Jim Shea

After nine years of traveling the world working as an engineer on ultra-deepwater drillships, Jim Shea is happy to be stationed permanently here in the Bay Area as one of Golden Gate Ferry's newest project engineers.

Jim Shea studied marine engineering at Cal Maritime in Vallejo before travelling the world working in shipyards from Singapore to South Africa. He now lives in Benicia with his family and works as a project engineer at Golden Gate Ferry.


Published: September, 2017


After nine years of traveling the world working as an engineer on ultra-deepwater drillships, Jim Shea is happy to be stationed permanently here in the Bay Area as one of Golden Gate Ferry’s newest project engineers. Living in Benicia with his wife, Whitney, and one-year-old son, Parker, Shea has acclimated well to a local lifestyle.


“The commute is much better!” he said. “I like being close to home. That was a big reason for my shoreside transition—less travel overall.” The Golden Gate ferries are a bit different than the big ships he’s used to working on, but it’s all similar equipment—engines, propulsion, pumps, compressors—just on a slightly smaller scale.


Having started in June, Shea has been enjoying the nature of the work at Golden Gate tremendously. “The job satisfaction is much higher here,” he said. “Having a positive impact on the community and supporting the ridership of people using the ferry to make their lives easier.”


Shea grew up in Massachusetts and went to high school in Maine. He didn’t really have any experience in the maritime industry prior to attending the Maine Maritime Academy, and it’s thanks to his friends who told him about the academy that he considered going. “The ability to travel and the time off was very enticing when I was younger,” he said, as a common schedule is working one month on and one month off. He ended up eventually getting accepted to Cal Maritime in Vallejo, which provided his first real hands-on experience in the maritime industry, as well as his first visit to California.


His area of study at Cal Maritime was marine engineering, and he’s been working in the field ever since. “That’s one of the big advantages from Cal Maritime is the job placement specialization of the school,” said Shea. And after graduation his dreams were met. “I traveled all over the world,” he said. “I was in shipyards in Singapore and South Korea for a good amount of time, did some work in West Africa, South Africa, even here in the Gulf of Mexico.” And his rotation was one month on, one month off, so especially in Singapore and South Korea, Shea got his full experience of traveling the world.


Before taking the job with Golden Gate, Shea’s last role was as first engineer, which entailed managing the engineering department of the ship and overseeing the power plant—a substantial responsibility. “We ran a 42-megawatt diesel-electric power plant,” he said. His team also supported all facilities for the ship, which had about 200 people on it and was 800 feet long. “So basically, we supported a floating city out in the middle of the ocean.”


Today, Shea helps to support not just a city, but the entire Bay Area. As of this writing he’s begun developing some technical specifications for working on the ferry Sonoma, which will be undergoing a complete refurbishment starting in July 2018. He’s also involved with some smaller shipyard projects, including regular dry-dockings and repowering of the Marin, which is to be happening in the new year. “I’m getting a lot of experience pretty quickly, which is nice.”


When he’s not working with his team at the Larkspur Terminal, Shea’s often out in the Benicia community with his family participating in local activities—going on hikes, walks, to the farmers market and appreciating life as a father. “It’s been pretty hectic this first year with the newborn,” he said. “We both work full time, so it’s basically like two full-time jobs for both of us, but we just spend as much time together as a family that we can.” And if they ever go into San Francisco, they’ll take the ferry.


“The ferry provides a stress-free commute, safer than traveling on the road,” said Shea. “The maintenance and engineering staff on hand at the ferry there in Larkspur are working 24/7, literally, to maintain these ferries, making sure they’re operational and, most importantly, safe to operate.”