Sydney Ferries

Sydney Ferries is the public transport ferry network serving the Australian city of Sydney, New South Wales. Services operate on Sydney Harbour and the connecting Parramatta River. The network is controlled by the New South Wales Government's transport authority, Transport for NSW, and is part of the authority's Opal ticketing system. In 2017-18, 15.3 million passenger journeys were made on the network.

Sydney Ferries
WaterwayPort Jackson
Transit typePassenger ferry
OwnerTransport for NSW
OperatorTransdev Sydney Ferries
No. of lines8
No. of vessels32

Services are operated under contract by Transdev Sydney Ferries. Sydney Ferries Corporation is the state government agency that owns the ferry fleet.


Early services

Sydney Ferries can trace its origins as far back as the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove where in 1789, the first ferry service was established from the Cove to the farming settlement of Parramatta. The first vessel, officially named the Rose Hill Packet (otherwise known as 'The Lump'), was a hoy crafted by convicts and powered by sails and oars. Return trips between Sydney Cove to Parramatta could take a week to complete.

The ex-convict, Billy Blue, thought to be a Jamaican, provided a cross harbour ferry from Dawes Point to Blues Point. By 1830, he was running what is thought to be Sydney first regular ferry service.[1] The same year, a regular service was set up between Balmoral Beach and Balgowlah that shortened the otherwise long bush journey between Sydney and Manly and Northern Beaches.[1] As time progressed, a series of rowboat ferrymen set up small operations to transport people from either side of Sydney Harbour.

Parramatta River services

North Sydney was still not a heavily populated area in the 1830s, however, Parramatta was growing. The first Australian-built steamship, Surprise was launched in 1831 and ran services to Parramatta. The service, however, was not financially successful and the vessel was sold to Tasmanian interests in 1832.[1] Around the same time, Sophia Jane began harbour excursions, but also was not financially successful. Formal, timetabled ferry services began with the advent of steam propulsion which enabled regularity, the first such service being operated on the Parramatta River by PS Surprise from 1831.

The Australian Steam Conveyance company launched Australia (1834), Rapid (1837) and Kangaroo (1840). Subsequent Parramatta River boats included Raven, Emu, Comet, Cygnet, Black Swan, Pelican, and Star. Due to the considerable costs of building wharfs, boatman would wait for ferries along the river and for a fee would row ferry passengers ashore. One of two punts near the current Gladesville Bridge was for river ferry passengers and was operated by boatmen. The other punt, Bedlam Ferry, carried main road traffic across the river. In 1844, the Parramatta Steamboat Company was formed, and this became the Parramatta Steamship Company in 1866.

Sydney Ferries Limited

Cross-harbour services began in 1842 and this business grew to such an extent that a public company was formed, the North Shore Steam Ferry Co. Ltd. in 1878.[2]

In 1900, the North Shore company was reincorporated as Sydney Ferries Limited (SFL), which progressively took over most other harbour ferry services (except notably the Manly service operated by the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company), and became the world's largest ferry operator by fleet size. In addition to the vessels acquired in the takeovers, it procured 25 large ferries - mostly of the type known as the K-class - on its own accord. After the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in March 1932, SFL patronage dropped almost overnight, decreasing from 44 to 20 million passengers per year.

Manly services

The first direct link between Sydney and Manly was arranged by Henry Gilbert Smith 1853 who chartered a wooden paddle wheeler, The Brothers, to support the subdivision of his land near The Corso. By 1855, a weekday service was provided by Emu I and then the similar Black Swan and Pelican. In 1859, the first large double-ender ferry on the Manly run, Phantom, was put into service by the Brighton and Manly Beach Steam Company. Extra boats, including tugs, were used on weekends and holidays due to the popularity of Manly's beaches and coves. A new company, The Port Jackson Steamboat company, was formed in 1876 following Henry Smith's sale out of the Brighton and Manly Beach Steam Company. The company name was changed again in 1881 to Port Jackson Steamship Company, and in 1883 a new paddle steamer, Brighton, was delivered. At 67 metres (220 ft) in length, it was the largest ferry on Sydney Harbour, and with a high level of appointment, it was a passenger favourite.

