In 1919 Joseph Alen Beek obtained the rights from the city of Newport Beach to provide a ferry service across the Newport Harbor between Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula. Before starting the ferry service Beek owned The Ark. The Ark consisted of a giant rowboat with a small engine which Beek used as his first ferry vessel. The Ark carried oars in the event of engine failure. There was no regularly scheduled service and customers telephoned Beek when they needed a ride across the harbor.
In 1919 Beek charged a nickel (5 cents) per person. Three years after commencing operation, Beek built the Fat Ferry. This vessel held twenty passengers. Beek later built a small one car barge which the Fat Ferry pushed across in front of it.
In the 1950s Beek built three double-ended wooden boats for his ferry service: the Admiral, the Commodore, and the Captain. These three boats are still in service and have transported over two million persons. Each ferry holds three cars and 75 people. As of 2007, the Beek family charges $1 per adult, $2 per vehicle, $.50 for children ages 5–11, $1.25 for adults on bikes, $.75 for children on bikes, and $1.50 for motorcycles. Children under the age of 5 are free.
The ferry boats need constant maintenance but this does not usually interrupt the ferry service. For two weeks in 2008 the ferry service shut down for an extended period, for the first time in 50 years, to rebuild the automobile ramp leading to the boats.
Currently, Beek’s three sons run the business and it has been in the family for close to 100 years.
The ferry was featured in the 1949 movie The Reckless Moment starring James Mason and Joan Bennett.