This week’s NYC Makers profile is about a Brooklyn native with a passion for the city’s waterways and his hometown. Naquan Sanders, a ferry captain at NYC Ferry, sat with us on a parked boat at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to share everything you didn’t know about ferry driving. To ride with Captain Sanders and take your public transportation to the next level, check out the ferry tickets, schedules, and real-time service alerts on ferry.nyc or the NYC Ferry app.
Julia Chorun, Untapped New York: How long have you been working at NYC Ferry?
Captain Sanders: I’ve been with the company since 2017, but I’ve been on the water since high school. I got kinda lucky. I had an idea but I didn’t know what The New York Harbor School would be about. And when I got there, that was like my first introduction to the water. You live in New York City and you forget that you’re surrounded by different water bodies. So [Harbor School] opened up a whole new world for me. It’s like, you’re able to live in a city but also be away from the city as well when you’re on the water.
Untapped New York: How long did it take to learn how to drive the ferry?
Captain Sanders: So, it took me about a couple of months to learn how to operate the ferry. One of the biggest things that helped me out was, I attended the New York Harbor School on Governors Island and that was pretty much the foundation that allowed me to transition into a leadership role as a captain. But give or take, it usually does take a couple of months. It really depends on how you obtain the information. Basically, the way you learn. A lot of it is one-on-one, hands-on. That’s pretty much it.
Untapped New York: What’s the proper education required to pursue the career?
Captain Sanders: When you get your license, you do have to take (tests), there are two ways you can become a captain. You can either go through college, which is the SUNY Maritime or the Merchant Marine Academy, or you can make your way, as we say, the hawspipe, in which you work your way up from deckhand to captain position. And then if you’re doing your four-year degree, you do take an exam. And if you’re getting a captain’s license, you have to take an exam as well.
Untapped New York: When driving the ferry, are you around ferry riders or the ferry team often or is most of the work independent?
Captain Sanders: So it’s usually me and we have two class vessels. We have a T class, which is 150 passengers. We have a K class, which is 350 passengers. So it runs between two to five crew members. I’m a captain, so it’s teamwork, but it’s also independent because I do have the final say and I’m responsible for the vessel, passengers, and crew. But we work together, getting passengers on, maintaining the safety of the vessel, and making sure everybody is safe on board.
Untapped New York: What location do you take people to the most?
Captain Sanders: Rockaway. Rockaway is the route to go on. It’s actually the most traffic, boat traffic, passionate people. You get commercial vessels, you get recreational boats. But it’s like you get the whole view of the city. And you get to see Coney Island, you get to see different parts of Queens and Brooklyn.
Untapped New York: How did you know this was the career you wanted to pursue?
Captain Sanders: When I went to the New York Harbor School, one of the classes that we had were vessel operations. And from there, I loved being on the water. It’s very peaceful. So it’s my little form of happiness away from the city.
Untapped New York: What’s the strangest or craziest thing you’ve seen in your time as a captain?
Captain Sanders: I wouldn’t say crazy, but I think the coolest thing I’ve seen is being on a Rockaway boat and we had dolphins following us. And it’s like having the Bronx Zoo right there with you. My goals are always to stay on time, but I do, if I can have a little play, I do slow down just a bit so the passers can take it in and see the dolphins. They get excited. I try to allow them to get pictures as long as it allows me to stay on time. They’re (Dolphins) on the Coney Island side, which is the ocean side of the New York area. So most of the traffic is called the Narrows. And all of our container trips, like the trade, the world’s trade, come through that port, come through that area. So it’s open to the ocean, and then you get a lot of marine life that comes in. And New York’s water’s been really improving, so we’ve been seeing a lot of different marine life.
Untapped New York: Are there any obstacles to ferry driving and if there are, how do you navigate them?
Captain Sanders: For me, it’s always weather conditions. We operate in all types of weather, you know, as long as we can safely do it. But sometimes we’re doing a regular operation, regular day, and then you know we might get like a gust of high winds. And it doesn’t create a struggle, but it does remind you like, all right, this is what I trained for. Because we’re very heavy on training and safety operations. So it makes it, it doesn’t make it easy, but we’re just like, this is, this is what we do.
Untapped New York: What makes New York great to you?
Captain Sanders: The food. My favorite place is Hometown Barbecue in Red Hook. It’s a barbecue spot. It gives you a country-like, atmosphere within the city. I always get the brisket sandwich.
Untapped New York: What’s your favorite Untapped spot in the city?
Captain Sanders: I would have to say Bay Ridge. I call it the suburban area of Brooklyn. It’s like, it’s not very popular, but there’s a lot of stuff going along and they do have things that happen in summer and they have this huge park, the Owls Head Park over by Shore Road so I guess that could be my little untapped.
Untapped New York: What’s one thing you would change about New York?
Captain Sanders: That’s hard. I would say the weather. Yeah. It can get really hot when it wants to get hot. I do enjoy the winter. I mean, I know that’s weird to say, but…and the snow. Like, snow in New York looks amazing. That’s like the best part I think for me the way the city looks when it’s snowing and seeing it from the waterfront it’s great, it’s like Christmas, it feels like Christmas.
Untapped New York: Do you have any places on your NYC bucket list?
Captain Sanders: The One Summit, I believe it’s the One Summit. I haven’t had a chance to go there since they opened up, but I do look forward to going there.
Next, check out more NYC Makers Interviews