Alaska operators update their fleets for 2018

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Major Marine Tours' Kenai Fjords 360 catamaran offers six-hour Kenai Fjords National Park cruises.
Major Marine Tours' Kenai Fjords 360 catamaran offers six-hour Kenai Fjords National Park cruises.
Renee Brincks
Renee Brincks

With this season's introduction of the Kenai Fjords 360 catamaran, Major Marine Tours expands its efforts to lighten environmental impact while enhancing the guest experience.

The company's ninth vessel is a custom-built boat that accommodates 150 passengers and offers a large galley plus snack bars on two levels. A National Park Service ranger shares information on most tours, and an Alaska salmon and prime rib buffet is available for guests.

The boat also features unobstructed, wraparound views.

"We designed this vessel to give people that complete, 360-degree visibility," said Major Marine Tours owner Tom Tougas. "We were out one recent night and had humpbacks on one side of the boat and orcas on the other side ... because the top deck is completely open, we could see them in all directions."

The Kenai 360 was created for Major Marine Tours' six-hour Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise, a narrated sightseeing and wildlife watching excursion operated out of Seward. With a top cruising speed of 30 knots (about 35 mph), the catamaran is the fastest in the Major Marine Tours portfolio. That helps the company accommodate passengers planning trips around Alaska Railroad arrivals and departures.

"The Alaska Railroad route from Anchorage to Seward arrives at 11 a.m. and leaves at 6 p.m. to go back to Anchorage. This boat docks directly across the street from the train terminal, so people can walk right over, get on the boat, do the six-hour cruise out to the Holgate or Aialik glaciers, and return in plenty of time to get back on the train," said Tougas. "Most people do spend an extra day here, but this boat is designed to accommodate those railroad passengers."

While the Kenai 360 travels at higher speeds, it also burns approximately 200 fewer gallons of fuel per trip when compared to traditional vessels.

"We're having a really strong season in Alaska, and the industry continues to grow. As we're growing, we want our newer products to both improve the customer experience and also reduce the environmental impact. This boat is a huge step toward accomplishing that," Tougas said.

Over the past four years, Tougas and his team have updated nine boats with EPA-certified, fuel-efficient Tier 3 engines that reduce particulate emissions and operate more quietly than their predecessors. Major Marine Tours is also reducing the consumption of single-use plastics by installing water bottle filling stations on vessels and revamping the way that maintenance crews source oil.

Rather than working with disposable one- and five-gallon plastic drums, the company now orders oil in 55-gallon reusable steel containers.

"We operate in a pristine national park, so the lower the impact we can make, the better," said Tougas. "One of our five guiding principles is to reduce our environmental footprint, and we work really hard on that."

This winter, the Alaska SeaLife Center recognized Major Marine Tours' ongoing environmental initiatives with a 2018 Alaska Ocean Leadership Stewardship and Sustainability Award. Tougas also earned the 2016 Business Energy Efficiency Leader of the Year Award from the Seward Alternative Energy Group for his continued efforts to implement energy-efficient and ecofriendly practices.

In addition to the Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise, Major Marine Tours offers various wildlife and glacier sightseeing cruises that depart from Seward and Whittier. 

The company is one of several Alaska outfitters updating its vessels this season.

Lazy Otter Charters, which runs sightseeing, water taxi and charter routes out of Whittier, introduced a 30-passenger catamaran this month. The Voyager has a heated cabin, large windows and unobstructed views from the deck. Built with beach-landing capabilities, the boat lets groups add waterfront walks and forest hikes to cruise outings.

Seward-based Liquid Adventures unveiled its new custom-built Oceanna for the 2018 season, serving kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders who book small-group Aialik/Northwestern Explorer outings. The catamaran gives guides the flexibility to choose stops based on wildlife, weather and visitor traffic.

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