Red Funnel

Red Funnel, formally the Southampton Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited,[3] is a ferry company that carries passengers, vehicles and freight on routes between the English mainland and the Isle of Wight. High-speed foot passenger catamarans, known as Red Jets, run between Southampton and Cowes, while vehicle ferries run between Southampton and East Cowes.

Red Funnel
public limited company 
HeadquartersBugle Street, Southampton, England[1]
Area served
SouthamptonCowes Passenger
Southampton – East Cowes Vehicle & passenger
Key people
Kevin George
Fran Collins
BrandsRed Funnel
Red Jet
Red Funnel Holidays
Steam Coffee Company
Revenue £45.4 million (2014)[2]
£14.3 million (2014)[2]
£9.7 million (2014)[2]
Total assets £44.6 million (2014)[2]
Total equity £39.4 million (2014)[2]
OwnerWest Midlands Pension Fund and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of the Province of Ontario
Number of employees
Footnotes / references

Red Funnel's house flag

Red Funnel's main competitor is Wightlink whose services operate from Portsmouth to Fishbourne and Ryde, and from Lymington to Yarmouth. The other major Solent ferry company, Hovertravel, operates between Southsea and Ryde. Both provide a frequent service to the Isle of Wight, but neither normally serve Southampton, Cowes or East Cowes.


The origins of Red Funnel date back to 1820, when the Isle of Wight Royal Mail Steam Packet Company was established by Cowes interests to operate the first steamer service from there to Southampton. In 1826, the Isle of Wight Steam Packet Company was formed in Southampton, and by the following year the two companies had started co-ordinating their operations. In 1860, the Southampton, Isle of Wight & Portsmouth Improved Steamboat Company was created to compete with the two established operators, and the threat posed caused the two older companies to merge. They subsequently acquired the assets of the Improved Steamboat Company in 1865.[5]

Formed in 1861, and called The Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited, the merged company's name remains the longest for a registered company in the United Kingdom.[3] The shortened name Red Funnel was adopted after 1935 when all the company's ships had a black-topped red funnel. The longer name remains the company's formal name.

The company originally operated a paddle steamer ferry service between Cowes, Isle of Wight and Southampton. During its history the company has operated other routes connecting the Isle of Wight and the English mainland, together with a sizable excursion steamer business along the South Coast of England including day trips from the Isle of Wight to France, but today services are concentrated on two routes. In 1931 it introduced its first diesel ferry, the MV Medina. Ferries have steadily increased in size to the current Scottish-built Raptor class operated between East Cowes and Town Quay in Southampton. Between 1969 and the 1990, the company also ran Italian-built hydrofoils between Town Quay and Cowes. This route is now served by high-speed, passenger-only catamarans.

In 1867 Red Funnel instituted a service crossing the River Medina between Cowes and East Cowes. This service was operated by a series of small launches over the years. The service ceased on the outbreak of war in 1939 when the vessels involved were requisitioned by the Admiralty. In 1868 the company took over the Cowes Floating Bridge Company and operated the floating bridge until 1901.[6]

In 1885 the company bought the New Southampton Steam Towing Company and operated tugs and tenders under the subsidiary Red Funnel Towage. In 2002 Red Funnel Towage was sold to the Adelaide Steamship Company, later passing to Svitzer Marine.[7]

In 1946 Red Funnel acquired a controlling interest in Cosens & Co Ltd, a rival pleasure steamer operator based in Weymouth. This enabled the combined company to coordinate their excursions and also gave Red Funnel access to the Cosens' marine engineering and ship repair facilities. Excursions came to end in 1966 but the engineering side continued until sold off in 1990 to a management buy-out.[8]

In 2001 the company was sold to JP Morgan Partners Inc. by Associated British Ports Holdings, which had acquired the company in 1989 as a white knight to fend off a hostile takeover by Sally Lines. In 2004 the company was sold again in a management buy-out backed by the Bank of Scotland for £60 million. On 12 April 2007, the owners of Red Funnel (who include HBOS) announced that they were considering selling Red Funnel.[9] In June of the same year, the company was sold to the Prudential's infrastructure specialist, Infracapital, in a deal valuing the business at more than £200m.

In 2017 the company was sold to a consortium, including West Midlands Pension Fund and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of the Province of Ontario, for an undisclosed sum.[10] In the same year, construction work began on renovating and enlarging the terminal at East Cowes, which was completed in 2018.

