Cable ferry

Coin operated cable ferry at Espevær in Bømlo, Norway

A cable ferry (also called chain ferry, swing ferry, floating bridge, or punt) is a ferry that is guided (and in many cases propelled) across a river or large body of water by cables connected to both shores. Early cable ferries often used either rope or steel chains, with the latter resulting in the alternate name of chain ferry. Both of these were largely replaced by stronger and more durable wire cable by the late 19th century.


winding mechanism on the Sackville Ferry

There are three types of cable ferry: the reaction ferry, which uses the power of the river to tack across the current; the powered cable ferry, which uses an engine or electric motors (e.g., the Canby Ferry) to wind itself across; and fast disappearing is the hand-operated type, such as the Stratford-upon-Avon Chain Ferry in the UK and the Saugatuck Chain Ferry in Michigan, USA.

Powered cable ferries use powered cogs or drums on board the vessel to pull itself along by the cables. The cables or chains have a considerable amount of slack built into them, in order that they sink below the surface as the ferry moves away, allowing other vessels to pass without becoming grounded, snared or trapped. Where a ferry carries both passengers and vehicles the car deck occupies the centre (helping to balance the vessel) and two passenger areas are at the sides, over the tunnels for the chains and the engines. As the ferry cannot steer a ramp is built at both ends, and there is usually a set of controls facing in either direction.

Cable ferries are common where there is little other water-borne traffic that could get snagged in the cable or chains, where the water may be too shallow for other options, or where the river current is too strong to permit the safe crossing of a ferry not attached to the shore. Alignment of the platform at each end of the journey is automatic and, especially for vehicle ferries, safer than a free-moving ferry might be in bad conditions.

A special type are electrically powered overhead-wire ferries like Straussee Ferry, which have an onboard propulsion unit and can float free, but are connected to the overhead wire for power supply, using an electrical cable that slides along the wire as the ferry moves.


Simple cable ferry, Gee's Bend, Alabama, 1939

Cable ferries have probably been used to cross rivers and similar bodies of water since before recorded history. Examples of ferry routes using this technology date back to the 13th century (Hampton Ferry in England).

In the early 1900s a cable ferry designed by Canadian engineer William Pitt was installed on the Kennebecasis River near Saint John, New Brunswick in Canada.[1] There are now eight cable ferries along the St John River system in southern New Brunswick. In Canada a cable ferry is proposed to transport automobiles across the Ottawa River in Ontario. There are several in British Columbia: two on the Fraser, one at Lytton, one at Big Bar, three on Arrow Lakes. A suspended cable ferry worked until the 1980s in Boston Bar. A small seasonal reaction ferry carries cars across the Rivière des Prairies from Laval, Quebec (Sainte-Dorothée neighbourhood) to Île Bizard (part of Montreal).

Cable ferries were particularly prominent in early transportation in the Sacramento Delta of California. Dozens of cable ferries operated on the Columbia River in the US northwest, and most have been rendered obsolete by bridges. A suspended cable ferry for railway cars crossed the American River in Northern California.

Most of the road crossings of the Murray River in South Australia are cable ferries operated by the state government using diesel engines. The platforms at the ends can be moved up or down according to the water level. At one time, cable ferries were a primary means of automobile transportation in New South Wales in Australia. In Tasmania, for a century before 1934, the Risdon Punt at Hobart was the only fixed method of crossing the Derwent River within Hobart city limits.

In the fishing village of Tai O on Lantau Island, Hong Kong, the Tai O Ferry (橫水渡) crossed the Tai O River before a bascule bridge was built.


The earliest punts were privately owned by local landowners, and charged a toll. As governments started to build roads, they started to build and operate punts as required. Private punts might be bought out, or made to impose more standard tolls.[2]

Hazards and IncidentsEdit

  • Mannam punt torn by broken cable, and cast adrift.[3]
  • Blanchetown punt out of use due to low water level in river.[4]

Duplicated punts can be provided if capacity of one is not enough. Twin ferries allow one to operate while the other is being maintained.[5]

List of cable ferriesEdit

Current cable ferries include:



The Mannum Ferry.
The Moggill Ferry
Wisemans Ferry




Lytton Ferry (Fraser River)
Needles Cable Ferry (Arrow Lakes)
Riverhurst Ferry

Czech RepublicEdit


  • Østre Ferry, across Isefjord between Hammer Bakke and Orø. Uses cables for steering, but propellers for propulsion.
  • Udbyhøj Ferry, across Randers Fjord.