A rival company, The Manly Cooperative Steam Ferry Company, was set up in 1892. There was increased price competition and there were races to get to wharves. However, by 1896 neither company was profitable and they amalgamated into the Port Jackson Co-operative Steamship Company. Manly (II) was designed by renowned naval architect, Walter Reeks, and built at for the amalgamated company and was the first double-ended screw ferry on the Manly run. In 1901, Reeks also designed the Kuring-gai, a steel, double-ended screw steamer that it form, size and capacity, was the first of the familiar Manly ferry of the twentieth century. To meet the expanding demand, the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company commissioned six similar double-ended screw steamers: Binngarra (1905), Burra Bra (1908), Bellubera (1910), Barrenjoey (1913), and Baragoola (1922).[3] In 1928, two new ferries built in Scotland, Curl Curl and Dee Why were commissioned. They were the largest and fastest ferries on the harbour until 1938 when the Company commissioned the South Steyne also built in Scotland.

The three Scottish-built steamers and the remainder of the Binngarra type vessels were pulled out of service over the course of the 1960s and 1970s as the Manly service and its vessels declined. The exceptions were Baragoola and Barrenjoey (later renamed North Head) remained in service into the 1980s until the introduction of the Freshwater-class ferries which remain in service.[3] In 1964, a hydrofoil service was introduced roughly halving the travel time of the ferries but with significantly higher fares. The hydrofoils were replaced in 1990 by Jetcats, however, these proved unreliable and expensive and were replaced by the current Manly fast ferry service.

Government take over

In 1951, the NSW Government intervened in response to the financial difficulties of SFL and agreed to take over its fleet. The assets were taken over by the Sydney Harbour Transport Board with operations and maintenance contracted to the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company. In 1967, the first of the new Lady-class ferry were ordered. Brambles Transport Industries took over the Port Jackson & Manly Steam Ship Company. In 1974, the NSW State Government took over the services initially through the auspices of the Public Transport Commission (1974-1980), then the Urban Transit Authority (1980-1989), State Transit Authority (1989-2004) and Sydney Ferries Corporation (2004-2012).

The Walker Report

On 3 April 2007 the New South Wales Government appointed Bret Walker, a Senior Counsel, to undertake a commission of inquiry into Sydney Ferries' operations.[4] Submissions to Walker's inquiry were critical of many aspects of the operation of Sydney Ferries from fare levels and infrequent services to the design of gangways and the choice of potentially unsafe livery colours for some vessels.[5] Walker's report,[6] delivered in November 2007,[7] was highly critical of the Ferries management, industrial relations and government interference. Walker made several major recommendations including the urgent replacement of the entire ageing fleet of vessels and handing day-to-day operations over to a private sector operator whilst the NSW government retained the fleet and other assets, in public ownership.[8]

In 2008, the NSW Government called for private sector bids to provide ferry services under a services contract,[9] however the government later decided to keep Sydney Ferries as a state owned and operated entity. On 1 January 2009, Sydney Ferries became a NSW Government agency.

In February 2009, private operator Bass & Flinders Cruises took over the high speed jet cat service to Manly.[8][10] In April 2010, the NSW Government decided the service contract would remain with the Sydney Ferries Corporation.[9]


In 2011, following a change in state government, it was decided to contract out the operation of Sydney Ferries to the private sector, with the government retaining ownership of both the Balmain Maintenance Facility and the ferry fleet, under the agency Sydney Ferries.[11]

On 28 July 2012, Harbour City Ferries, a 50/50 joint venture between Transfield Services (later Broadspectrum) and Veolia Transdev (later Transdev Australasia), began operating the services of Sydney Ferries under a seven-year contract.[12][13][14] In December 2016, Transdev Australasia exercised an option to purchase Broadspectrum's share.[15]

In February 2019, Transdev was awarded a new nine year contract by the Government commencing 28 July 2019. Under the contract, it will lease 10 new ferries to expand Parramatta River services and also some further Emerald class ferries for other services, which will result in an additional 280 weekly services. It is also planned to combine the F2 and F6 routes to be operated on a 20 minute frequency.[16] Harbour City Ferries was also rebranded Transdev Sydney Ferries.



Sydney Ferries operates services on eight routes:[17]

The hub of the network is at Circular Quay; seven routes terminate there, while the F4 route passes through.

On demand service

On 14 October 2019 Sydney Ferries commenced an on demand service connection Barangaroo ferry wharf with Pirrama Park and Fish Market Wharf in Pyrmont, and Blackwattle Bay Wharf in Glebe using the ferry ME-MEL.[18][19]


The Sydney Ferries fleet consists of 32 vessels divided into six classes:

Sydney Ferries fleet[20][21]
First Fleet91984-86393/403Inner Harbour, Taronga Zoo, Eastern Suburbs
RiverCat71992-95230Parramatta River
HarbourCat21998150Inner Harbour, Parramatta
SuperCat42000-01250Eastern Suburbs
Emerald62017400Eastern Suburbs, Inner Harbour
MiniCat1201960The Bays Precinct (On-Demand Area)

Planning has commenced for four new ferries for Parramatta River services.[22] In January 2019 these plans were shelved due to the lack of availability of suitable vessels from shipbuilders.[23]


The following table lists patronage figures for the network during the corresponding financial year. Australia's financial years start on 1 July and end on 30 June. Major events that affected the number of journeys made or how patronage is measured are included as notes.

