RMV Scillonian III

RMV Scillonian III is a passenger ship based at Penzance in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom, run by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company. She operates the principal ferry service to the Isles of Scilly and is one of only three ships in the world still carrying the status of Royal Mail Ship (hence RMV – Royal Mail Vessel).

Scillonian III unloading cargo at St Mary's Harbour
Name: Scillonian III
Owner: Isles of Scilly Steamship Company
Operator: Isles of Scilly Steamship Company
Port of registry: St Mary's,  United Kingdom
Builder: Appledore Shipbuilders, North Devon
Launched: 5 May 1977
Christened: 17 May 1977[1]
In service: 19 May 1977[1]
Identification: IMO number: 7527796
Status: Operating between Penzance and Hugh Town
General characteristics
Class and type: passenger ferry 100A1 (EU Class II B)
Tonnage: 1,255.25 GRT
Length: 68 m (223.1 ft)
Beam: 11.85 m (38.9 ft)
Draught: 2.89 m (9.5 ft)
Decks: 4
Propulsion: 2 engines driving 2 propellers
Speed: 15.15 kn (28.1 km/h)
Capacity: 485 passengers
Crew: 18 [2]


RMV Scillonian III was purpose built for the Steamship Company by Appledore Shipbuilders Ltd of Appledore in Devon and was christened by H.R.H. Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall on 17 May 1977[3] and entered service later in the same month. She is the third passenger ship to carry the Scillonian name and made her first trip to Scilly on 19 May 1977, sailing from Bideford to St Mary's.[4] On the arrival of the new ship, critics found it "too big, they will never hold her, not suitable or not as good a sea boat as the old boat" (the same had happened when the first Scillonian went into service in 1926 and again with her replacement in 1956).[5]

Scillonian III has a length of 68 m, a beam of 11.85 m, a draft of 2.89 m, a gross tonnage of 1255.25, and a service speed of 15.15 knots (28.06 km/h). Due to the number of tidal currents which meet off Land's End, and the need for a shallow draught to allow access to the Islands, the sea journey can be rough, causing sea sickness. For this reason the ship is fitted with a "Flume" antiroll stabiliser system. The ship is also designed to have a shallow draft and can sit on the seabed when there is insufficient water.[6]

Scillonian III is currently in service for passengers and cargo 8 months of the year, carrying up to 485 passengers (the current licensed limit)[6] for day trips or longer holidays to the Islands. As a preferred means of transport between Scilly and the mainland, she is a familiar sight in Penzance and St Mary's – often photographed by tourists and also featured in the BBC series, An Island Parish.

In 1998, faced with the cost of building a new ship, the Company decided to give Scillonian III a major refit, during which over 50 tons of steel were used to increase the standard of the ship. The ship also had three new generators and a new bow thruster fitted. The cost was £1.7 million.[4] In early 2007, press reports indicated that Cornwall County Council was expected to approve plans for the construction of a new ro-ro ferry at a cost of £17.5 million. This vessel would be leased to the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company and would replace both Scillonian III and Gry Maritha.[7] The scheme subsequently collapsed.[8]

During the winter of 2012–13 the ship underwent a £2 million overhaul which refurbished the passenger accommodation and also extended the ship's service life to 2018.[6] The ship's 40th anniversary was in May 2017 and during that time she has made more than 9,000 return journeys, travelled more than 648,000 nautical miles (1,200,000 km) and carried more than 1,458,000 passengers.[9]


From new in 1977 Scillonian III operated a year-round route through all weather conditions to service the cargo and passenger transport to and from Penzance and the island of St. Mary's, in the Isles of Scilly. At that time she would run a regular single daily service on weekdays leaving at 0915 from Penzance and then returning to Penzance from St. Mary's leaving at 1530. On Saturdays she was scheduled to run a double service leaving earlier in the morning and making a quick turnaround at lunchtime in St. Mary's and then performing a second return voyage in the afternoon. In 1990 it was decided to change the service and only run a seasonal operation. The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company Ltd. later purchased a smaller cargo vessel purely for freight and Scillonian III was put into maintenance and repair during the winter months.

Scillonian III now runs between Penzance and Hugh Town, St. Mary's for about eight months only, from early spring (March/April) until autumn (October/November).[2][10][11] Through the winter months, she is laid up in Penzance harbour and a cargo-only service to the Isles of Scilly is then provided by Gry Maritha.[12] The annual winter period is used to carry out a maintenance programme, during which Scillonian III is painted and undergoes technical inspections as well as surveys for passenger vessel certification by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.[13] The ferry's season thus largely coincides with the tourist season on the Isles of Scilly,[14] which normally runs from Easter to the first weekend in October. The ferry is in fact so closely associated with the summer season on Scilly that for many people, "the sight of the ship Scillonian III [arriving in the Isles of Scilly] is a celebrated indication that spring has sprung."[11]

