Catalina Express: Leadership with a vision

Greg Bombard explains to Sandra Speares why his US-based ferry service Catalina Express has continued to go from strength to strength over the past 40 years

Catalina Express: Leadership with a vision
Catalina Express provides 30 daily sailings between Catalina Island and mainland California

Catalina Express was established in 1981 when three Catalina Island residents recognised the need for providing both residents and tourists with a fast and reliable mode of transportation between the island and mainland California in the USA. Current president Greg Bombard worked tirelessly alongside his father, Doug, and long-time colleague Tom Rutter to make this vision a reality.  

In its first year of service, Catalina Express operated with a 60-passenger vessel. Today, 40 years later, Catalina Express has a fleet of eight fully stabilised vessels – including four propeller-driven monohulls and four waterjet-driven catamarans – that travel at speeds of up to 42 knots. Each year, more than one million passengers sail onboard the Catalina Express fleet, which offers up to 30 daily departures from three mainland ports: Long Beach, Dana Point and San Pedro. 

Passenger comfort is a top priority on these sailings, says Bombard. “When the guests first arrive to the terminal, we see this as the start of their vacation. We try to provide a relaxing atmosphere with an easy check-in and boarding process.”    

Bombard believes that providing a safe, comfortable atmosphere for passengers has been paramount to the long-term success of the company. “Catalina Express is diligent in not cutting corners, but rather investing in proven, well-built vessels and equipment with the long-term focus of providing a comfortable ride,” he says.  

The company has a long history of testing and adopting new technologies. “Over the years, we have worked closely with boat builders to design vessels that ensure optimal performance in the Catalina Channel,” says Bombard. “We have introduced such features as computer-monitored ride control systems for vessel stability, advanced navigational equipment, airline-style cabin seating, and panoramic viewing windows and on-deck seating.”  

Catalina Express has always been environmentally conscious. “Each of the eight vessels has been re-engined to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions and updated to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 2 or Tier 3 regulations for emissions levels,” says Bombard, noting that the Port of Los Angeles has reported that Catalina Express has reduced 800 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions, 30 tons of particulate matter emissions and 10,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions – the equivalent of 10,000 cars. 

Like every passenger ship operator, Catalina Express has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has implemented various measures to keep passengers and crew safe. “Catalina Express serves as a vital link to Catalina Island, so we have continued to operate for essential workers and island residents who need to travel for medical appointments and essential reasons throughout this time,” says Bombard. “Similar to many in this industry, we were hit hard by lack of tourism and had to furlough some of our crew.  

“As Catalina Island has newly reopened for leisure travel, we welcome visitors back to this premier destination to once again enjoy the outdoor activities and tranquility of this island. We look forward to bringing the rest of our team who are currently furloughed back to work. The safety and security of our passengers and employees are top priorities of Catalina Express. We have taken extra precautions during this time based on the guidance of the County of Los Angeles, Centers for Disease Control and other local health departments.”  

As part of this, Catalina Express has implemented an enhanced cleaning process in both onshore facilities and vessels. The company uses electrostatic technology or fogging, as well as more conventional cleaning methods and other safety measures such as face masks and social distancing. 

Bombard believes this focus on putting guests and crew first is the secret to the company’s enduring success. “From the reservation agent to the captain and crew, our goal is to offer passengers more than just a boat ride but a total travel experience,” he explains. “Our focus on customer service and staying current on marine technology for the comfort of the passengers have allowed us to grow as a company and provide a valuable service to Catalina Island. Our repeat business and increasing number of new passengers through the years are proof that our values and company mission work.”

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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By Sandra Speares
26 May 2021

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