Sydney Ferries patronage by financial year
Year 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-152015-162016-172017-18
14.5 14.8 14.9 16.0
[lower-alpha 1][lower-alpha 2]
14.8 15.4 14.9
[lower-alpha 3]
Reference [24] [25] [26] [27]
  1. Opal rollout completed in August 2013
  2. International Fleet Review held in October 2013
  3. Figures from 2016-17 onwards are based on Opal tap on and tap off data. Non-Opal tickets were discontinued in August 2016.
2017-18 Sydney Ferries patronage by line[n.b. 1] [28]

Patronage split post-November

Patronage split pre-November




2017-18 patronage of Transport for NSW's Sydney services by mode[29]
  1. Figures based on Opal tap on and tap off data.
    = Lines were extensively revised in November 2017:
    • F4 Darling Harbour was combined with part of F7 Eastern Suburbs to form F4 Cross Harbour
    • The remaining part of F7 Eastern Suburbs became F7 Double Bay
    • F8 Cockatoo Island was split off from F3 Parramatta River


Sydney Ferries uses the Opal ticketing system.[30] Opal is also valid on bus, train and light rail services but separate fares apply for these modes. The following table lists Opal fares for reusable smartcards and single trip tickets:[31]

as of 24 June 2019
0–9 km9 km+
Adult cards $6.12 $7.65
Other cards $3.06^ $3.82^
Adult single trip $7.60 $9.40
Child/Youth single trip $3.80 $4.70

^ = $2.50 for Pensioner/Senior cardholders


Balmain Shipyard in Mort Bay was established about 1890 by Balmain Ferry Company as a depot, ferry wharf and ferry coaling wharf but through amalgamations and government takeovers, has become the present Sydney Ferries’ Maintenance Facility and Training base and is leased to Transdev Sydney Ferries.


On 12 May 2004 the Louise Sauvage crashed into a wharf at Rose Bay. A small number of minor injuries resulted from the accident, which was blamed on a steering mechanism fault.[32]

In January 2007, one man died after a Sydney RiverCat, Dawn Fraser, collided with a dinghy.[33][34]

In March 2007, a Sydney Ferries vessel crashed into a whale-watching ship before hitting Pyrmont Bridge in Darling Harbour.

Merinda-Pam Burridge collision

On Wednesday, 28 March 2007, the Sydney Ferries HarbourCat Pam Burridge collided with a private vessel, the Merinda beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Four people, including a fourteen-year-old girl, were killed in the accident. The Office of Transport Safety Investigations found that the Merinda was not exhibiting the required navigation lights and had not maintained a proper look-out.[35] The summary of the Coroner’s Report noted "It was the error made in failing to illuminate the navigation lights [on the private vessel Merinda] that allowed the other causal factors to align to create a cascading causal effect resulting in the collision.[36] Australian skating champion Sean Carlow was among the survivors of the accident. His mother and coach, former Australian Olympic competitor Liz Cain, had a leg amputated. One of the dead was a skating judge who had officiated at the 2007 World Figure Skating Championships the previous week.[37][38]

Other incidents

On 23 November 2008, at 17:15 the Lady Northcott ran into the stern of Friendship while the former was berthing behind the latter at Circular Quay. No one was on board the Friendship, and no passengers were injured on the Lady Northcott.

On 6 April 2009 the Lady Northcott crashed into rocks after it overshot Taronga Zoo wharf. No one was injured in the accident, and it was blamed on driver error.[39]

On 11 October 2010 at 08:47 the HarbourCat ferry Anne Sergeant ran into the Kirribilli Jeffrey Street wharf. One passenger was taken to hospital with some other passengers receiving minor injuries.[40]

On 7 November 2010, at approximately 16:30, a speedboat crashed into the Fantasea Spirit (owned and operated by Palm Beach Ferries, operating for Sydney Ferries) 100m from Meadowbank wharf on the Parramatta River, injuring six people. The skipper of the speedboat, a 49-year-old Dundas man, was charged with culpably navigating in a dangerous manner causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) and operating a recreational vessel negligently causing death or GBH.[41]


