Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: November 15, 2023

Bar Harbor proposes dockside passenger counts to enforce stringent cruise ship limits

cruise ship behind big schooner on the water with people File photo / Laurie Schreiber A cruise ship looms behind a tour boat in Bar Harbor.

With no more than 1,000 cruise ship passengers now allowed to touch shore at Bar Harbor each day, the town is working on ways to enforce that limit.

For the 2024 season that runs from May 2 through Oct. 28, 105 cruise ships so far have scheduled stops in the Hancock County town — Maine’s largest cruise ship port of call. There will be about 10 days that have more than one ship sailing in.

The ships range from 215 feet long to 1,100 feet long and carry from 100 to 4,375 passengers. But the enforcement question is somewhat moot, since about a quarter of the ships scheduled for 2024 carry fewer than 1,000 passengers.

In previous years, Bar Harbor had been booking over 150 ships. On some days, two or three ships arrived in port, many carrying several thousand passengers.

A town referendum a year ago voted in the 1,000-passenger per-day allowance. 

The Bar Harbor Town Council, the town’s staff and an attorney drafted rules to implement and enforce the rule, and the council has scheduled a workshop on the proposal Nov. 21.

The limit says that, on days when the visiting cruise ship capacity will total 1,000 or more people, the harbormaster or a designee will count passengers as they come to shore at the municipal tender dock. 

The harbormaster can also work with the cruise lines or their disembarking facilities to develop a method to distinguish between passengers and crew, which could involve requiring advance review of ship manifests. 

Each disembarking person exceeding the daily limit would result in a minimum $100 penalty for the ship. There would be a limit of three cruise ships in port per day.

Bar Harbor and Portland have both debated over the last few years whether the number of cruise ships that visit Maine strains resources — or is a welcome source of tourism-related revenue. Critics say the ships bring excessive congestion, traffic and pollution, while supporters tout the benefit of shoulder-season revenue.

Last November, Bar Harbor residents backed tougher restrictions on visitors in a vote of 1,780 to 1,273.

In Portland, voters declined to cap the number of disembarking passengers, by a vote of 23,547 to 8,875.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by group of Bar Harbor businesses and residents could reverse the 1,000-passenger cap. The group, calling themselves the Association to Protect and Preserve Local Livelihoods, sued the town after the referendum, and the case has been winding its way through the court system.

There’s been no decision but one is expected by the end of the year, Bar Harbor’s interim town manager, Cornell Knight, told Mainebiz.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF