Scott Kelley waited patiently at the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal Wednesday afternoon with about 100 other people bound for one of Casco Bay’s seven islands.

The Peaks Island resident admits that he was less patient Monday, when a huge crowd of tourists was lined up for the 12:15 p.m. ferry to Peaks. Kelley was with his 4-year-old, who was due for lunch and a nap, and the next ferry wouldn’t come until two hours later.

“Essentially I had to cut in line – I had to get home,” said Kelley, a 53-year-old artist and year-round island resident for 14 years. “Luckily, I had a stroller and that functioned like a battering ram.”

Sunny weather and the growing popularity of day trips to Peaks and other islands are pushing up traffic at Casco Bay Lines, and the ferry service was overwhelmed over the July Fourth weekend with what it says was an unprecedented number of people trying to get to Peaks Island. The largest of Portland’s islands, Peaks has a few shops and restaurants and a waterfront bar that offers live music on Sunday afternoons.

Nearly 2,000 people rode ferries to the island during one three-hour period Sunday. Because the Machigonne II car ferry can only hold 399 people, a second boat was used, but that didn’t stop a line from extending 500 yards from the landing.

On Tuesday, Casco Bay Lines issued an apology to islanders who “had a less-than-stellar experience,” noting that it deployed staff and an extra boat in response to the “astounding” demand for a ride to Peaks. The number of Peaks-bound passengers Sunday afternoon was more than twice the number of year-round residents, which was 864 in 2010, the most recent census year.

“It was chaotic,” said 61-year-old island resident Melinda Titus, who was caught in the Sunday crowds when trying to return home with groceries on the 2:15 p.m. ferry. “I waited in the hot sun for 40 minutes along the whale wall (next to the Commercial Street ferry terminal) when other arrangements should have been made.”

Kelley, like other islanders interviewed, commended the ferry service’s deck hands and cashiers for making the best of a difficult situation, but he believes more needs to be done.

“We’re coming to a point where they have got to give islanders priority,” he said. “There are those of us who need to get home and there are others who just want to get drunk.”

PRIORITY BOARDING FOR ISLANDERS

Peaks Island Councilor Timmi Sellers said increased traffic during the summer has been an ongoing concern for island residents. For the second consecutive year, the island has hired a police cadet, who works Thursday through Sunday, to help manage traffic and safety issues that arise at the island terminal.

Sellers said she plans to request a public meeting with city officials and the Board of Directors of the Casco Bay Island Transit District, which operates the ferry service. She said islanders have long talked about the need to have priority boarding for islanders.

“There are legal constraints,” Sellers said. “It would be a good time to have an educational forum.”

Casco Bay Lines General Manager Hank Berg said the ferry service is limited in what it can do to address the wait times.

Because it receives federal funding, it cannot discriminate by favoring islanders over tourists, Berg said. The ferry service is only allowed by charter to have five boats, although it will begin evaluating whether a larger vessel is needed, he said. The 122-foot Machigonne II, which runs to Peaks, can carry 399 passengers and 12 motor vehicles.

“Not only are passengers increasing, but the vehicle traffic to Peaks has increased as well,” Berg said. Despite the long lines over the weekend, Berg said the ferry service received far more compliments about its extra efforts than it did complaints about the wait times.

Berg said he did not have up-to-date ridership numbers that could be compared with previous summers, but he expects that the traffic from the July Fourth weekend set records and continued a general trend of increasing traffic to the islands. In each of the past two years, more than one million people used the ferry, with July accounting for nearly 20 percent of the total traffic, he said.

With its bustling arts, restaurant and brewery scenes, Portland is being recognized as a premier tourist destination. As people discover Portland, they also discover its archipelago of islands, including Peaks.

WEDDINGS, POPULAR WITH YOUNG

Peaks Island resident Dan Doane, who serves on the Casco Bay Island Transit District Board of Directors, said people are not only flocking to the island to enjoy sunny days, but they are increasingly making the island a wedding destination. Doane, 78, has spent all of his summers on the island and has been a permanent resident for the past 25 years.

“Some of these weekends, you have two or three weddings,” he said. “Back in my younger days, you never saw any of this. It’s become a very popular place.”

John and Katherine Cipolla were among those waiting to board the ferry Wednesday. The Boston residents have owned a summer home on Peaks Island since 1991. The amount of traffic going to and from the island is unlike anything they have seen.

“This is extraordinary,” said John Cipolla, 73. “I think Portland is hot, especially for young people.”