‘Sophie’s Choice’ on the high seas?

‘Sophie’s Choice’ on the high seas?
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Some Williamsburg residents say that the New York Waterway has made it difficult for their families to use its service because its boats don’t carry enough life preservers to accommodate the community’s large families.

Since beginning its new service last month, the company placed a strict 15-child limit on all its boats. And captains have enforced that limitation, refusing to allow more than that number of children to board, according to several passengers at Schaefer Landing in Williamsburg.

That policy left many Hasidic families waiting for their ship to come in.

“If you don’t have enough life vests, you buy life vests,” said Williamsburg resident Oscar Sabel. “This is America. What is this? Russia? Lack of life vests is a lame excuse.”

The East River service launched last month to swelling crowds — 18,068 people rode the ferry in the first five days of paid service.

Rivky Stienberg and another mom friend were two such customers. Each woman brought four children to the Schaefer Landing pier off Kent Avenue to catch a ferry to Queens last week — only to be told that they’d have to wait for the next ferry because it was already full of children. The pair waited nearly two hours to finally board a boat.

“I would not try this again,” said Stienberg. “I was willing to pay the money, but I have to know that when I go with my children there’s a ferry I can board with my children.”

In response to criticism from Hasidic leaders, the company announced on Monday that it would add 10 more child-size life vests to its fleet to accommodate large families looking to commute by sea.

Many riders are still not impressed with the new policy, given that family sizes in Williamsburg are so large.

“That is an absolute joke,” said Williamsburg resident Isaac Abraham. “What is 25 vests in a community like this? Five mothers? God forbid something happens, which parents are going to fight for which vest?”

It is unlikely that a “Sophie’s Choice” moment would occur on open water, but it ultimately is up to the ferry captain’s discretion whether a child is able to board, according to a New York Waterway spokesman.

The ferry company put a limit on the number of passengers below the age of 13 based on a Coast Guard regulation recommending that ships set aside 10 percent of their life vests — about 15 on a typical 150-person boat — for children.

— with Haru Coryne