Alassalmi cable ferry
Karhun cable ferry
Pikkarala ferry wintering on the shore of Oulujoki.
  • Alassalmi Ferry, across Alassalmi strait on lake Oulujärvi between Manamansalo island and mainland
  • Arvinsalmi Ferry, across Arvinsalmi strait between the municipalities of Rääkkylä and Liperi
  • Barösund Ferry, across Barösund strait between Barölandet and Orslandet islands
  • Bergö Ferry, in Bergö
  • Eskilsö Ferry
  • Hanhivirta Ferry, in Enonkoski
  • Hirvisalmi Ferry, across Hirvisalmi strait between the mainland and Paalasmaa island in Juuka
  • Hämmärönsalmi Ferry, across Hämmärönsalmi strait (Rimito-Hanka) in Rimito, Nådendal (part of r. road 1890)
  • Högsar Ferry, between Högsar and Storlandet islands in Nagu, Väståboland (part of r. road 12019)
  • Karhun Cable Ferry, between the mainland and the island of Karhu, Ii
  • Keistiö Ferry, between Keistiö and Iniö islands in Iniö, Väståboland
  • Kivimo Ferry, between Roslax on mainland Houtskär and Kivimo islands in Houtskär, Väståboland
  • Kokkila Ferry, between Kokkila on the mainland and Angelniemi on Kemiö island (part of r. road 1835)
  • Kyläniemi Ferry, between Utula and Kyläniemi
  • Lövö Ferry, between Kasnäs and Lövö islands in Hitis, Kimitoön (part of r. road 1830)
  • Mossala Ferry, between Björkö and Mossala islands in Houtskär, Väståboland (part of regional road 12003)
  • Pellinki Ferry, between the mainland and the island of Pellinki
  • Pettu Ferry, between Pettu and Utö islands in Finby, Salo
  • Pikkarala Ferry, across Oulujoki river in Pikkarala, Oulu
  • Puutossalmi Ferry, in Kuopio
  • Saverkeit Ferry, between mainland Houtskär and Västra Saverkeit islands in Houtskär, Väståboland (part of r. road 12005)
  • Skagen Ferry, between Jumo and Iniö islands in Iniö, Väståboland (part of r. road 12230)
  • Skåldö Ferry, between Degerö and Skåldö islands in Ekenäs, Raseborg
  • Tappuvirta Ferry, Tappuvirrantie
  • Vartsala Ferry, between Vartsala and Kivimaa islands in Gustavs (part of r. road 192)
  • Vånö Ferry, between Vånö and Attu islands in Pargas, Väståboland (part of r. road 12027)


  • Björkölinjen, across Björkösund strait between the islands of Korsö (in Kumlinge municipality) and Bockholm (in Brändö m.)
  • Embarsundlinjen, across Embarsund strait in Föglö municipality, between the islands of Finholma and Jyddö
  • Töftölinjen, across Prästösund strait between the islands of Töftö (in Vårdö municipality) and Prästö (in Sund m.)
  • Seglingelinjen, across the strait between the islands of Seglinge and Snäckö (both in Seglinge village in Kumlinge municipality)
  • Simskälalinjen, across the strait between the islands of Alören and Östra Simskäla (both in Vårdö municipality)
  • Ängsösundlinjen, across Ängösund strait between the islands of Lumparland (in Lumparland municipality) and Ängö (in Vårdö m.)



The Pritzerbe Ferry
The Rathen Ferry

Hong KongEdit



Chain ferry being handcranked in Mozambique
  • Ferry across Shire River, 37 km south of Malawi's southernmost border


There are more than 100 cable ferries in the Netherlands,[17] 11 of which use a floating cable with a single anchorage. The larger ones are usually powered by a diesel-powered screw propellor, the smaller ones often use the cable for propulsion. Most of the larger cable ferries angle themselves in the stream to gain part of their propulsion from the current, as a reaction ferry.