During her months of operation, Scillonian III follows a regular schedule. The ferry normally sails six days a week from Monday to Saturday,[2] typically leaving Penzance at 09:15 am and arriving in Hugh Town around 12:00 noon, which means a sailing time of approximately 2 hours 40 minutes.[11] This is the vessel's standard schedule, which only sees occasional variations on Saturdays.[15] On most days, when Scillonian III sails from the UK mainland at 09:15 am, she will stay in Hugh Town until 16:30 pm.[16]

On some occasions, when changing tides or weather forecasts affect her sailings so that she has to leave Penzance at about 10:30, she will leave Hugh Town again around 15:00, and on the few days when she needs to sail from Penzance at about 08:30, she will depart Hugh Town at about 11:15.[16] Times and dates may also change due to school holidays, special occasions and unexpected events. Two sailings a day, Sunday or night sailings are rare and usually only arranged by the Steamship Company when an exceptionally high number of passengers depend on the ferry service. This may be the case on busy weekends at the start of the summer season, around the World Pilot Gig Championships, and more regularly during the year when the air services between the Isles of Scilly and the mainland are grounded due to poor visibility (see "Notable events" below).

Scillonian III is part of the emergency response and civil contingency for incidents occurring on the Isles of Scilly.

Notable events

On 26 March 1997, when the 300-ft container vessel Cita hit rocks off the south coast of the Isles of Scilly, the crew of the stricken vessel were rescued by St Mary's Lifeboat with the support of a helicopter from RNAS Culdrose. They returned to the UK mainland on board Scillonian III later that afternoon. As air traffic to Scilly was suspended for the day due to poor visibility on the mainland, the government authorities chartered the Scillonian III to make a night sailing from Penzance to bring officials, shipwreck specialists and police reinforcements to St Mary's.[17]

On Monday 12 August 2002, Scillonian III could not sail because of a technical fault, leaving hundreds of tourists temporarily stranded on St Mary's. The ferry had to remain docked in Penzance while engineers worked on the fault. Travellers booked in for the sailing were advised to make alternative arrangements; however British International and Skybus services struggled to cope with the massive extra demand for seats, the problem made worse by one of British International’s two helicopters being grounded. Cancellation of Scillonian III's sailing mainly affected day trip passengers to Scilly and visitors staying in guesthouses, as in many cases they could not be re-accommodated in the same guesthouse. Freight services to St Mary's were also disrupted by the cancellation, so Gry Maritha had to make a rescheduled Monday night sailing to deliver fruit and vegetables to the Isles of Scilly.[18]

On 17 June 2010, a Scilly shrew made headlines on BBC Cornwall when it stowed away from the Isles of Scilly on Scillonian III. The small 2 in (5 cm) mammal was discovered in a corner of the Upper Deck as the ferry was about to arrive in Penzance and staff were clearing the area near the gangway. Paul Semmens, the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust's onboard marine guide, identified the animal as a shrew about two months old and looked after it for the night. The next day, the shrew was flown back from Penzance to Scilly on a Skybus plane and released back into its natural environment. Managers at the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company said they thought it could have been the smallest passenger ever to travel on Scillonian III and the Skybus.[19]

On 21 April 2011, Scillonian III was issued with her new certificate by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency so her carrying capacity of 600 passengers could be reinstated. This came in time for the start of the summer season on the Isles of Scilly and the World Pilot Gig Championships.[20]

On 2 May 2011, the cancellation of a Scillonian III sailing on the bank holiday after the World Pilot Gig Championships weekend left visitors stranded on St Mary's. Two sailings were scheduled that day to take gig rowers home. Scillonian III departed for the first sailing as planned, but with weather conditions worsening in the strong Easterlies and waves crashing onto the pier in Penzance it became unsafe to berth and she had to spend three hours circling in Mount's Bay, waiting until high tide with 450 passengers on board. When the second sailing was then cancelled, council staff opened up emergency accommodation at their Carn Thomas offices and Town Hall to provide shelter for visitors stranded on St Mary's.[21] [22]

On 29 June 2011, a passenger had to be airlifted from Scillonian III by a rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose after complaining about severe chest pains. The day trip visitor had become unwell around 30 minutes out of Penzance, so a doctor travelling on board asked for the helicopter. The ferry retreated to a more sheltered part of the coast, near Mousehole, so the patient could be winched up without having to cope with the strong winds.[23]

On 24 May 2013, Scillonian III ran aground in St Mary's Harbour after being caught by a gust of wind, while attempting to berth by normal approach at low tide. The captain was intending to retreat and wait for the tide to rise when wind blew her shoreward and she made contact with the bottom, stranding 203 passengers for more than an hour. Two moorings were lost as a result and a smaller boat received superficial damage, but nobody was hurt and a later inspection by divers revealed that there was no damage to the Scillonian III. She left as scheduled at 4.30pm that afternoon.[24][25]

On Wednesday 28 August 2019, Scillonian III had to be towed back after leaving Penzance because both engines failed approximately 4 miles out at sea. The fault with both engines, resulted in hundreds of tourists being temporarily stranded on St Mary's with hundreds more waiting to travel to the islands from Penzance. The ferry had to remain docked in Penzance while engineers worked on the fault. Travellers booked in for the sailing were advised to make alternative arrangements; but the Isles of Scilly Steamship Co did manage to fly many of those affected via the Skybus service.