The House Flag

The house flag was inspired by the names of the early paddle-steamers, Sapphire, Emerald, Ruby and Pearl. A simple rhyme was the guide to flying it correctly:

Blue to mast, green to fly,

Red on deck, white to sky.


Notable events

The Red Eagle collided with Humber Energy in the Thorne Channel, near Southampton Water, on the evening of 21 December 2006.[11] Coastguards said nobody was injured and neither vessel was badly damaged. Richard Pellew, of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: "Having examined the minor damage sustained to the Red Eagle we are advising Red Funnel on the repair work the ferry needs before it can resume normal service."

On 10 March 2006 the car ferry Red Falcon, collided with the linkspan at the Southampton Town Quay terminal.[12] Eight passengers and one crew member were injured and significant damage was caused to the Southampton end of the Red Falcon and to the linkspan. The collision caused a 5-metre (16 ft) hole above the waterline and buckling of the car deck doors. The accident occurred 9 years and 1 day after the Red Falcon collided with the dredger Volvox Hansa in Southampton Water with limited visibility due to fog.

On 5 November 2016 a man on a personal water craft collided with Red Jet 4. No one was injured and no damage was caused.[13]

The Red Eagle was involved in a collision in thick fog on 27 September 2018. It was reported that the ferry had ploughed through the moorings of three yachts and a channel marker was struck.[14] The following month, the Red Falcon also hit several yachts in thick fog, sinking one of them. The vessel was grounded in the incident with forty passengers aboard and was not refloated until three hours later.[15]

Current fleet

Vehicle ferries

Vehicle Ferries Status Route
MV Red Falcon In service Southampton <> East Cowes
MV Red Osprey In service Southampton <> East Cowes
MV Red Eagle In service Southampton <> East Cowes
MV Red Kestrel In service[16] (freight) Southampton <> East Cowes

The first three vessels were built by Ferguson Shipbuilders of Port Glasgow, and entered service between 1994 and 1996. Between 2003 and 2005 the ferries were refitted and extended both in length and height by Remontowa S.A. in Gdańsk, Poland.[17] This was following a corporate decision driven by Tom Docherty to maximise summer operating capacity taking the previous capacity from around 100 CEUs to 213 CEU.

During 2014 Red Falcon underwent a £2.2 million refurbishment, which saw the interior and facilities replaced with a bright and new modern look.[18] Due to success and increase of passengers on their services during 2014, it was confirmed that Red Osprey would also receive a £2.2 million refurbishment.[19] Like her sister ship, the Red Osprey was refitted and relaunched almost exactly a year later. After a delay of three years, the Red Eagle was refitted at the end of 2017.

In February 2018, Red Funnel announced plans to introduce a new freight only ferry into the fleet, to coincide with the refurbishment of their facilities on both sides of the Solent. It will be built at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead, and is designed to have similar dimensions to Red Funnel's Raptor class fleet, allowing it to load and unload with the same linkspan used by the other ferries. It is expected to be in service from 2019.[20] Construction of the new ferry began on 31 May 2018 with a formal Keel laying ceremony.[21][22] During this event, the ship's name was announced to be Red Kestrel, placing its name in line with those of the rest of Red Funnel's RO-RO ferry fleet. She entered service in May 2019.

Passenger ferries

Red Jet Status Route
Red Jet 4 In service Southampton <> West Cowes
Red Jet 6 In service Southampton <> West Cowes
Red Jet 7 In service Southampton <> West Cowes

Red Jet 4 was built new for Red Funnel by North West Bay Ships of Tasmania in 2003.[23] Red Funnel have taken delivery of a new 40-metre high speed catamaran constructed in East Cowes by Shemara Refit LLP.[24] Named by the Princess Royal on 4 July 2016, Red Jet 6 entered service later in the summer.[25] Red Jet 7 was built by the Wight Shipyard Co. in East Cowes. Red Jet 7 was lowered into the River Medina at East Cowes on 6 June 2018, and was christened during a launching ceremony on 24 July 2018.[26]

Retired fleet

Classic ferries

Between 1840 and the 1960s, Red Funnel line and its predecessors operated 40 different classic passenger ferries, many of these being paddle steamers. Later ferries sometimes had space allocated for carrying cars but it was not until 1959 that the first purpose-built car ferry was introduced. Classic passenger vessels continued in service until the Balmoral was sold in 1969.[27][28][29][30][31]