  1. Gunter, John (1978). Across the harbour : the story of Sydney's ferries. Rigby. p. 11. ISBN 0727007157.
  2. North Shore Council, "Ferry Services and Travel on the North Side from the days of the Watermen to the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge", "Taking the Ferry", accessed 2 March 2011.
  3. Clark, LA (1976). North of the Harbour. Broadmeadow NSW: Newey & Beath Printers Pty Ltd. pp. 38–44. ISBN 0909650055.
  4. "Crash ferries face special inquiry". The Daily Telegraph. 3 April 2007.
  5. Action for Public Transport (NSW) (6 December 2009). "Submission to The Special Commission of Inquiry into Sydney Ferries". Action for Public Transport (NSW). Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  6. Bret Walker (2007). "Sydney Ferries Report" (PDF). NSW Transport. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 March 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  7. Linton Bessera & Robert Wainwright (1 November 2001). "Sydney Ferries' day of reckoning". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  8. Deborah Cornwall (20 April 2009). "Rees paralysed over Sydney Ferry reform". ABC 7.30 Report. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  9. The Infrastructure Journal (20 May 2011). "Let the private sector improve Sydney Ferry services". ClaytonUtz. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  10. Battle to be the last fast ferry on the harbour Sydney Morning Herald 9 April 2010
  11. Transport for NSW 2016-17 Annual Report page 122, Transport for NSW, Retrieved 19 January 2018
  12. "Harbour City Ferries". Harbour City Ferries. 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  13. Private Operator to take control of ferry services Sydney Morning Herald 3 May 2012
  14. Steady as he goes: ferries sail into private hands Sydney Morning Herald 28 July 2012
  15. Transdev Australasia Acquires 100% of Harbour City Ferries Transdev Australasia 8 December 2016
  16. More ferry services for Sydney after government awards $1.3b contract Sydney Morning Herald 27 February 2019
  17. Sydney Ferry Map Archived 25 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine Transport NSW Information
  18. New On Demand ferry service in Bays Precinct Transport for NSW 14 October 2019
  19. About the On Demand Service Transdev Sydney Ferries
  20. Sydney Ferries Fleet Facts Archived 12 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine Transport for NSW 15 April 2014
  21. "Hull 082 - 35m Passenger Catamaran on the Derwent River". Incat. February 2018.
  22. "Budget delivers $10.5 billion for public transport". Transport for NSW. 21 June 2016.
  23. Purchase of new ferries for Sydney's busy Parramatta River shelved Sydney Morning Herald 2 January 2019
  24. "Transport for NSW Annual Report 2013-14" (PDF). Transport for NSW. p. 395. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 May 2015. Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  25. "Transport for NSW Annual Report 2014-15" (PDF). Transport for NSW. p. 131. Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  26. "Ferry Patronage". Transport Performance and Analytics - Transport for NSW. December 2016. p. Top Level Charts. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  27. "Ferry Patronage - Monthly Comparison". Transport for NSW. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  28. "Ferry Patronage - Monthly Comparison". Transport for NSW. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  29. See Transport for NSW patronage in Sydney by mode for sources
  30. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 March 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. "Opal fares". Transport for NSW. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  32. OTSI(NSW) (30 June 2005). "Ferry Safety Investigation Report Collision of the Louise Sauvage,Rose Bay Wharf, 12 May 2004" (PDF). Office of Transport Safety Investigation.
  33. Julia Alder (28 October 2008). "NSW Ferry Master fined for Harbour Death". OHS News.
  34. "Sydney Ferries 'deeply regret' fatal accident". ABC News Online. 14 January 2007.
  35. Office of Transport Safety Investigations- Marine Safety Investigation Report "Collision between Sydney Ferries’ Harbourcat Pam Burridge and Motor Launch Merinda" 28 March 2007, accessed 2 May 2011.
  36. Sydney Coroner’s Court Inquest into the deaths of Alan Blinn, James ENGERT, Morgan INNES and Simone MOORE "Summary of Coroner’s Report into the deaths of Alan BLINN, James ENGERT, Morgan INNES and Simone MOORE" 23 February 2010, accessed 9 May 2011.
  37. Rhett Watson (29 March 2007). "Public search for missing skater". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 9 April 2008. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  38. Brisbane teen still missing - Queensland - BrisbaneTimes -
  39. Master to blame for ferry running on to rocks at zoo The Daily Telegraph
  40. Robinson, Georgina (11 October 2010). "Ferry crashes into sea wall at Kirribilli". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  41. "Dundas man charged over speedboat crash with Sydney ferry". Daily Telegraph. 10 November 2010. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
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