Here’s why some ferries being fully booked doesn’t mean the Isle of Wight will see an influx of visitors

At first glance it’s understandable that seeing online that IW ferries are fully booked leads you to think there are loads of people coming to the Island. News OnTheWight has been digging into it. Here’s what we’ve found out as to why things aren’t as they first appear

Wightlink has been working closely with Sainsbury's to get essential supplies to the Island

Earlier today (Friday) members of a Facebook Group called ‘Restrictions on Isle Of Wight ferries’ sent emails to the leader of the Isle of Wight council, Dave Stewart, voicing their concerns over a possible influx of second-home owners and holidaymakers for the bank holiday weekend.

Some within the Group had tried to book ferry crossings from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight for today, but found the 1pm, 3pm and 5pm crossings were fully booked. This understandably led to concerns that people weren’t heeding the council leader’s message to ‘stay away’.

Investigating further to find out what was going on, News OnTheWight has discovered something that sheds some light. 

Understanding the capacity issues
News OnTheWight got in touch with Wightlink who confirmed that capacity on their vehicle ferry crossings has been much-reduced since the Coronavirus lockdown.

An example given is that their flagship ferry, Victoria of Wight, usually has a capacity for 1,170 passengers per crossing.

Since the lockdown this has been reduced to 100, with typically there being only around 20 passengers per crossing. Most of Wightlink’s foot passengers have switched to using the Hovercraft and other passengers are required to remain in their vehicles for the duration of the crossing.

Distancing and freight
Wightlink say it’s important to factor in that vehicles comes in all shapes and sizes and although there may be capacity for say 100 vehicles, once the spacing out of those vehicles is implemented, it could take the capacity down to 50 vehicles.

In addition, freight lorries obviously take up the space of several cars and so before long, a crossing could be fully booked, but well before reaching the new reduced capacity level.

Capacity is “much-reduced”
A spokesperson said,

“We are currently only operating on one route between Fishbourne and Portsmouth and with a reduced number of sailings. We are also rotating our vessels to allow for maintenance and to retain crew familiarity with our different vessels.

“Our capacity therefore varies according to which vessels we are using, but it is at a much-reduced level than before Covid-19.”

Uplift in traffic from freight, business travel and commuters
Asked whether they have seen an uplift in bookings, they went on to say,

“We are seeing a small increase in traffic which is in line with the recent changes to Government advice on travel, but this increase is small and volumes are a fraction of what we would expect at this time of year. 

“This is also mostly confined to week-day traffic and to freight vehicles, business travel and commuters.”

Stewart: Normal influx has not happened
Leader of the Isle of Wight council, Dave Stewart, told News OnTheWight he was disappointed that some people are seeking to undermine the ‘stay away’ message.

He said,

“In the main I am pleased to see that the normal level of people coming to the Island for Bank Holiday has not happened. This is due to a range of reasons not least of which has been the voluntary compliance of would be visitors and second home owners.

“I am also pleased that our ferry companies have supported this course of action albeit this will be having a significant impact on their business income.

“So although my message has been followed in the main I remain disappointed that some people are seeking to undermine the position potentially putting themselves and Island residents at greater risk than needs to be the case – and I will be emphasising this in the coming days.”

Stewart: People should remain in main residence
The leader went on to explain the Isle of Wight council was in regular liaison with the ferry companies and the Police, who are all working together to address this aspect of keeping the Island safe.

He went on to add,

“We have raised this aspect with Government and our Isle of Wight MP, Bob Seely, who also appreciates the local concerns.

“Government have made it clear at present people should not alternate between houses but remain in their main residence. They can however exercise as much as they want and have day trips in order to do so.

“Needless to say there are some who choose to ignore Government Guidelines or push the position to the limits.”

Stewart: Not there yet
Cllr Stewart concluded by saying,

“We do not have powers as a local authority to prevent people coming to the Island and neither do the ferry companies. Nevertheless concerns have been raised at different levels.

“I do foresee that in the coming weeks second home owners and visitors will be able to travel to the Island – so we need to prepare for this development – but in my view the time is not yet reached.”

No power to stop non-essential journeys
Ferry companies do not have the jurisdiction to to ask passengers why they are travelling and stop them travelling if they are not on an essential journey.

Wightlink say they will be repeating the message in their communications that people should only travel in accordance with Government guidance.

