When I was traveling from London to Paris by coach, we need to cross the English Channel by getting on a ferry. After the bus has entered and parked in the ferry, all of the passengers were asked to leave the bus and come back ~2 hours later. Then all of us just wander around and find some place to sleep in the two public decks above where the parking deck is.

I presume it is because of a safety reason, but the reason doesn't seem obvious to me. Why would we need to exit the bus to sleep somewhere?

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    Speculating idly here, I wonder if fire protection is part of the reason. Cars full of fuel represent a special type of hazard on a ship. Keeping them in separate fire zones from passengers would be better for safety in the event of an emergency. Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 3:13
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    @Celada And people should do the same with their cars, too? People transporting coaches across the English Channel is not a significant contributor to any kind of pollution. There is very little benefit in what you're proposing, and a huge amount of inconvenience. Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 18:33
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    @DavidRicherby oh well, I figured the English bus would return to London with different passengers (who disembarked from the ferry) and the French bus would do the opposit, so no inconvenience or waste. It's not at all the same with private cars since those aren't (currently) fungible in the eyes of their passengers. Buses are fungible. But your point about negligible savings is taken. My comment was probably a bit knee-jerk, just because it's the first time I hear of this.
    – Celada
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 19:14
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    Putting buses on ferries is pretty common. It's just more convenient. All the luggage can stay on the bus and everyone can just reboard the bus as the ferry arrives, rather than having to walk off the ferry to a big parking lot, find the right bus, wait for everyone to arrive, etc... Buses are also operated by many different companies, many of which do not have fleets and drivers on both sides. Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 1:58
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    @edison, the simple reason is vehicle decks are totally off-limits to humans since the vehicles can easily be thrown around.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 15:17

6 Answers 6


You have to leave the coach to make evacuation easier.

Even in ferries where your coach stays on the top deck, you sometimes have to leave the vehicle. This is because in case of accident, the fear is that it will take too long to escape the vehicle and the risk of going down with the ferry is high.

And it is not just for rogue waves, it is also for the ferry getting hit by (or hitting) other craft on the water.

Not all short term ferry crossings will make you leave a top side parked vehicle, but those where you are more likely to sleep are more likely to get you out.

As for vehicles parked under decks, they almost always have a 'leave the vehicle' rule with an extra rule of not being allowed on the deck during the crossing. Anybody sleeping in a car or coach will be unable to escape in case of accident, more so when the ferry capsizes, as the vehicles might move against each other and the 'walls' of the ferry, while those people in cabins will have difficulties but do stand a chance to get out.

Most ferries also keep the crew off those decks, but for a security check at regular (or iregular) intervalls, staying away from the parked vehicles as much as possible. Keeping passengers from those decks makes for a much smaller chance of thieves breaking open cars parked there, which is an additional reason.

No links, as this is basic knowledge, added to by talking with friends (and chance meeting with crew) who work on ferries, ranging from the local cross shipping canal one to the Inter Island ferry, New Zealand, where I was allowed to accompany one of the staff on a round of the car and train deck.

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    Three word summary: It aids evacuation. Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 8:20
  • @200_success Not just "aids" but "enables". Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 18:35
  • @Willeke thanks for the details and clear explanation
    – Edison
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 15:37
  • As for vehicles parked under decks, they always have a 'leave the vehicle' rule with an extra rule of not being allowed on the deck during the crossing. On the ferries near Seattle, leaving your vehicle parked under the deck is optional. Also, I've never been on a ferry where you're not allowed on the deck during the crossing. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 6:58
  • Poor safety measures for those ferries, I guess. But I will add in some words to reflect your experiences.
    – Willeke
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 15:34

Passengers are prohibited from the car decks on ferries in most every country in the world. Vehicles can shift position in rough seas and injure people standing between them. And since a rogue wave can appear at any point in time without any warning, the ban applies throughout the entirety of a sailing.

