The Manhattan Boatlift

A lesser known tale of resilience

By Dave Grossi  |   Nov 14, 2018

There’s been a ton of stories written about 9/11. Most deal with the extraordinary heroics of our police, fire, and EMS personnel during and after the attack. Most are compelling and bring credit to each occupation. However, recently I came across a video of incredible heroics performed by a group individuals most would not associate with any of the three professions mentioned above. Yet collectively they were responsible for rescuing almost half a million occupants of Manhattan in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

After the attacks that day, virtually every mode of travel out of Manhattan was shut down: bridges, subways, tunnels, roads, and so forth. But a flotilla of more than 100 boats on their own converged on lower Manhattan and transported nearly half a million citizens trapped there to safety.

Upon realizing what was happening, the U.S. Coast Guard put out a broadcast over their emergency channel. “All available boats. This is the United States Coast Guard. Anyone wanting to help with the evacuation of Lower Manhattan, report to Governor’s Island.”

The response was incredible.   

Up until that time, the largest waterborne rescue in history came during World War II at Dunkirk where nearly 340,000 British and French soldiers were rescued over nine days. On this day, almost 500,000 were evacuated out of harms way in just under 9 hours. Commercial ferries from the Circle Line Express, Staten Island Ferry, and N.Y. Waterway, along with private party boats, tugs, water taxis and Coast Guard vessels, converged on lower Manhattan to load up citizens, construction workers, business men and women and transport them to safety.

This short 12-minute film is narrated by actor Tom Hanks. But the most gripping narrations came from the boat owners and boat captains themselves, who relate how an ad hoc group of citizens banded together to rescue citizens trapped in lower Manhattan. 

I’ve seen it numerous times and each time I have to pause to let the emotions sink in. It’s been seen by more than 9 million viewers, but I dare say never shown on or by any mainstream media outlets. Even now, some 17 years after the fact, most folks never heard about this rescue let alone seen this documentary. 

I would encourage every one, especially first responders, to watch this incredible video.


“BOATLIFT: An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience”

Produced by Eyepop Productions, Inc., (2011)

Produced and Directed by Eddie Rosenstein

Executive Producers: Stephen Flynn and Sean Burke

Funded by Adrienne Arsht, Chairman Emeritus of TotalBank

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Dave Grossi
Dave Grossi is a retired police lieutenant from upstate NY now residing in southwest FL. He was the Lead Instructor for the Calibre Press, Inc. Street Survival Seminars from 1988 through 2000.