Freshwater-class ferry

The Freshwater class is a class of ferry operating the Manly ferry service between Circular Quay and Manly on Sydney Harbour. The ferries are owned by the Government of New South Wales and operated by Harbour City Ferries under the government's Sydney Ferries brand.

Freshwater class
Collaroy in Sydney Harbour, November 2008
Class overview
Builders: State Dockyard, Newcastle
Operators: Harbour City Ferries
Preceded by: Dee Why, Binngarra
Completed: 4
Active: 4
General characteristics
Displacement: 1,140 tons (loaded)
Length: 70.4 m (231 ft)
Beam: 13.06 m (42.8 ft)
Draught: 3.35 m (11.0 ft)
Decks: 2
Capacity: 1,100
Crew: 6
Notes: Double ended single hull of welded steel construction. Welded aluminium alloy superstructure.


The need for new ferries on the Manly-Circular Quay service was identified during the mid-1970s, during which time the service was characterised by deteriorating quality and low patronage.

Decline of the Manly ferries

Prior to 1971, the ferry services on the Manly-Circular Quay route were operated by the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company. In that year, the company posted a modest profit of $112,000. Patronage was approaching all-time lows, but the growth prospect for ferry services was considered strong. In November 1971, the company attracted a $1.5 million takeover bid from diversified transport company Brambles Industries. The initial bid was rejected, but a later offer of $2.1 million was accepted.[1]

When Brambles took over, the Manly fleet consisted of four ferries: South Steyne, North Head, Bellubera and Baragoola, plus hydrofoils Manly, Fairlight and Dee Why. Almost immediately, the hydrofoils were sold to Waltons Finance and leased back. The four ferries were all ageing and expensive to maintain, and it soon became evident that Brambles intended to close the service or sell the ships to the State Government at the earliest opportunity. Fare increases and service suspensions followed. The Bellubera was withdrawn from service on 14 December 1973; the Baragoola was to follow early the next year. Public outrage and fears that the service would be suspended entirely led to the government resuming responsibility for the operation of the ferries in February 1974.[1]

Concerns about the on-going serviceability of the existing vessels led to a decision to modify the design of the Lady Wakehurst and Lady Northcott, then under construction for use on the inner harbour routes, so that they could be used as relief boats on the Manly run. On 27 August 1974 the public timetable was reduced to only require two ships. The decision to modify the two Lady Class vessels proved fortuitous; as both the North Head and the Baragoola had to be sent for major overhauls, and the smaller ferries acted as relief ships while these works were carried out.

During the naming ceremony for the Lady Northcott on 11 February 1975, then Liberal Minister for Transport Wal Fife announced that two new ferries would be introduced to the Manly service within three years.[1]

The Burness Corlett report

A study by maritime consultants Burness Corlett Australia was released in July 1976. It investigated the requirements of new vessels to replace the North Head and Baragoola by 1978. Various configurations were considered, including conventional monohull, catamaran, hovercraft and hydrofoil. Planing ferries of both single and twin-hull configuration were rejected, as such a configuration cannot be double-ended and therefore would have required berthing stern-first. Hydrofoils were also rejected from consideration due to excessive cost and limited passenger capacity. Two options were selected for detailed investigation: monohull and twin-hull, both double-ended and having 1,200 passengers capacity.[2]

Detailed designs and blueprints were prepared for both options. The study recommended the selection of the twin-hull due to the higher service frequency achievable (due to the twin-hull's faster speed of 18 knots versus 14.5 knots), however the study noted that other than this, there was relatively little difference between the options. The twin-hull was designed with dimensions of 63 metres (207 ft) length, 12.8 metres (42 ft) beam, and 3.3 metres (11 ft) draft, while the monohull design was 67 metres (220 ft) length, 11.6 metres (38 ft) beam, and 4.27 metres (14.0 ft) draft. The wider beam of the twin-hull design would exceed the limits of the existing wharves at Circular Quay, and necessitate a reconfiguration of the wharves if selected. Burness Corlett were confident that the twin-hull option was the superior choice, due to service speed and stability through Sydney Heads, and so no model tests were performed for the monohull design.[2]

Burness Corlett predicted that either design would take approximately 21 months to construct, and that if the new ferries were to be introduced in 1978 as planned, an aggressive construction program would have to begin immediately, with tenders to be called no later than April 1976 (the report was not even released until three months after this date).[2]

New ferries announced

After a change of government at the 1976 election, the new Labor government's Transport Minister Peter Cox announced that tenders would be called for the construction of a new "super ferry" in line with the results of the engineering study, to carry up to 1,200 passengers at speeds of 18 knots (33 km/h).

