Kris Brown

What if, instead of taking the ferry to work, the ferry was your work? That's what was going through Kris Brown's mind as he'd use the ferry to commute to his office job for years, from Oakland to San Francisco.

Kris Brown took the ferry to work at an office in San Francisco for years before deciding to make working on the ferry his job and the Bay his new office.


Published: August, 2019

What if, instead of taking the ferry to work, the ferry was your work? That’s what was going through Kris Brown’s mind as he’d use the ferry to commute to his office job for years, from Oakland to San Francisco.

After he became acquainted with a friend who happened to be working as an active deckhand, Brown took the leap and has never looked back. He’s now been a deckhand for the IBU for just over a year.

“Being indoors all day didn’t really suit me,” he said. “I’d taken the ferry a lot in the decade or so that I’ve lived here. I always thought that life on the water seemed pretty good.” He thought correctly and won’t be heading back to an office anytime soon.  

“Working outside, on the water, and not in an air-conditioned office, it’s definitely a step up,” Brown explained. “Now I’m outside every day, up and around; I feel a little bit more refreshed all the time.”  

We met Brown on a San Francisco Bay Ferry route, where he’s spent the majority of his time as of late, but he has also found work on Red & White and Golden Gate ferries. “They’re all good to work for in different ways,” he said. Now, having marked his first anniversary working the waterways, Brown feels ready for whatever may come. “I’m feeling good! Feeling confident, like I can pretty much do anything no matter where they put me.”  

The great outdoors is a huge perk of the occupation with some of the freshest air around, but what Brown enjoys most about the job goes far beyond the fringe benefits.  

“It feels important to be part of a major artery that keeps the Bay Area going,” he said. “A ton of people take the ferry, and you couldn’t do it without the deckhands.”  

Brown explains how taking the ferry can impact a rider’s day for the better, as that’s what he encountered using it to get to work for years before joining the force. “When I was taking the ferry to get to my office job in the morning, I felt better than when I took any other mode of transportation to get across the Bay,” he recalled. “I just felt more relaxed.”  

Even if the ferry fills up, it’s still enjoyable. Whereas in a crowded subway car or in freeway traffic, personal space can be hard to come by, such is not the case on the ferry. “When the boats are full to capacity it doesn’t feel like you’re sitting on someone’s lap,” Brown said. “It doesn’t feel claustrophobic.”  

Originally from Denver, Brown has been a Bay Area resident living in Oakland for the past 10 years. Depending on the time of year, he spends his free time either cycling or snowboarding.  

“I’m a pretty avid cyclist,” he said. “That’s actually how I first discovered the ferry system; I was riding my bike to work and when I couldn’t bring it on BART, I’d take the ferry.” Brown owns six bikes in total, though not all are fully functional. If you want the details on what they are, and why he has so many, feel free to ask him next time you see him on board.  

To his fellow cyclists Brown highly recommends taking a trip up to Northern California to the Sierra Buttes trail; locally, he recommends the Fairfax area. “The trails up in Fairfax are legendary,” he said, noting that they are pretty well known trails. But if you’ve yet to try them, he recommends the experience as, according to Brown, the trails are all maintained by fellow mountain bike riders.  

As far as what Brown wants ferry passengers to know about him, he said, “I just hope they enjoy their experience on the ferries, because we enjoy working on them.”        

Especially as a cyclist, Brown agrees without question that the ferry is the best mode of transport in the Bay. “In my experience, taking the ferry and riding your bike is the best way to get to work,” he exclaimed. “You’re outside the whole time! It’s a really refreshing way to get to work in a good mood.”