Home » MBJ FEATURE » Ship Island: A coast tradition
Ship Island

Ship Island: A coast tradition


Think Gulf Coast family vacation and Ship Island Excursions will probably come to mind.

Since 1926, Ship Island Excursions has been a part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast experience with members of the Skrmetta family running this ferry service from the mainland to Ship Island for relaxation, recreation and history.

If you look closely, you may see dolphins playing in the boat’s wake or feeding on mullet and menhaden near the island beaches. This year marks the 90th year that the Pan American Clipper has carried people to Ship Island.

Marketing Director Kevin Buckle has been with the company 20 years and says the biggest attraction for those taking the excursion is the clear Gulf water around Ship Island, unlike the brackish water of the Mississippi Sound.

“People just love it out there,” he said. “Another big thing that people enjoy is seeing dolphins on the ride to the island. We see them just about every day.”

Once visitors are on Ship Island, they like the high quality beaches that are ideal for sun bathing and playing in the clear water.

“People also appreciate that we try to keep prices down for families by letting them bring their own food and drinks,” Buckle said.

“However, there is a snack bar on the island if that’s what they want.”

Ship Island is unspoiled with blue water, surf, and tranquil stretches of shore. The National Park Service provides a designated swim area with lifeguards on duty in summer. Beach chair and umbrella rentals are available.

Historic Fort Massachusetts is a special attraction and can be toured on your own or with a guided tour by a park ranger.

“Most people do the fort tour first and then park it on the beach under an umbrella or go swimming or shelling or just walking along the beach,” Buckle said.

The service was established by Croatian immigrant and Biloxi fisherman Captain Pete Skrmetta. His two sons and six daughters grew up working on the ferry and the island. The maritime tradition continues in the form of a U.S. Coast Guard inspected boat company that’s under contract with the National Park Service to take passengers to Ship Island.

The ferry is docked at the small craft harbor in Gulfport and offers passengers the popular half-day island visit of four and a half hours or the all-day sun-seeker visit of seven hours. For a shorter excursion option, passengers can depart on the noon boat and return from the island on the 2:30 p.m. boat. The cruise to the island takes about one hour each way.

The Biloxi mayor and city council have expressed interest in establishing a dock in Biloxi for Ship Island Excursions to give Coast visitors more boarding options. At press time an agreement had not been reached between the city and the company.

Ship Island 

Phone: 228.864.1014

Web: msshipisland.com

2017 Ferry Schedules

Spring: March 18 – May 12

Good Friday April 14; two departures at 9 a.m. and noon

Summer: May 13 – August 13

Summer Saturdays are very busy, visit weekdays to avoid large crowds.

Fall: August 16 – October 29

Labor Day, September 4, two departures at 9 a.m. and noon


… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.

If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.

Click for more info

About Lynn Lofton

One comment

  1. I took my first trip on the Ship Island boat, the Pan American, when I was 12 years old; 66 years ago from the Biloxi Dock. For this country hick, I thought it was the Queen Elizabeth. And even today, it is still an enjoyable treat to visit Ship Island, learn a little about history, and be amazed at the beauty around us on land and on the water.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *