The Coursen Heads Home from Dry Dock


This winter, Governors Island’s primary passenger and vehicle ferry vessel, the Coursen, took a short break from its daily duty of providing ferry service between Manhattan and the Island. The Coursen headed to May Shipyard in Staten Island this January to complete a regular check-up, going into dry dock to be lifted out of the water for inspection and maintenance.

Where does the name Coursen come from? The namesake of the 860-ton ferry, Lt. Samuel S. Coursen, graduated from West Point in 1945 and served in the US Army during the Korean War. In October, 1950, Coursen was killed in the act of saving a fellow soldier at the age of 24. Coursen’s valor earned him the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor awarded. In early 1956, the U.S. Army christened a new 172-foot passenger and vehicle ferry the Lt. Samuel S. Coursen to operate between Manhattan and Governors Island.

Passengers and vehicles board the Coursen, ca. early 1960s. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office via Ann Buttenwieser

In continuous service since, the ferry has carried heads of state visiting the Island and NYC, including Queen Elizabeth II in her first visit as Queen in 1957, and the King of Norway in the early 1990s. It also brought USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to a meeting with President Reagan and President-elect Bush in December, 1988. When the Army departed in 1966, the ferry continued in service as the Island became a base for the U.S. Coast Guard until 1997. The Coursen, now owned by the Trust for Governors Island, continues to provide ferry service to Governors Island every day.

The Coast Guard requires that the Coursen be taken out of service and delivered to a shipyard for dry dock overhaul and repair work twice during any five-year period. While in dry dock, the 64-year-old vessel undergoes rigorous inspections and maintenance, including everything from propeller and rudder tests, to fuel tank cleaning, to retouching the paint. The Coursen went into dry dock on January 11th this year, and will be returning to Governors Island from the other side of the Harbor soon. With this dry dock visit complete, The Coursen will be back at work in ship shape.