Passengers board the Catalina Flyer for a day trip from Newport Harbor. The boat, famous for giving tours to Catalina Island, may have to temporarily shut down operations after Labor Day in order to buy a new engine for its boat per state requirement. (DON LEACH, Daily Pilot / September 1, 2010)

NEWPORT BEACH — The Catalina Flyer, a popular 500-passenger catamaran that makes daily trips to Santa Catalina Island from the Balboa Pavilion, may halt operations for a few months to buy and install a new engine that complies with a state environmental law.

Bob Black, general manager for the tour boat company, said that unless he's able to find a catamaran to lease, he may suspend service to Avalon as early as Sept. 12.

"I'm not thrilled about having to do this, but it's something we've got to do," said Black, referring to the purchase of a pair of engines that will cost him nearly $1 million.

The boat, with an outside deck, ferries hundreds of passengers each day to Catalina Island then back to Newport Harbor.

With one-way trips taking about an hour and 15 minutes, the Catalina Flyer is the fastest commercial service from here to the island, according to its website.

Even though Black said the ship's engine is in fine shape and he doesn't believe it is polluting the waters, the state requires all commercial vessels to be equipped with new engines that reduce emissions in compliance with the Commercial Harbor Craft Regulation.

The purpose of the law, which was adopted Nov. 15, 2007, by the California Air Resources Board, is to reduce the amount of pollution caused by diesel engines on commercial harbor craft that operate within 24 nautical miles of the California coast.

Although the new law seems like it is three years old, it didn't actually go into effect until 2009, which is why the Catalina Flyer is having to search for a replacement boat until the new engines are bought and installed.

Large commercial vessels generally can keep their engines for up to 15 years before they have to replace them in accordance with the Commercial Harbor Craft Regulation, Black said, adding that the Catalina Flyer's engines were bought in 1998 and are due to expire shortly.

He said there is a special incentive, the Carl Moyer program, that's distributing money to various owners of commercial craft to help the businesses buy new engines in accordance with the law.

He's partaking in the program, he said.

With the winter season approaching, Black said he doesn't expect to lose as much money or as many customers had he been forced to buy a new engine during the summer months.

Still, Black said the eight-member crew is going to lose their jobs until the ship is back up and running by February.

Long Beach-based Catalina Express, however, will still offer trips to Catalina on a daily basis out of Long Beach and Dana Point, Black said.

The Catalina Flyer, the largest passenger-carrying catamaran on the West Coast, has been in business since the 1960s, he said.

Commercial Harbor Craft Regulation

What harbor craft owners need to do to comply:

•Since Jan. 1, 2009, all commercial harbor craft are required to install a non-resettable hour meter on each engine of their vessel operation.

•All diesel engines on commercial harbor craft must be fueled with California Air Resource Board diesel fuel, with a sulfur content less than or equal to 15 parts per million, or an alternative diesel fuel such as biodiesel.

•Engines on all new commercial harbor craft vessels will be required to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's marine engine emission standards.