The simple task of carrying passengers and sometimes cargo across a body of water might not seem that remarkable, but it is something that dates back centuries. There are various writings and published works from ancient times that suggest the profession of a ferryman was a crucial aspect of former cultures and civilisations.

Today, ferryboats remain an essential means of transport all over the world. In several waterside cities and destinations, these vessels form part of the public transport system, providing the means to travel over water without the use of a bridge or tunnel.

Types of modern ferry

Despite the fact there are several different types of ferry’s in operation today, each one usually shares certain characteristics. However, the length of the route, the passenger or vehicle capacity, speed restrictions or requirements and the weather conditions will determine what ferry is used at a particular location.


The front and back of a double-ended ferry are interchangeable. Thus, they can travel back and forth between two ports of call without having to turn around. While this saves a great deal of time, it is sometimes necessary due to the size and area restrictions of certain terminals.


Even though hydrofoil ferries might seem like a relatively advanced concept, prototypes date back over 100 years. A hydrofoil is a boat that initially floats on the surface, but when velocity is increased the hull lifts out of the water, decreasing drag and allowing for greater speeds. The benefit of this type of vessel is that passengers can be transported quickly while minimising fuel costs. However, they have their disadvantages too. Due to their technically complex nature, they are expensive to build and require ongoing maintenance.


The development of the modern hovercraft is typically attributed to British mechanical engineer Sir Christopher Cockerell. In the 1950s, he developed a seagoing vehicle that used blowers to produce a large volume of air below the hull. The difference in air pressure above and below the hull generates lift and allows a hovercraft to float above the water surface. Due to their adaptability and cost-effectiveness, they soon became a commercial success, predominantly around the UK and in the English Channel. But just like hydrofoils, they require a great deal of maintenance and can be susceptible to damage from adverse weather conditions.


These ferries feature two parallel hulls of equal size, which are geometry-stabilised. Due to their lightweight nature, thin hulls that reduce drag and no ballasted keel, a catamaran has a shallow draught and can travel at fast speeds. They also heel much less than a monohull, allowing for a more comfortable and efficient ride. Traditionally, they relied on the wind for power, and their sails would spill less than alternatives. But modern-day catamaran ferries combine the features of a motor yacht with the characteristics of a multihull.

Cruise ferry

The combination of a cruise ship and a ‘Ro-Pax ferry’, this kind of vessel is typically used by holidaymakers on seagoing vacations or simply as a means of transportation. Most cruise ferry’s use UES fast ferry seating to maximise comfort especially for long crossings. A cruise ferry is like a cruise ship in that they have numerous onboard facilities such as restaurants, bars and even entertainment or accommodation.

Pontoon ferry

Not the most advanced or modern vessels in the western world, but pontoon ferries are widely used in less-developed countries. Due to their inexpensive yet versatile nature, pontoon ferries are often used to carry people and vehicles across large rivers or lakes where the cost of a bridge is too expensive.

The most common pontoon ferries borrow design ideas from a catamaran. But instead of featuring two narrow hulls, they usually have pontoons either side of the platform or raft. Ramps will be installed on either side of the vessel to increase the efficiency of passengers and vehicles getting on and off.

Cable ferry

A cable ferry is a type of vessel that’s guided and usually propelled across the water by cables connected to both shores. Traditionally, rope or steel chains were used, but by the late 19th century, stronger and durable wire cable became commonplace.

Even though jumbo jets and high-speed trains have replaced ferryboat routes in some areas, they remain an incredibly important and crucial means of transportation for millions of people worldwide. The most modern vessels are also incredibly quick, very efficient and can transport scores of passengers in comfort and style.