South Venice ferry getting bigger

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VENICE, FL. - After nearly 40 years, the South Venice Ferry is being replaced.

Every day, the ferry leaves on the half-hour to a private beach along Manasota Key. Last year, more than 700 families bought an annual pass and the new vessel looks to be more reliable and carry more passengers.

Since the Intercoastal Waterway was built in the 1960's, the South Venice Ferry has taken those, like Debbie Davis, on the 5-minute commute across. "The ferry is great. It runs often enough that it is convenient."

But the current ferry is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-years-old. The electric vessel can only carry 15 at time and often needs a break to re-charge the batteries.

John Semple heads up the South Venice Beach Endowment Trust. They have recently raised $65,000 to bring in a new and bigger beach cat cruiser that’s more reliable and able to carry more passengers. "It goes both ways. Some people say they like it the way it is. It will bring more people. We want the beach to be private, but growth is inevitable."

South Venice resident Phyllis Rust has been using the ferry for more than two decades. She is happy, because sometimes the re-charging holds things up. "We will have it running every half hour and not have to wait for a full hour."

All of it is to get to a private beach that is managed and maintained by volunteers with not much else around. "The closest public beaches are a couple miles each way."

At $95 for an annual family pass, she says it's a way for the average homeowner to own a piece of paradise. "I live right across on the other side. I don't have to pay taxes for here and I have the use of this beautiful expensive beach. I love it."

Semple says last year they sold 700 year-round passes and 300 month-long passes for a total of 32,000 riders. He says it's an investment in the area. "People see the ferry and the beach and make a buying decision because of it."

It’s a unique set up to a unique place, which hopes to operate for years to come.

By the way, you don't have to live in the area to become a member.

Some seasonal residents were hoping the new boat would be here by the time they headed back up north, but it looks like it's going to be at least another month.

During the season the ferry operates every half hour from 9:30 a.m. until sunset. This time of year they operate until sunset Thursday-Sunday and only until 5:30 on Monday’s and Tuesday’s. It does not run at all on Wednesday’s.