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Red Funnel and Wightlink have announced that they have worked with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to identify exceptional solutions to support the government’s social distancing guidance in response to COVID-19 and respond to passengers’ requests to remain in vehicles during crossings.

Whilst safety legislation requires passengers vacate vehicle decks for the duration of the crossing, from Thursday (19th March) Red Funnel will operate a number of special ‘vehicle deck only’ crossings, whereby the main passenger accommodation areas will be closed and passengers must remain in their vehicles.

This ‘all or nothing’ solution requiring all passengers to remain in vehicles is rooted in ensuring that robust safety, fire control and evacuation procedures can be maintained. A number of additional passenger safety and operational controls are also required to allow this exceptional and unprecedented exemption, and instructions will be clearly communicated to passengers prior to boarding.

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Until further notice, the following vehicle ferry crossings will be restricted to ‘vehicle deck only’ at this time, with other services operating normally:

  • Departing Southampton: 18:00, 21:00
  • Departing East Cowes: 19:30, 22:30

Vehicle space will be restricted on these crossings to due to requirements for larger gaps between vehicles as a means of ensuring adequate pathways should there be a need to evacuate. We anticipate being able to extend this exceptional service in coming days and will update our website accordingly.

Fran Collins, CEO, said:

“We’d like to thank the MCA for working with us to identify solutions to allow our passengers this option during this exceptional time.

“Many of our customers have been in touch in recent weeks to request that this option be available and while we empathised with their requests we were legally unable to oblige until now.

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“The MCA’s decision to provide a temporary exemption to this aspect of the safety code which applies to our operation is unprecedented and required a great deal of cooperation and lateral thinking from all parties.

“I’m very pleased that we are now able to provide a solution to our customers and thank our customers for their patience as we seek to adapt our operation as quickly and efficiently as we can.”

Similarily, from Thursday 19th March, some of Wightlink’s sailings on the Portsmouth-Fishbourne route will operate on a ‘remain in vehicle’ basis for all drivers and their passengers. No foot passengers will be carried on these services and there will be no access to onboard toilets from the vehicle deck.

St Clare will be used for this purpose with all sailings on the hour operating as in vehicle only. St Clare sails on the even hour from Portsmouth (06:00, 08:00 etc) and the odd hour from Fishbourne (07:00, 09:00 etc). All other services (both Portsmouth-Fishbourne and Lymington-Yarmouth) will operate in the usual way with all customers leaving their vehicles after embarkation and spending the crossing in passenger lounges.

Customers wanting to change their bookings can do free of charge online.

Red Funnel plans to publish further guidance on around vehicle deck only crossings on its website later today. Further questions and answers will be published on the operator’s Covid-19 Travel Questions FAQs page, at

The views/opinions expressed in these comments are solely those of the author and do not represent those of Island Echo. House rules on commenting must be followed at all times.
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Bert Chantler

What about the Islanders who are going to Southampton hospitals for appointments, these are the folks who need to remain in car while crossing.
They are more prone to contract viruses .
I have had experience of crossing when very ill & having to climb to the top lounge!
With evening crossings only no help to them.
Surely mid morning & afternoon would be more suitable.

Penny green

For goodness sake … it should be remain in vehicles on all crossings with no exception!
But I guess the ferry operators want folk to buy from the cafe and bar …. all about the money as usual.


And what about all the foot passengers ? How do they cross on ‘vehicle only’ status ?


totally agree… over lives thats for sure


Ok but it say every one would stay in there car so unless you start sitting in other peoples cars then I can’t see how staying in the car will cause an increased risk to them. Also there are lift on the ferry when I last counted there was two which took you right to top… ok you have to change lifts at B deck but considering it’s a ferry not a cruise ship. Also the measure being put in place are great considering the amount of work that is required for a company to get a new safety management… Read more »

Penny green

It should be applied to all crossings that people stay in their vehicles, but just select few sailings.
But alas I guess ferry companies want the revenue from their cafes and bars – always comes down to money, not what is in everyone’s best interest.

Bob Taylor

This ferry strategy is a step in the right direction and would be fine for all ‘essential travel’ only. This is all well and good to allow ‘safer’ travel during the journey across the Solent, but what it does do is facilitate movement of the virus to and from the mainland. It will only be truly ‘safer’ if it is just islanders returning to the island and driving straight home off the ferry or mainlanders who have been visiting the island and who also drive off the ferry and go straight to their home. In all other scenarios this will… Read more »


Gosh, at last, they made a decision and the right one, but very slow at doing it.


It’s a good start and I believe we need to work together. I think the next step is to stop all passengers only crossing ie hovercrafts and catamarans as this could reduce the risk of the virus spreading. This means essential travel would need to be taken on the car ferries only where we can still self isolate within our own vehicles for essential travel i.e. hospital appointments. We have tough times ahead so look after yourself and each other and stay safe



If you have a car though.
Slight flaw in the theory there. Many people don’t have cars.


Good, David

Concerned of Wootton

So, I’ve been sitting in my car for 30 minutes of the crossing and now I want to go to the toilet… ‘there will be no access to onboard toilets from the vehicle deck’
Oh dear!


Like the good old days when you could either stay in your car or go up stairs. This should have been put in yo practice last week.
Stay safe out there people.
Remember catch it bin it kill it.

Jenny Bromley

At least it’s a step in the right direction.


The toilets are going to be closed on the vehicle deck only crossings. Suppose I have an acute IBS attack? Without a toilet I would be very ill.

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