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In a trip some time ago I was in London and my next stop was supposed to be Dublin. A friend of mine had just moved to Liverpool and I discovered there was a ferry from Liverpool to Dublin. I thought I could change my plans, go visit him and take this ferry. I tried to buy a ticket online, but to my surprise I could only embark with a vehicle! Passengers without one could not go aboard! As I had no vehicle, my choice was to take a ferry from Holyhead (Wales) to Dublin or fly directly from London (which I did).

Does someone know the reason why only passengers with vehicles are allowed on some ferries? Is it common? I've only traveled once in an international ferry, so I don't have much experience ferrying around.

  • One hypothesis might be that the ferry is only allowed to carry a certain number of people (for safety reasons, such as the number of lifeboats it carries) and the ferry company prefers using that limited capacity on travelers who're also paying for a vehicle. – Henning Makholm Jan 3 '15 at 20:33
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At least on this particular route, facilities - or lack of them for foot-passengers - might be part of the issue. If you check out the Dublin Port area on Google or Bing maps, you'll notice that of the three ferry terminals - Irish Ferries (T1), Stena (T2) and P&O (T3), the only one with passenger facilities right alongside the dock area (with a bridge that can connect to the ferry) is Irish Ferries. Stena also have a passenger terminal, but use a shuttle to get foot passengers onto the ship (virtual tour of facilities including photo of shuttle in gallery). P&O, on the other hand, have minimal facilities; and only cater to drive-on traffic.

There's probably little demand for foot-traffic on the Dublin/Liverpool route; at an 8 hours crossing, it's perhaps the slowest way to get from Dublin to the UK; more likely a foot-passenger will either get a cheap Ryanair or Aer Lingus flight; or take the shorter 2hr Dublin/Holyhead route and catch a train from there (perhaps as part of a "Sail/Rail" package) or book a Coach package that includes the crossing.

Lack of demand likely means there's little incentive for P&O to add the facilities such as waiting lounge, check-in desks, baggage claim area and so on that would go with accommodating foot passengers, so P&O likely stick to their core market of truck freight and folks who want to bring their car to the other country.

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    All of those facilities (boarding bridge, etc.) are not categorically necessary to accept foot passengers. There are many ferry routes where foot passengers buy tickets from the same guy who sell (or check) them for cars and then just walk across the vehicle loading bridge. None of the ones I personally know are 8-hour crossings, but why would the length of time spent at sea translate to a need for more elaborate facilities in port? Especially where the number of foot passengers would be minimal anyway. – Henning Makholm Jan 4 '15 at 16:25
  • At that point, it's probably down to legal and liability issues - similar to why a pedestrian can't buy food from a drive-in fast food window even though they can physically walk up to it. The other two ferry companies have appropriate accommodations for this specific site - Stena, which doesn't have a bridge, uses a shuttle instead. Low demand for foot passengers on this route given the alternatives outlined above likely means it's simply not worth P&O's while to provide similar here. – BrendanMcK Jan 4 '15 at 16:49
  • @HenningMakholm On a large ferry designed for fast loading/unloading of vehicles, you don't want foot passengers walking up the vehicle ramps and wandering around the vehicle decks on their own! Also, the P&O Liverpool-Dublin ferries are designed to carry freight, not people (125 vehicles + an average of fewer than 2 people per vehicle), and the facilities for passengers are somewhat "basic" - for example there are no elevators from the vehicle decks to the passenger areas, only staircases. That's no problem for truck drivers, but not ideal for the general population. – alephzero Nov 7 '16 at 22:19
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I don't know if it is a valid source, but on a trip between Ostende and Ramsgate, where foot passengers are also off-limits I was told by a bystander that it has to do with crowd management. There is only a limited number of passengers that can board with a car (9 max). With foot passengers you risk larger crowds of for example football supporters/hooligans.

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    Surely ticket sales would limit the total number of passengers on a ferry? Also presumably buses also use ferries (full of football supporters) – user5043 Jan 4 '15 at 10:58
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    On the Oostend-Ramsgate ferry you were allowed to board with a bicycle. I have not done it there, I have done it on other ferries (Europort-Hull and Harwich-Hook) and in both cases, both directions each, you would cycle to till near the entrance and walk onto the ferry. No reason not to have people on foot doing it. Bikes were transported for free as well. – Willeke May 31 '16 at 16:58
  • @Willeke On Birkenhead-Belfast bicycles are permitted as well, but cyclists are treated as foot passengers and need to checkin their bicycle as luggage, which is put on a special trailer that is parked on the ferry, and their riders are bussed onto the ferry like foot passengers are. – gerrit Jun 7 '17 at 15:44

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