Paddle steamers

Ship Service Notes
PS Gem 1840–1883
PS Ruby 1841–1872 The first Isle of Wight steamer to be built of iron
PS Pearl 1844–1867
PS Queen (I) 1848–1876
PS Medina (I) 1852–1882
PS Emerald 1857–1871
PS Sapphire 1860–1873
PS Lord of the Isles 1861–1889
PS Lady of the Lake 1861–1887
PS Vectis 1866–1910
PS Southampton 1872–1902
PS Carisbrooke 1876–1905
PS Prince Leopold 1876–1905
PS Princess Beatrice 1880–1930
PS Princess Helena 1883–1950 Sent to Dunkirk in 1940
PS Her Majesty 1885–1940 Sunk during an air raid on Southampton
PS Princess of Wales 1888-1888 Sunk during trials in Scotland before entering service
PS Bangor Castle 1888–1899 ex PS Palmerston chartered to replace the sunken Princess of Wales[32]
PS Solent Queen 1889–1948 Sent to Dunkirk in 1940
PS Prince of Wales 1891–1937
PS Lorna Doone 1891–1947
PS Duchess of York 1896–1949 HM Minesweeper 0102 1916–1922. Renamed Duchess of Cornwall in 1928
PS Victoria (I) 1899–1900 Launched 1881. Ex London and South Western Railway and London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. Status unclear. Transfer recorded in official register but no mention on Red Funnel's records.[33]
PS Balmoral (I) 1900–1947
PS Queen (II) 1902–1938 Renamed Mauretania in 1936 then renamed Corfe Castle in 1938
PS Princess Royal 1906-1906 Not accepted after trials and sold to Cosens & Co Ltd. Renamed Emperor of India
PS Stirling Castle 1907–1916 Sunk off Malta on war service
PS Bournemouth Queen 1908–1957
PS Lord Elgin 1908–1955
PS Princess Mary 1911–1919 Sank in the Mediterranean after colliding with the sunken wreck of HMS Majestic
PS Princess Elizabeth 1927–1959 Sent to Dunkirk in 1940. Appeared in the 1962 Walt Disney film In Search of the Castaways.[34] Now moored at Dunkirk as a conference centre
PS Gracie Fields 1936–1940 As HMS Gracie Fields she was sunk at Dunkirk
PS Lorna Doone (II) 1949–1952 Ex Queen of Kent ex HMS Atherstone
PS Solent Queen (II) 1949–1951 Ex Queen of Thanet ex HMS Melton

Twin-screw steamers

Ship Service Notes
TSS Upton 1946–1950 Purchased from Birkenhead Corporation
TSS Robina 1948–1949 Purchased from Coast Lines Ltd

Motor vessels

Ship Service Notes
MV Medina (III) 1931–1962 The first diesel engined ferry on the Solent
MV Vecta (I) 1938–1965 Sold to P & A Campbell, renamed Westward Ho
MV Norris Castle (II) 1947–1962 Ex LCT 828
MV Balmoral (II) 1949–1969 Purchased by P & A Campbell in 1968 and ran with them until 1980. In 1981 it was sold for use as a floating nightclub in Dundee. This venture was unsuccessful and she was bought in 1985 by supporters of the PS Waverley. She ran acting as the sister ship of the Waverley until 2012 when they decided she was no longer viable and Balmoral was laid up. After raising more than £300,000 and receiving a coastal communities grant MV Balmoral Fund Ltd started to run her again on 19 June 2015 through White Funnel Ltd.

Car ferries

Although some earlier ferries provided space for cars, the first car ferry purpose built for Red Funnel was introduced in 1959. Besides the Raptor class vessels that are still in service, the following purpose built car ferries have been used by Red Funnel:[31][35][36]

Ship Service Notes
MV Carisbrooke Castle 1959–1974 Sold to Italy and renamed Citta di Meta. Scrapped 2007[8]
MV Osborne Castle 1962–1978 Sold to Canada and renamed Le Gobelet d'Argent, then Le Maxim, then Cavalier Maxim[8]
MV Cowes Castle 1965–1994 Sold to Croatia and renamed Nehaj. Scrapped 2008[8]
MV Norris Castle (III) 1968–1994 Sold to Croatia and renamed Lovrjenac. Scrapped 2008[8]
MV Netley Castle 1974–1997 Sold to Croatia and renamed Sis[8]
MV Bergen Castle 2003–2005 Ex Nordhordland, purchased to maintain a three boat service during refit period of current fleet. Sold and renamed Stella[8]

