What Floats This Captain’s Boat

From a fear of swimming to commanding a NYC Ferry

| 16 Sep 2022 | 09:10

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for this skipper — but he tested the waters and now he’s at the helm.

Brooklyn native Bernard Menner started on a nautical journey that led him to serving as a ferry captain with NYC Ferry — despite his initial fear of water.

“Before I joined, I wasn’t confident in my ability to swim if something ever went wrong on a boat,” he said. “I decided to be really brave, got on a boat, did what I had to do, and as we jumped from landing to landing, picking up all of our beautiful passengers, I just started to see the real beauty of being on the water.”

Raised in the affordable development complex Marcus Garvey Houses in Brownsville until he was 14, Menner said that playing tourist on the transit system operated by Hornblower was an added bonus. “It made me see different parts of New York City that I’d never seen before, that’s why I now love the water,” he said.

The 26-year-old attended WEB Dubois High School in Crown Heights, and when he was 21, the now-Midwood resident began working on the sales floor of the Flatbush Junction Target for two years. After a former coworker there went to work at Hornblower and sent him a job link, his interest in working for the company — which employs more than 400 ferry employees — piqued.

When he first told his family and friends of his nautical career aspirations, he said, “They were amazed.”

“I Wanted to Step Out”

Menner started as a deckhand, which he referred to as “the captain’s extra eyes and ears” in Aug. 2018.

His responsibilities back then included tying up the boats, keeping the cabin clean and reporting passenger numbers. However, he said, “I wanted to step out and do something different.”

His interest in becoming a captain came after some ferry queries.

“One day, when I was in the wheelhouse just asking one of our captains that’s been here for a while questions about the boat,” he said.

During his six-month captain training, he was taught how to drive and maneuver the boats, which are docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, approach each landing safely and navigate through the elements.

In May 2022, he was promoted to captain and five days a week can be found cruising in the East River and New York Harbor.

“Honesty, it still doesn’t feel real to me,” he said.

Playing Passenger

His main routes are Astoria, which runs from Pier 11 on Wall Street to East 90th Street and takes 49 minutes, and South Brooklyn, which goes from Bay Ridge to Corlears Hook in just over an hour.

The trips, which are the same price as subway rides, cater to commuters.

“You’re jumping from borough to borough, you’re turning a long trip to wherever you’re going, especially when it comes down to work, and you’re literally cutting it in half,” Menner said.

In fact, he loves his routes so much that he’s taken them himself, playing passenger on his days off.

The devoted commander sees many of the same riders every day, and prioritizes making them happy.

“Some of them told me that any time they see me driving the vessel, they know they’re gonna have a good time,” he said. “To me, it’s just a lot of love between me and the passengers.”

“Some [passengers] told me that any time they see me driving the vessel, they know they’re gonna have a good time.” NYC Ferry Captain Bernard Menner