Video footage of vehicles alighting from the 1pm ferry today show mostly freight, along with most cars only having one passenger – indicating commuters or business travel.

Friday, 22nd May, 2020 6:47pm



Filed under: Ferry, Island-wide, Isle of Wight News, Top story, Travel

Any views or opinions presented in the comments below must comply with the Commenting 'House Rules' and are solely those of the author and do not represent those of OnTheWight.

Leave your Reply

15 Comments on "Here’s why some ferries being fully booked doesn’t mean the Isle of Wight will see an influx of visitors"

newest oldest most voted
Today at 1.30pm I went to Fishbourne to see what was coming over on the Wightlink ferry from Portsmouth. There were approximately 40 cars + 20 lorries/vans. All but 2 cars had only the driver in them. No caravans, no motor homes, no cars full of holidaymakers. The 3pm was also watched disembarking with a similar amount of vehicles. Red Funnel 4.30pm was roughly the same. There… Read more »

Thank you Alison, it is always good to see real data rather than rumour and “fake news”.


The facts speak for themselves – the ferry from Southampton was due to arrive at 16.00. At 16.30 the yard would be expected to be almost empty (as described)

I know that we’re all getting bored and fed up but, notwithstanding Mr Cummings childcare expedition, it’s interesting to read that driving to Fishbourne to count the cars driving off the ferry counts as an essential journey. I trust it has improved your mental well being? Social media is presented as, and frequently is, a way of keeping in contact with those important to you but I… Read more »

It’s surprising that people would set up a FB group to pool their ignorance ( or on second thoughts, perhaps it isn’t). How many years do you have to live on the island before you realise how the ferries work ? So how do people still jump to these conclusions?


I don’t think it is ignorance at all greenhey.
More like making sure that private companies are not bringing ‘hundreds’ of visitors over which has been reported.
With another Bank Holiday, it is natural for people to want to get away, even more so after some being confined to their homes for 8/9 weeks!
If you have got anything nice to say,
Best say nothing at all.


Anyone else noticed how the (mostly) accommodation providers mob FB & websites whenever a topic like this is raised ? People are justifiably & entitled to be afraid, yet they are bullied & shouted down despite evidence to the contrary. Mostly not on this board I’m glad to say.

Where are these same people when other topics are up for discussion…

Alison. I guess I have crossed hundreds of times and from my experience if they are following the Covid rules they will pretty quickly fill ferries but have way less people on them. Why did 1000 people need to join a FB group about it? I am not a fan of the ferry companies but it is also not in anyone’s interests for them to end up… Read more »
Local politicians assured us in March, at Easter, May bank holiday & again this time that we had nothing to worry about re ferry travellers. (yachts, light aircraft excepted) Google mobility stats tell a different story, Red Funnel seems to be busier than Wightlink and passenger numbers may well be lower but we have been well above the average for the UK since March (I will post… Read more »
Google mobility – transit dates where IW, Southampton & Portsmouth are above national average on the same day March 16, 18-19th, 23rd (17-20% up) April 6-9th, 16th, 20-23rd (4-10% up) May 11-12th, 15-16th May (4-14% up) NB shows approximate figure -not everyone has an android smart phone or has location switched on 16 March was when people told only essential travel. 22 Mar – Mothers day. 10… Read more »
Why should I not travel, rent out my cottage, visit friends, have a party, break the ‘rules’ ? Written a month ago but v pertinent to recent cummings & goings Food for thought & discussion from Oxford Uni Ethics Dept…. “How can we be reassured that everyone makes their fair contribution, so that we can feel motivated to make ours?” More discussions there if you feel… Read more »

Dave Stewart should perhaps be careful what he wishes for. People WILL stay away even when its deemed OK to visit if this message keeps being repeated and as someone once said, ‘Its the economy stupid’.


I think that is unlikely. Most sensible people will heed the advice from the government now but when it is deemed safe to visit and be visited people will be more than ready to go to IOW and other holiday destinations.


I think people will stay away anyway with the ferry prices in July and August £200 +

Dave Stewart should be sending selfish second-homers back, as he has promised. He is not, despite cases reported to him. They travel freely, as foot passengers too, returning to their primary residences at will, returning when the sun shines. The decent majority who are respecting the rules, for good reason, will flock back. In the good old days of my youth, there were no package holidays to… Read more »