However, the Skybus service struggled to cope with the massive extra demand for seats.

Meanwhile on the Islands, visitors were getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of any information on why they should actually do. Many didn't know if they would get any refund for the extra nights in hotels they were booking and the money for meals etc. For many people these costs were running into hundreds of pounds for each day the ferry was delayed.

The Isles of Scilly Steamship Co in turn, couldn't cope with the deluge of phone calls and emails from passengers so they were sent messages asking them not to call the office.

Cancellation of Scillonian III's sailing mainly affected day trip passengers to Scilly and visitors staying in hotels and guesthouses, as in many cases they could not be re-accommodated as visitors were still flying into the islands.


In 1977 Scillonian III went into service with her hull and superstructure painted white, her crane, funnel davits and masts were buff (yellow) without further markings. Some time after Gry Maritha was acquired, Scillonian III's funnel and crane were painted blue to closer match the colours of the other ship, despite the Gry Maritha being a lighter colour blue with a white superstructure. For two seasons after the change of schedule post 1990, the lower half of her hull was painted dark blue with the upper half and superstructure, remaining white. The funnel was painted blue and white striped with a house flag, painted on the sides in the white stripe. The crane, davits and masts were painted blue.

Thereafter the hull was returned to its original white colour with the flag on the side of the funnel becoming a stylized fluttering company house flag without the red lettering. Following customer feedback and comments about the change of colour, the colour scheme was returned to the original white and buff, but with the addition of the fluttering house flag, complete with the red lettering. For much of the first decade of the 21st century, Scillonian III remained in this appearance.

Shortly before the start of the 2010 season, the colours of the ferry's funnel were again changed, this time to white and a black soot ring around the top with a smaller emblem from the marketing material, of the Steamship Company consists of a stylized, flag like, overall shape made up of four quadrant shapes that are not parallel, the left being blue and the right being red. The crane, masts and davits remained in the buff colour.

See also


  1. Media release by Deborah Clark Associates on behalf of Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, 14 June 2010 Archived 30 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  2. "RMS Scillonian III – Take a look above and below decks on the islands' beloved steamer" in The Islander – Life on the Isles of Scilly (Spring 2009), pp. 30–34
  3. "Back in service". Scilly Up To Date. April 1999. Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 9 January 2010.
  4. Description on Hearts of Oak The Penzance/Isles of Scilly Mail Packets.
  5. "Scillonian III Back in Service after £1,700,000 Refit" in Scilly up to Date, issue 120 (April 1999) Archived 5 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 2011-08-16
  6. Cornwall Council St Mary’s and Penzance Harbours Scheme Update August 2014
  7. Plummer, Russell (February 2007). "Ferry news". Ships Monthly. IPC Country & Leisure Media. p. 6.
  8. Isles of Scilly ferry link: £4m spent on failed scheme, July 2011.
  9. "Scillonian III's 40th anniversary". The Cornishman. 27 April 2017. p. 11.
  10. Channel Images blog of photographer Chris Jones, accessed 15 August 2011
  11. Isles of Scilly Travel: By Sea Archived 5 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 2011-08-18)
  12. Isles of Scilly SS Co on www.simplonpc.co.uk, accessed 2011-08-16.
  13. Scillonian III shipshape and ready, 25 February 2010 Archived 30 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 2011-08-16.
  14. Scillonian sailing dates in 2010 were from 27 March – 30 October , in 2011 from 26 March to 29 October "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 August 2011. Retrieved 18 August 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. Richard Seville: "Isles of Scilly Steamship Company – RMS Scillonian III" in Irish Sea Shipping voyage reports (2001)
  16. Isles of Scilly Travel: Scillonian III sailing times and dates Archived 6 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 2011-08-16)
  17. Wreck of the Cita by John B. Luxton (accessed 2011-08-16)
  18. Hundreds of Tourists Stranded, 11 August 2002 (accessed 2011-08-16)
  19. Cornish ferry stowaway shrew flown home, 17 June 2010 (accessed 2011-08-16)
  20. Media release by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, 21 April 2011 Archived 28 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  21. Update on Scillonian III sailing, 3 May 2011 (accessed 2011-08-16)
  22. Radio Scilly: Scillonian Sailing Cancellation Causes Chaos, 2 May 2011 (accessed 2011-08-16)
  23. Woman airlifted from Scillonian III, 29 June 2011 (accessed 2011-08-16)
  24. "Scillonian III Runs Aground In St Mary's Harbour". Scilly Today. 24 May 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2016.
  25. "Scillonian Grounding 'Looked More Dramatic Than It Was'". Scilly Today. Retrieved 24 June 2016.

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