Some examples:

  • Cuijk ferry, across the Meuse at Cuijk
  • Genemuiden ferry, across the Zwarte Water at Genemuiden
  • Jonen ferry, across the Walengracht at Jonen, only taking foot passengers and cyclists, winched to the other bank by an electric motor on one of the banks.
  • Lexkesveer, across the Nederrijn near Wageningen, first mentioned in 1426
  • Oijen Ferry, across the Meuse at Oijen
  • Wijhe Ferry, across the IJssel at Wijhe
  • Wijk bij Duurstede ferry, across the Lek. This one uses a floating cable.


New ZealandEdit

  • Tuapeka Mouth Ferry, in Tuapeka - South Island, on the Clutha River


Ferry in Kazimierz Dolny-Janowiec (Poland - Vistula river)
Ferry in Gniew (Poland, Vistula river)

South AfricaEdit

Malgas Ferry on the Breede River, Western Cape, South Africa



The Swedish ferry Carolina af Arnö in lake Mälaren. The yellow colour is typical for car ferries in Sweden.


  • Basel Ferries, four routes across the Rhine in the city of Basel

United KingdomEdit

The Cowes Floating Bridge loading at East Cowes

United StatesEdit

Canby Ferry
White's Ferry on the Potomac River
Wheatland Ferry
Princeton Ferry (Undergoing Renovation)



See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Saint John, New Brunswick First". Retrieved November 20, 2006. 
  2. ^ "ORIGINAL CORRESPONDENCE.". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) (Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia). 7 April 1856. p. 5. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  3. ^ "PUNT ADRIFT.". The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 19 November 1913. p. 13. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  4. ^ "PUNT WORKING.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 5 March 1953. p. 11. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  5. ^ "Blanchetown Punt.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 13 April 1953. p. 4. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  6. ^ "Vivar-Kanal". Wikipedia Deutsch. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  7. ^ "Blanchetown Punt.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 25 November 1954. p. 4. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Ferry Locations and Operational Status". Government of South Australia. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  9. ^ a b "Council rejects call to change ferry service management". ABC. Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  10. ^ a b "New Settlement Point Ferry". Port Macquarie - Hastings Council. Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  11. ^ "Speewa Ferry - Murray River". New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  12. ^ Dickinson, Alex; Earley, David (2008-09-25). "Moggill Ferry master saves man after Brisbane River mishap". Courier Mail. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  13. ^ "Walkabout - Meningie". Fairfax Digital. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  14. ^ "Noosa North Shore Car Ferries". Noosa North Shore Car Ferries. Retrieved 2008-11-11. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f "Inland Ferry Schedules". Province of British Columbia. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  16. ^ a b c d e "Government of Alberta Transportation Ferries". Government of Alberta. Retrieved 2009-07-03. 
  17. ^ "List of ferry types in the Netherlands" (in Dutch). Vrienden van de voetveren. Retrieved 2014-03-09. 
  18. ^ "Prom rzeczny (52.215265,18.434951)" [River ferry (52.215265,18.434951)]. Google Maps. Google. Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  19. ^ "Prom rzeczny (50.290066,20.801754)" [River ferry (50.290066,20.801754)]. Google Maps. Google. Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  20. ^ "Prom rzeczny (52.055176,15.42901)" [River ferry (52.055176,15.42901)]. Google Maps. Google. Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  21. ^ "File:Adelson farja 2008.JPG". Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  22. ^
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  28. ^
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  32. ^
  33. ^ "File:Linfärjan Karna, Ivösjön.jpg". Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ Hamill, Sean D. (2009-05-17). "Getting There From Here, Is It Better by the Ferry?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  38. ^ "The Cable Guy - Piloting the Delta's J-Mack ferry beats working for a living". Prosper Media, LLC. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  39. ^ a b "Ferries". California Delta Chambers and Visitor's Bureau. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  40. ^ a b c Shellenberger, William H (2001). Cruising the Chesapeake. McGraw-Hill Professional. pp. 236–237. ISBN 0-07-136371-8. 

External linksEdit

Last modified on 15 March 2014, at 21:04