Thoma-Sea launches Lake Erie ferry

Written by Nick Blenkey
Front end of ferry

Carmen Lee is set to begin service in early 2022.

Designed by New Orleans headquartered TAI Engineers LLC, the 168- by 45-foot passenger, truck and car ferry Carmen Lee was recently launched by Thoma-Sea Marine Constructors’ Houma, La., shipyard.

The ferry is set to begin service in early 2022, providing service on Lake Erie between Marblehead, Ohio, and Kelleys Island, Ohio.

Built for a partnership between the Lorain Port Authority (LPA) and Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line, it can hold 149 passengers and 36 trucks and automobiles.

TAI was selected in a competitive procurement by LPA in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to provide naval architecture and marine engineering services for the design and specification of the ferry.

TAI also provided professional support for the competitive procurement of a shipyard to build the vessel. The firm’s work included drawing review, construction inspection, as well as test and trial supervision of the ferry during its construction.


The Carmen Lee has been built to conform (but not certified) to American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) standards and is inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The double-ended ferry is designed to operate on lakes, bays and sounds. The vessel has a steel hull and deckhouse design and is compliant with USCG 46 CFR Subchapter T regulations. The main deck is high-strength AH 36 steel to withstand tire loadings from up to 36 cars or equipment trucks in four lanes.

Double-ended ferry can carry 149 passengers and 36 trucks and automobiles.

The quad azimuthing drive ferry is equipped with four Caterpillar C18 propulsion engines 470 bhp at 1,800 rpm, each driving Schottel SRP 150FP Z-drives using Twin Disc HPTO hydraulic clutches. This allows precision maneuvering in challenging Lake Erie approaches during harsh weather and provides propulsion redundancy. The vessel has two Onan 40 kW marine gensets.

Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line has a similar ferry called the Shirley Irene in operation on this route.

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