The OC Bay Hopper is an Uber of the ocean, designed to shuttle passengers along Ocean City’s back bays from the northernmost reaches of Ocean City all the way down to the Inlet and Assateague Island.
Like an Uber, passengers can use an app to hail the boat from a number of waterside locations across the peninsula; unlike an Uber, the Bay Hopper can coast along from bayside restaurant to restaurant, or sandbar to sandbar, without hitting the slightest hint of traffic. The only nearby drivers are on jet skis or boats of their own, and the lesser-seen views of Ocean City that the water taxi provides from the Assawoman Bay are unparalleled.
The Bay Hopper officially opens for the 2019 season the first weekend of May. It’s headquartered in North Ocean City on 118th bayside, where its kiosk and departure canal are both located.
“There’s not much up north here within walking distance of all the high rises — there’s not really many attractions up here,” said Steve Butz, one of the Bay Hopper’s four owners. “This is a place where people can get out on the water and have some fun.”
Butz owns the Bay Hopper with his brother, David Butz, and their business partners, Adam Douglass and Jeff Mason. Two of the owners are software developers, who used their tech skills to design and build the OC Bay Hopper app.
On the app, users can choose locations to “hop on” or “hop off” the boat, as far north as Smitty McGee’s in Selbyville, DE and as far south as Assateague Island.
“There are 25 bars and restaurants that are on the bayside here in Ocean City,” Butz said. “The idea is to drop people off at any of them.”
In addition to providing an on-demand water taxi service, the boat can also be booked for private events like bachelor and bachelorette parties, and it can take passengers on “experiences,” which include hands-on nature activities for kids and crabbing expeditions down to Assateague, sunset cruises, and on-the-water viewing parties of Ocean City’s weekly summer fireworks.
The two Bay Hopper boats will pick up passengers from bayside locales and private peers and also shuttle people from downtown on a daily fixed schedule. A pier at the Island Village at Lost Lady Beach next to Sunset Park serves as the downtown drop-off point, where passengers are carried to and from the Bay Hopper’s North Ocean City kiosk.
Right outside the kiosk, which is adjacent to the 118th Street Food Lion, a little man-made beach borders the canal. The sandy sliver is currently an empty, open canvas, but it’ll soon be equipped with cornhole and both shady and sunny places to sit.
“We’re really looking forward to people hanging out here,” Butz said. “If you need to wait for the shuttle, come have some ice cream, sit out there, relax in the shade or the sun… That’s what we’re aiming for.”
The Bay Hopper ran for eight weeks last summer during a trial period, which allowed the owners to see what expeditions were popular and which ones didn’t work. Taking surfers with their boards down to Assateague to ride the waves didn’t work, Butz said, but the crabbing trips were popular. They learned that the 118th Street pier was too far from the water for passengers to step comfortably into the boat, so a floating dock will be installed in time for Memorial Day Weekend.
The Bay Hopper team plans to collaborate with the OC Foodie Tour this summer, where they’ll take foodie tourists to three different bayside restaurants to sample the fare and meet the chefs. They’re also partnering with jet skiing and parasailing outlets so that Bay Hopper passengers can book watersports adventures right from the kiosk, and in the kiosk they’ll be selling Taharka Brothers Ice Cream, a beloved Baltimore brand.
Starting in mid-May, Butz’s catamaran — the Alyosha, on which he recently sailed around the world — will be available for additional sailing adventures.
Three of the four Bay Hopper owners are licensed captains, and they’re open to working with other captains. Anyone with a captain’s license and a boat can register to join the Bay Hopper’s fleet.
“It’s more enjoyable to get around Ocean City by water, especially when you’re trying to go to a restaurant or bar that doesn’t have parking,” Butz said. “I think this will be a real alternative for people.”
Or, for an even more alliterative title, the Top 5 Businesses to Barhop while Boating on the Bay. In other words, these are five bayside bars in or adjacent to Ocean City that can be reached by boat and are guaranteed to provide you with a good drink and an even better view.
Photos courtesy of Steve Butz.