Water-based transportation systems are integral to the experience of many National Park visitors. In fact, in 2012 and 2013 four out of ten of the highest use alternative transportation systems in the National Park service were water-based systems. In 2012 there were nearly 13 million passenger boardings on these systems.
Many National Park units are located on islands which are primarily accessed by ferry. These ferries provide a vital transportation link for staff and visitors to get to the parks, and allow for food and other essential cargo transportation. In fact, some water-based systems provide the only visitor access to parks or sites.
In 2013, there were 40 water-based systems. Some of the ferries are owned and operated by the National Park Service, others are operated by approved concessionaires. In addition to the ferries themselves, the water-based systems include piers, marinas, constructed waterways and other waterfront systems. These systems accounted for 30.5% of all National Park transit systems.
The most used transit system in the National Park Service is the ferry system at Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which provides the only visitor access to the islands.
Water-based transportation also provides visitors the opportunity to enjoy the scenic beauty of parks from outside their personal vehicles. Additionally, park staff can provide beneficial interpretive tours and other educational services during water transportation rides.