Fast passenger ferries

The first fast ferry introduced by Red Funnel was the Sea Coach Island Enterprise, a motor cruiser capable of carrying 11 passengers at 20 knots. She was built by the British Power Boat Company in Hythe, and operated from 1933 to 1938.[31]


In 1968 the company ran trials with an HM2 sidewall hovercraft, number 002, in order to compete with the Seaspeed service which used an SRN6 between Southampton and Cowes. Due to the unreliability of the craft it never entered passenger service. In 1981 Red Funnel acquired a pair of HM2 MkIIIs, GH2019 & GH2024, which were primarily used on the charter service for Vosper Thorneycroft transporting workers from the Isle of Wight to the Woolston yard and back each day. These two craft were disposed of in June 1982 and the charter subsequently operated by the augmented hydrofoil fleet.[6]


The first hydrofoils to operate on the Southampton to Cowes route, and the first in commercial service in the United Kingdom, were the Italian designed Shearwater and Shearwater 2. These were introduced by Red Funnel in 1969, and each seated 54 passengers. They were replaced in 1973 by two 67 seat RH70 hydrofoils built by Cantière Navale Rodriguez and named Shearwater 3 and Shearwater 4. The latter was delivered some 5 months after the former and in the interim a PT20 craft, Fleccia di Reggio, was chartered to stand in. In 1982 Shearwater 5 and Shearwater 6 were added to the fleet. In 1991, with the introduction of the first Red Jet catamarans, the hydrofoils were demoted to back-up duties until they were finally withdrawn in 1998.[37]

Red Jets

Ship Service Notes
Red Jet 1 19902009 Sold to Caspian Mainport, renamed CM Jet 1.[36][37][38]
Red Jet 2 19902009 Sold to Caspian Mainport, renamed CM Jet 2.[36][37][38]
Red Jet 3 19982019 Sold to Adriatic Fast Ferries in Split, Croatia.[39]
Red Jet 5 20092016 Ex Bo Hengy. Sold to Italy and renamed Schiopparello Jet.[23][32][40][41]

Tugs and tug tenders

Some tugs also had passenger accommodation to enable them to serve as tenders to liners not actually berthing in Southampton and to augment the excursion fleet on occasion.[6]

Ship Service Notes
ST Sovereign 1885–1894
ST Alexandra 1885–1897
ST Fawn 1885–1897
TSS T/T Albert Edward 1886–1934
TSST Hercules 1890–1927
TSST Vulcan 1893–1957 Rescued the SS New York after her near collision with the RMS Titanic[6]
TSST Ajax 1894–1936
TSST Neptune (I) 1896–1904
TSST Hector 1903–1958 One of the tugs that assisted RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage[42]
TSST Neptune (II) 1910–1961 One of the tugs that assisted RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage[42]
TSST Sir Bevois (I) 1916–1941 Sunk during an air raid in Plymouth
ST Minas 1920–1931
ST Ascupart 1922–1927
ST Morglay 1922–1927
TSST Canute 1923–1965
TSST Clausentum 1926–1966
TSS T/T Calshot (I) 1930–1964 Renamed Galway Bay. Now preserved at Southampton as Calshot
ST Empire Lilliput 1944–1947 Managed for Ministry of War Transport
ST TID 69 1944–1947 Managed for Ministry of War Transport
ST Bantam 1946–1958
TSS T/T Paladin 1946–1960 She appeared in the 1959 Peter Sellers film The Mouse That Roared to transport the Grand Fenwick army from France to invade America.
ST Beamish 1951–1952 Ex Queensgarth, ex Empire Paul. Later renamed Thunder Cape
TSST Hamtun (I) 1953–1970
TSST Sir Bevois (II) 1953–1968
TSMT Atherfield 1956–1971
TSMT Culver 1956–1983
TSMT Dunnose 1958–1980
TSM T/T Gatcombe (I) 1960–1969
TSMT Thorness 1961–1983
TSM T/T Calshot (II) 1964–1985
MT Bonchurch 1966–1983 Ex Baie Comeau, ex Abeille No 13, ex TID 174
TSMT Chale 1965–1986
MT Gatcombe (II) 1970–1997 Sold and renamed Multratug 6
MT Vecta (II) 1970–1999 Sold and renamed Multratug 8, renamed Serwal 4
TSMT Clausentum (II) 1980–1993 Sold and renamed Strathfoyle, renamed Westlund
TSMT Gurnard 1982–1985 Ex Aziebank. ex Azie
TSMT Totland 1982–1985 Ex Europabank, ex Europa
TSMT Hamtun (II) 1985–2002 Renamed Multratug 16
TSMT Sir Bevois (III) 1985–2002 Renamed Svitzer Bevois, renamed Beaver
TSMT Portunus 1985–1993 Ex John af Goteborg, resumed name of John af Goteborg, renamed John
TSMT Redbridge 1995–2002 Renamed Adsteam Redbridge, renamed Svitzer Redbridge

