The imminent departure of a captain means the Valley View Ferry will shorten its operating hours.
Starting June 29, the ferry will no longer operate on weekends. Its weekday hours, now 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., will be shortened to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The paddlewheel ferry shuttles cars across the Kentucky River between Madison and Jessamine counties. Those counties, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and the state Transportation Cabinet jointly fund the ferry's toll-free operation.
The ferry is required by federal law to operate by U.S. Coast Guard regulations, said Jessamine County Magistrate George Dean, a member of the Valley View Ferry Authority. Those regulations require the ferry to be piloted by licensed captains, and prohibit a captain from remaining on duty more than 12 hours a day. The ferry has two licensed captains, but one, Dennis Mullinex, has given notice that he will leave on June 28.
There are no licensed people in the immediate area.
Potential ferry captains must go through the same application and testing process as someone who operates the Staten Island Ferry in New York City, a towboat on the Mississippi River, or the Belle of Louisville on the Ohio River.
The testing and schooling for an applicant to take a certification test typically takes four to six months.
In the meantime, the ferry authority is trying to fill in the gap with one person who is completing the necessary on-deck experience before taking the test for a license. Another person who is close to getting a license will work part-time.
"We have been working with Congressman Barr's office to see if we can get the Coast Guard requirements reduced, but it's a long process," Dean said. "I think they're working on some legislation, but we don't know what the chances are of getting that passed."
Last year the ferry carried 110,000 vehicles and 165,000 passengers, Dean said.
About 40 percent of the ferry's $260,000 budget goes to pay salaries and benefits, Dean said. The rest covers operational expenses.
The Valley View Ferry began in 1785 and has been in operation off and on since then.