An exciting development in the tourism industry may expand over the next several years, and the Ocean City Mayor and Council could serve as major supporters.
OC Bayhopper, a water taxi company based on 117th Street, has operated throughout the resort over the past few years and is looking to grow its footprint. Since its launch in 2018, the OC Bayhopper has welcomed nearly 8,000 riders and mostly taken trips to bayside restaurants such as Seacrets, Fager’s Island, and Macky’s. Its route spans from Fenwick to Assateague. While these stops have opened up many new opportunities for residents and tourists, public piers and unloading spots remain restricted.
Over the next five years, the team wants to work with the city to transform the taxi system into a major mode of transportation, with accessibility town-wide. If it continues to grow, the water taxi business could revolutionize transportation in Ocean City, providing tourists with quick rides to all the hotspots around town.
Two years ago, the Town of Ocean City granted the Bayhopper a two-year conditional use permit. After a successful first two years and thousands of happy patrons, the company has received approval for another conditional use permit, lasting for the next five years. Not only does the new permit ensure the continuity of business for the next several summers, but it opens up the possibility for a public-private partnership.
OC Bayhopper Expansion Plans
With the support of local officials, the Bayhopper could add additional drop-off locations to its route, giving it a more prominent role in local events and family vacations. Possible spots include the Ocean City Convention Center, Sunset Park, and Northside Park.
“The truth is that delivering people to bars and restaurants can only get you so far,” said Steve Butz, Captain of the OC Bayhopper. “Ultimately, in order to move beyond “one off” water taxi rides to a true alternative to getting around town, we need to be able to drop off and pickup folks at some city owned properties that are strategically located next to OC’s best amenities. This includes Sunset Park, the Convention Center, and Northside Park.”
In a detailed proposal submitted to City Hall, the team interestingly noted that the water taxis could be transformative for events that typically create traffic jams up and down Coastal Highway.
To facilitate this proposed expansion, numerous infrastructure modifications need to be made. Butz asked the town to consider constructing a pier at Sunset Park and dredging a channel to allow for Convention Center access.
Aside from modifications led by the city, the taxi team is already planning to add a location in West Ocean City Harbour. They will also add another boat in summer 2021, bringing the total number to four.
During a council work session last week, Butz noted that he is not necessarily asking for funding but rather assistance in obtaining grant money. He identified several potential sources of grants, including the CARES Act, Maryland Commerce, Advantage Maryland, and the Passenger Ferry Grant Program.
The council did not take any additional steps forward but seemed to view the idea favorably. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the future here…having water transportation is a great idea,” said Councilman Mark Paddack.
Butz is grateful for the support he has received from the town so far. “The Town of OC has been very supportive of our business from the start. I believe the Mayor and City Council have recognized the value we bring to Ocean City and the importance of developing safe, alternative transportation for visitors and residents,” he said. “They just voted to renew our Conditional Use for 5 years, so that shows you how supportive they have been. We have asked that they look into putting an ADA compliant pier at Sunset Park and the Convention Center. The Convention Center also requires a better dredged channel in order to really be a viable option for water service. Our requests are mainly focused around the various state and federal grants that can be used for developing such amenities.”
Stay tuned for more updates from the Town of Ocean City and their support for the OC Bayhopper.
OC Insider: What Tourists Need to Know
With multiple access points around Ocean City, the Bayhopper could serve as an instant water shuttle service, operating all day. While a shuttle operation has existed for the past few years, the water taxi would appeal to far more residents and tourists with a greater number of stops. Previously, the shuttle cost $15 per person for a one-time rate. Unfortunately, the shuttle service was suspended in 2020 due to Covid-19 but is expected to return in summer 2021.
The company also offers leisurely tours, sightseeing opportunities, as well as group and private events. Groups of up to 19 people are welcome and can see various attractions around OC, including fireworks in the summer. People can also ask to learn about sailing and catching crabs.
Current Trip Options
- 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. $125/hour + $50 gas fee
- 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. $650
- 8 p.m. – 12 a.m. $750
All around Ocean City, so many different companies offer water tours. However, the OC Bayhopper puts quite a unique twist on your typical ride over the water. One special trip, the Homeschool Assateague Adventure, will start in May. Designed for homeschooled children, this two and a half hour trip provides children with a distraction and an opportunity to learn about Assateague Island.
Another fantastic trip, the Ice Cream Cruise, is exactly what it sounds like. On the company’s website, there is one disclaimer – this trip could be fattening! This cruise has a running time of one hour and includes Taharka Bros. ice cream, made in Baltimore. There is also a pizza cruise, sponsored by Pizza Tugos.
Other trips include a cruise featuring Shore Craft Beer and another with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. Additionally, a happy hour cruise is coming in the near future. Butz noted that his company is willing to partner with any other business in town. With a more widespread presence, Butz believes that tourists will be better served.
“Ocean City is all about the beach. You can’t compete with that. But not everyone is a beach person,” Butz said. “When businesses like ours can bring families together and they have a great time out on the water- either through one of our experiences or through a special evening cruise down to a favorite dinner spot and a safe return, people get more value and enjoyment out of their vacation. That makes for repeat visitors to OC and then all of the businesses win.”
For more information, visit ocbayhopper.com or call 410 – 777 – 5145.