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    +1, but barring a containerful of makeup falling into the sea nearby, you probably meant a rogue wave ;) Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 3:03
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    @O.R.Mapper - simply put, people will not sit in their car for the duration, they will get out to stretch their legs, go to the toilet, etc and viola, they are 'standing between the vehicles'. Hence ferries ban ALL passengers from the car decks inside or outside their vehicles.
    – user13044
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 12:19
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    @O.R.Mapper If vehicles shift the doors could be blocked to get out in an emergency
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 17:09
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    We're going to correct rouge and let viola go unnoticed?
    – rojomoke
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 20:56
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit - Expect that spellcheckers are notoriously knot vary smart and wont generally mark a misspelling if it happens two bee another valid ward, witch apples too both "rouge" and "viola". (That hurt to type.) Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 15:26

There is a night train-ferry across the Baltic, which (for example) leaves Germany (Sassnitz) at 23.15 and arrives Sweden (Trelleborg) at 03.15. The whole point of the night train is that train passengers are allowed to stay in their sleeping berth for the crossing, but they can also wander around the ship including the train deck.

I suspect the difference is:

  • The train cars are chained down during the voyage, so there's not much likelihood of them coming loose in rough seas
  • There's a sleeping car attendant who will stay in the carriage overnight, and wake passengers in case of emergency
  • On a bus the driver must take statutory rest breaks (45 mins every 4h30). The ferry is a convenient time for the bus driver to take their break, and so the driver can't be 'on duty' during that time. On the train the attendant travels on the voyage and stays up overnight, but they aren't subject to driving time rules. There are different locomotives in Germany and Sweden and neither drivers travel on the ferry.
  • Is a train deck any different than a car deck? Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 17:01
  • @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen In terms of safety? Yes, very.
    – Mast
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 17:09
  • Thought so. So one cannot be used to say anything about the other :) Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 18:50
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    Interesting - a colleague of mine recently mentioned taking this journey and from their description it seemed they were ushered off the train, put into a cabin on the ship, got four hours sleep, back into the sleeper cabins on the train, back to sleep... wonder if it's changed or if there was just something unusual about their journey? Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 19:33
  • I took this journey in 2013, but wouldn't have expected much difference. It's the same ship, the train company has changed but they say "You can stay on the train during the ferry crossing or visit restaurants and shop on the ferry." Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 23:27

The reason passengers are not allowed on the car decks on ferries is that it is illegal. The reason for it being illegal is of course safety, preventing theft from cars, fire hazards (people smoking in their own cars) etc.

This is from Marine and Coast Guard Agency (UK) on ro-ro passenger ships.

3.1 The SOLAS Convention Chapter II-1 Reg. 20-3, requires that “In all ro-ro passenger ships, the master or the designated officer shall ensure that, without the expressed consent of the master or the designated officer, no passengers are allowed access to an enclosed ro-ro deck when the ship is under way.”

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    Let's not have a row over that ;-)
    – Bent
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 14:19
  • roll-on roll-off Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 17:02
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    Unless you can provide a citation to the contrary, I'm pretty sure that theft-prevention has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 18:38
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    What @DavidRicherby wrote. Theft is already illegal in many jurisdiction; preventing theft seems a poor reason for outlawing an unrelated behavior.
    – user
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 11:34
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    @HenningMakholm no, it's not a tautological explanation at all. My guests are not allowed to smoke in my house, and my parents' cat is not allowed to walk over the dining table, even though both is legal. As many things can be legal but not allowed, it makes a lot of sense to distinguish between those which "could have been allowed, in principle, but the ferry operator has to disallow them because they are illegal" and those which "the ferry operator disallowed because he doesn't want them happening for whatever business-related reason he has".
    – rumtscho
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 13:44

People on a bus inside a ferry could do all kinds of mischief. You'd have to expect that someone might do something totally idiotic like starting the engine of a bus and starting to drive. That's obviously idiocy of the highest order, but it could endanger the lifes of hundreds of passengers and crew, and you don't want to take that risk.


It's specifically banned by the Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization. (See page 20). It appears to be in response to the loss of the Estonia in 1994.

  • I don't think the loss of the Estonia caused that particular change. I'm not aware of any suggestion that there was any significant number of passengers on the car decks when that ship sank. Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 14:55
  • @DavidRicherby: Reading the whole document, I think the relevant concern was the speedy evacuation of passengers into lifeboats. The document makes it clear that the post-Estonia investigation asked "how could this happen, even though stricter rules were introduced after the Herald of Free Enterprise". The IMO seems to have not limited themselves to just the direct causes of the Estonia disaster.
    – MSalters
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 15:13

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