storm!!! It was quite scary and very memorable. Such a different world!

  17. I grew up spending much time on ferries between Madeline Island and Bayfield Wi. In the winter we drove on the ice. That aside, I’m glad I found this page bc I have a friend who just moved here from Wi. She lives just across from Havre de Grace. I live in Bel Air, Md. We usually meet in Havre de Grace. She could cut off so much of her drive if she could just hop on a ferry, not to mention the benefit others living on her side of the bay. And visitors of Havre de Grace who want to see the Eastern Shore, or v.v.

    Yes, I believe the lack of a ferry is a business loss to the state/town. The bridge is great but frankly a looong trip to those who live on the other side.

  18. I have been hit and sent off the side of a bridge and lived to tell about it though fire and rescue had to squeegee me out of the front seat. I went off the side bc a guy was in my lane and there were NO SHOULDERS to pull over onto to avoid a head on collision. What kind of designing idiot do you have to be to not include shoulders on bridges???

    I think the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel is THE WORST example of planning Ive ever seen. Though it may be an engineering spectacular, its layout and planning designs are left extremely wanting, and makes me wonder if the designers were utterly stupid, or pressed for finances.

    Putting no shoulders on any bridge is blatantly dumb arse ridiculous, but a bridge that length, should HAVE SHOULDERS! In an accident, theres nowhere to pull off the road, no way for emergency vehicles to get through, no way for a suddenly panicked driver who decides theyve had enough to pull over and wait for help, and no room for response recovery if someone accidentally hits you.

    Like that woman who was rear ended by a truck had NOWHERE to go but over the side, but had there been a shoulder, shed have been able to steer onto that and coast till stopped. At the least shed have had breaking time so the rails could have handled her impact. But most likely if thered been a shoulder shed have never gone off the side to begin with.

    And the trucker who died bc a car swerved into his path and the only choice he had to avoid her was to either let her run into him or go over the side? If a shoulder had been there hed have just moved onto it. WHY ARE THERE NO SHOULDERS!????

    I think if someone started a car ferry service it COULD make a fortune. There are already driving services to take people who cant stomach the drive across the bridge, but they are horrifically expensive. $30 one way plus the ridiculous toll. The toll alone is reason enough to stay off the bridge. There are people who pay it daily for their commute. Id move before i allowed a state to slice me out of that kind of money to cross a bridge.

    If someone started a ferry service costing one way less than the toll costs…like 7 bucks…people would use it. Especially the scared people. Theyd allow the time in their commute. And 7 bucks would be more than enough of a fee. You start with one small ferry on each side just enough to ferry 20 cars back and forth every 1/2 hour. Youd bring in a nice chunk of change. Thats 560 bucks per hour, and i bet the ferry would be full, ESPECIALLY if they had prepaid guaranteed spots you could buy like in new york. Shoot theyd need a ferry barge during commute hours large enough for 50 – 100 cars.

    Hmmm maybe ill do it.

    But until then…MARYLAND GET WITH THE PROGRAM AND PUT SOME SHOULDERS ON THAT BRIDGE!!!! THE ONLY reason anyone died on that bridge is bc of designer error and BOTH that truckers family AND that lady should sue the state. Accidents happen, sure there were drivers in each incident who were at fault for the ACCIDENTS. But the final RESULTS of the accidents…the death and severity of injuries…were bc of the mechanics of THAT BRIDGE, and had nothing to do with the causes of the accident.

    1. Yes, the lack of shoulders on a bridge makes for some high intensity driving experiences. We live in northern Delaware and take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge often to Annapolis as our son and his family live there and that span is a perfect example. It’s all about cost. Every foot wider you make a bridge, especially a long one, the cost of construction increases dramatically. Then you have more structure to maintain which projects increased costs out across a long time horizon. As for Chesapeake Bay car ferries of the past, wasn’t there one with a terminal in Rock Hall? There is a bayfront section of the town called Ferry Park.

  19. Hello,
    I read the blog also. I was going to Chincoteague from Warrenton Va
    And was curious if there was a ferry operational to avoid the drive around.
    I have an older road atlas that showed a ferry route but was having difficulty
    finding updated info. A friend helped me to find this blog. I would like to say thank you for writing it!
    I took my Dad before he passed on a ferry ride down in the Outer Banks NC and it reminded him of his WWIi days on the atlantic,
    It would’ve been nice to see the bay while traveling near it. Hopefully a new generation of entrepreneurs take up the cause, after all people are bringing back family farms ( organic), old cars and milk delivery. Ahhh the good e days past! Thanks again!

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