On 9 January 1978 the traditional three-ship Manly Ferry timetable was reintroduced. The service was operated with the Baragoola (1922), North Head (1913) and either the Lady Wakehurst or Lady Northcott. However, the modified Lady class ships were not good substitutes for the two older vessels, as the newer Lady ferries were too small and too slow for the Manly service. Particularly the Lady class ships were barely able to keep to the published timetable in peak hours. Following the return of the Labor Government at the State Election on 7 Oct 1978, the Labor Party's Alan Stewart became the Member for Manly. This provided a fresh political impetus for the State Labor administration to order the new Manly ferries.

Steelwork for Freshwater was laid down at the State Dockyard on 31 October 1980. Strike actions delayed completion until June 1982. The ferry terminals at Circular Quay and Manly were substantially modified to accommodate the larger ferries, including the installation of wide height-adjustable two-level hydraulic ramps.[3] Additionally a new bus-interchange was built in the wharf forecourt at Manly.

Possible retirement 2020

Freshwater class ferries may be replaced in 3 Emerald class ferries in 2020 as part of a new contract.



Name: MV Freshwater
Namesake: Freshwater Beach
Port of registry: Sydney
Cost: $8.5 million[1]
Yard number: 105
Laid down: 1980
Launched: 27 March 1982
Christened: 18 December 1982

MV Freshwater is the lead ship of the four Freshwater class ferries.[4] It is named after Freshwater Beach on Sydney's Northern Beaches. It was launched on 27 March 1982 by Olivia Cox and commissioned by her husband, Minister for Transport Peter Cox, on 18 December 1982.

The three-month old ferry ran aground at Manly Cove in March 1983 after overshooting the wharf following a computer failure.[5] On 30 March 1985, Freshwater was hijacked by a man who threatened to shoot passengers unless the captain piloted the ferry beyond Sydney Heads into the ocean. The hijacker was subdued after a police officer boarded the vessel and fired three warning shots. It turned out that the man, a New Zealander, had not been carrying a gun, but an empty vodka bottle (the second of two that he had consumed before boarding the vessel) concealed under his jacket. After a short jail sentence, the man returned to New Zealand in January 1986 by stowing away on the Oriana, for which he was also fined.[6][7][8]


Name: MV Queenscliff
Namesake: Queenscliff Beach
Port of registry: Sydney
Cost: $8.5 million[1]
Launched: 1983
In service: 9 July 1983

MV Queenscliff is the second of the four Freshwater class ferries to enter service. It is named after Queenscliff Beach on Sydney's Northern Beaches.


Name: MV Narrabeen
Namesake: Narrabeen Beach
Port of registry: Sydney
Ordered: 1983
Cost: $8.9 million[1]
Launched: 1984

MV Narrabeen is the third of the four Freshwater class ferries to enter service. It is named after Narrabeen Beach on Sydney's Northern Beaches.


Name: MV Collaroy
Namesake: Collaroy Beach
Port of registry: Sydney
Cost: $12 million[1]
Launched: 1988

MV Collaroy is the final Freshwater class ferry to enter service. It is named after Collaroy Beach on Sydney's Northern Beaches.

Collaroy differed from its classmates in having been equipped with underwater stabilisers and enhanced radar for use on ocean cruises.[9] The stabilisers were removed during the vessel's last major overhaul and the control systems upgraded to match that being fitted during overhauls of the other Freshwater class. Collaroy can no longer do ocean cruising.

When Sydney hosted the 2000 Summer Olympics, Collaroy was the vessel used to carry the Olympic torch across Sydney Harbour. In February 2001, Collaroy ran aground on Manly Point, putting the ferry out of service for several months and costing $2 million to repair.[10]

See also


  1. Tom Mead (1994). Manly Ferries of Sydney Harbour: The Seven Mile Ships. Sydney: Dolphin Books.
  2. Burness, Corlett Australia Pty. Ltd. (July 1975), Manly-Circular Quay Ferry Service - Type Optimisation and Preliminary Design Study for Public Transport Commission of N.S.W., Cremorne, NSW
  3. Annual Report: 1980-81, Urban Transport Authority of New South Wales
  4. "Ferry Safety Investigation Report: Systemic Investigation Into Incidents of Collision Involving Freshwater Class Vessels Operated by Sydney Ferries Corporation" (PDF). Office of Transport Safety Investigations. 26 October 2006. Retrieved 3 March 2008.
  5. "Captain forced to ground vessel at Chowder Bay to avoid sinking after collision with collier". The Manly Daily. 11 March 2017. Retrieved 10 November 2019.
  6. "Ferry highjacker was depressed, court told". Canberra Times. 2 April 1985. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  7. "Man charged over 'hijack' of ferry". The Age. 1 April 1985. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  8. "Happy homecoming for Kiwi Australia drove to drink". Canberra Times. 10 January 1986. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  9. MV Collaroy II
  10. "Captain forced to ground vessel at Chowder Bay to avoid sinking after collision with collier". The Manly Daily. 11 March 2017. Retrieved 10 November 2019.

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