The National Park Service has awarded a Beaufort, North Carolina based ferry operator, Island Express Ferry Service, an exclusive contract to provide passenger ferry service to most of the Cape Lookout National Seashore area in North Carolina starting in 2014. Currently, there are ten authorized ferry operators servicing those areas. NPS stated that the purpose of the contract is to insure long-term continuity of the ferry service, consistently a high level of services that are specified and reviewed by the NPS, and to help visitors understand the significance of the park.

In addition to managing the new ferry service, NPS has partnered with the town of Beaufort and established a service level for the ferry at the Ferry Gateway Departure Site located at Beaufort Town Hall. NPS will also provide restrooms, accessible docks, outdoor exhibits and parking arrangements for ferry passengers.

Although there are undoubtedly long-term economic benefits of having the ferry service to and from Beaufort, not everyone is thrilled about the award of the exclusive contract. Local ferry operators are reportedly concerned that the consolidation of passenger service will put smaller ferries out of business and that one operator will not be able to handle all of the passenger demand previously serviced by some ten different ferry operators.