Medina crossing

Ship Service Notes
SL Precursor (I) 1867–1883
SL Princess Louise 1871–1944 Sunk in collision with a landing craft off Town Quay shortly before D-Day
SL Medina (II) 1884–1931
SL Precursor (II) 1898–1939 Requisitioned by the Admiralty for service in the Mediterranean
ML Norris Castle (I) 1938–1939 Requisitioned by the Admiralty for service in the Mediterranean


  1. "Red Funnel Corporate Information." Red Funnel. Retrieved 19 October 2010. "Red Funnel Travel Centre: 12 Bugle Street, Southampton, SO14 2JY, UK."
  2. "Financial Statements (2014)". Open Corporates.
  3. Companies House extract company no 2404 Southampton Isle of Wight & South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited}
  4. Red Funnel. "Red Funnel Company History". Retrieved 23 August 2010.
  5. "Timeline". Red Funnel. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  6. Adams, RB (1986). Red Funnel and Before. Southampton: Kingfisher Publications. ISBN 0-946184-21-6.
  7. "Chronology | Red Funnel Isle of Wight Ferries". Retrieved 19 April 2012.
  8. Adams, Keith (2010). Red Funnel 150. Isle of Man: Richard Danielson. ISBN 978-0-9513155-5-2.
  9. "Island ferry company may be sold". BBC. 12 April 2007. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  10. "Red Funnel ferry operator sold to pension funds group". BBC News. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  11. Ferry and barge channel collision BBC News
  12. "Investigators examine ferry crash". BBC. 11 March 2006. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  13. "Man on jet ski ploughs into ferry off Southampton". BBC. 5 November 2016. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  14. "Car ferry 'tears yachts from moorings'". BBC News. 27 September 2018. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  15. "Run aground ferry captain suspended". BBC News. 22 October 2018. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  17. "Red Funnel – Vehicle ferry fleet". Retrieved 25 December 2008.
  18. "New look for Red Eagle". Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  21. Woolven, James. "PICTURES: Construction officially begins for Red Funnel's new freight ship". Isle of Wight County Press. Retrieved 2 June 2018.
  22. "Ferry firm's new, British-built, 74m vessel, costing £10m, will be named Red Kestrel". Daily Echo. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  23. "Red Jet Hi-Speed Fleet". Red Funnel. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  24. "Red Jet 6 Specification". Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  25. "Royal naming for new Red Jet 6 passenger ferry". BBC News. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  26. Tew, Imogen. "GALLERY: Red Funnel's new Red Jet 7 in the water for the first time at East Cowes". Isle of Wight County Press. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  27. "Vessel Archive 1840–1860". Red Funnel. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  28. "Vessel Archive 1861–1880". Red Funnel. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  29. "Vessel Archive 1881–1900". Red Funnel. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  30. "Vessel Archive 1901–1920". Red Funnel. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  31. "Vessel Archive 1921–1950". Red Funnel. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  32. Keith Adams [2010], Red Funnel 150; Richard Danielson, ISBN 978-0-9513155-5-2
  33. Adams, Keith (2010). Red Funnel 150 Celebrating One Hundred and Fifty Years of The Original Isle of Wight Ferries. Richard Danielson. p. 15. ISBN 9780951315552.
  34. "Princess Elizabeth". Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  35. "Vessel Archive 1951–1980". Red Funnel. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  36. "Vessel Archive 1981–2010". Red Funnel. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  37. "News Release 21-07-2009". Red Funnel. 21 July 2009. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  38. "Red Jets sail into sunset". Isle of Wight County Press. 15 May 2009. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  39. "Red Funnel's Red Jet 3 sold to Croatian ferry company". Red Funnel Ferries. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  40. "Vessel details for SCHIOPPARELLO JET". Marine Traffic. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  41. "Schiopparello Jet: the new fast way to cross to and from Piombino and Elba". Infoelba s.r.l. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  42. photographs taken by Rev Francis Browne
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