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New York Works: Staten Island Ferry Captain

Friday, May 27, 2011

As a captain with the Staten Island Ferry, Jim Parese has an office with a view and counts vistas of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline as a regular part of his day on the job.

Parese takes between six and eight trips across the Upper Bay daily — shuttling some 60,000 passengers between lower Manhattan and Staten Island each day while keeping tabs on water depth, currents and weather conditions.

"When it's a bad day, you're basically going on just your local knowledge, visibility," he said. "Day to day, it's pretty much a piece of cake. But when that weather comes in, you earn your money."

But the job involves more than just navigation, and Parese said in his 25 years as ferry captain, he has seen the unimaginable on board:  "We had someone shoot himself in the hand on the boat," he said. "We've had people get slashed. We've had riots on the boat."

Parese was also at the helm during September 11, 2001, and was guiding a boatload of passengers toward Manhattan when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

"By the time we went to Governor's Island, the second plane came right past us and we watched the whole thing," he said. "We watched it go into the building and explode."

Parese turned the boat around and dropped the passengers back at Staten Island. When he returned to lower Manhattan to pick up more people, he saw the first tower fall.

He said the ferry rules have changed since the terror attack; cars are no longer allowed on board, and there are more safety drills. But the passengers, including tourists and the occasional celebrity, keep coming.

"It's like a little city in itself, and everything that goes on in a city happens on that boat," he said. "You know, it's always something."

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