Red Funnel

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Red Funnel
Industry Transport
Founded 1861
Headquarters Southampton, UK
Area served
Southampton - Isle of Wight
Owner Infracapital (Asset Management arm of Prudential)
Number of employees
Parent Red Funnel Group Ltd.
Divisions Red Funnel Ferries, Red Funnel Distribution, Red Funnel Holidays, Steam Coffee Company,
Footnotes / references
Red Funnel flag.svg
Red Funnel Company Flag.[1]

The Southampton Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited, which trades as Red Funnel, is a ferry company that carries passengers and vehicles on routes between the English mainland and the Isle of Wight. Vehicle/passenger ferries operate between Southampton and East Cowes, whilst the Red Jet branded high-speed foot passenger service operates between Southampton and Cowes on the west bank of the River Medina. Its head office is in the Red Funnel Travel Centre in Southampton.[2]

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, East Cowes or Cowes.


The company's seal.
Red Funnel's previous "solent" logo,[1] used between 1969 and 2001.
Red Jet 3 at full speed June 2013.

The origins of the Red Funnel line 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.[3]

Formed in 1861, and originally called The Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. Limited, the merged company's name remains the longest for a registered company in the United Kingdom. The shortened name was adopted after 1935 when all vessels operated by the company adopted the black-topped red funnel in their livery.

The company originally operated a paddle steamer ferry service between Cowes, Isle of Wight and Southampton, England. During its history the company has operated other routes connecting the Isle of Wight and England, together with a sizeable 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 East and West 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.[4]

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 AdSteam, later passing to Svitzer Marine.[5]

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.[6]

In 2001 the company was sold to JP Morgan Partners Inc. (now CCMP Capital) 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 April 12, 2007, the owners of Red Funnel (who include HBOS) announced that they were considering selling Red Funnel.[7] 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.

Notable events[edit]

The Red Eagle collided with Humber Energy in the Thorne Channel, near Southampton Water, on the evening of Thursday December 21, 2006. [8] 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 March 10, 2006 Red Funnel hit the national headlines after one of their car ferries, the Red Falcon, collided with the linkspan at the Southampton Town Quay terminal.[9] 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 15-foot hole above the waterline and buckling of the car deck doors. The accident occurred 9 years and 1 day after the Red Falcon was in collision with the dredger Volvox Hansa in Southampton Water with limited visibility due to fog.

Current fleet[edit]

Red Eagle after rebuild
Red Falcon after receiving a 2.2m refurbishment in 2014.

Vehicle ferries[edit]

The following Raptor-class car ferries operate on the Southampton to East Cowes route:

All 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 the Polish workers of Remontawa in Gdańsk, Poland.[10] 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 MV Red Falcon underwent a 2.2m Refurbishment, which saw the interior and facilities replaced with a bright and new modern look. [11] Due to success and increase of passengers on their services during 2014, it has been confirmed that MV Red Osprey will also receive a 2.2 million refurbishment and should be hoping to enter service in Easter 2015.[12]

Fast passenger service (Red Jet)[edit]

Red Jet logo.
Red Jet 4

The following catamarans operate a high-speed passenger-only service between Cowes and Southampton:[13]

Red Jet 3 was built new for Red Funnel by FBM Marine of Cowes in 1998. She was followed in 2003 by the somewhat larger Red Jet 4, a new building by North West Bay Ships of Tasmania. Red Jet 5, by contrast, was a second-hand acquisition in 2009; she was originally built in 1999 by Pequot River Shipworks of Connecticut to the same FBM design as Red Jet 3.[13] This vessel was previously known as the Bo Hengy, and was operated by Bahamas Ferries until 2008.[14] Red Funnel have drawn up plans for a new 40 metre high speed craft to be built by Incat of Tasmania (likely to be called Red Jet 6), however there is currently no confirmation that the new craft shall be built.

Retired fleet[edit]

Classic ferries[edit]

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.[15][16][17][18][19]

Paddle steamers[edit]

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 Saphire 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 Palmerston
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 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. 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 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[edit]

The Balmoral in Waverley Excursions ownership
Ship Service Notes
TSS Upton 1946–1950 Purchased from Birkenhead Corporation
TSS Robina 1948–1949 Purchased from Coast Lines Ltd

Motor vessels[edit]

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 Now owned by Waverley Steam Navigation Co. Ltd and still in service

Car ferries[edit]

Cowes Castle

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:[19][20][21]

Ship Service Notes
MV Carisbrooke Castle 1959–1974 Sold to Italy and renamed Citta di Meta. Scrapped 2007[6]
MV Osborne Castle 1962–1978 Sold to Canada and renamed Le Gobelet d'Argent, then Le Maxim, then Cavalier Maxim[6]
MV Cowes Castle 1965–1994 Sold to Croatia and renamed Nehaj. Scrapped 2008[6]
MV Norris Castle (III) 1968–1994 Sold to Croatia and renamed Lovrjenac. Scrapped 2008[6]
MV Netley Castle 1974–1997 Sold to Croatia and renamed Sis[6]
MV Bergen Castle 2003–2005 Ex Nordhordland, purchased to maintain a three boat service during refit period of current fleet. Sold and renamed Stella[6]

Fast passenger ferries[edit]

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.[19]


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.[4]


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 I. 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. 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.[22]

Red Jets[edit]

The first of the Red Jet series of fast passenger catamarans were introduced in 1990. Red Jet 1 and Red Jet 2 were designed and built by FBM Marine of Cowes, and seated 138 passengers. They were sold to Caspian Mainport in May 2009 for continued service in the Caspian Sea, and left the Solent for Saint Petersburg on 15 May 2009.[21][22][23]

Tugs and tug tenders[edit]

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.[4]

Calshot undergoing restoration
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
TSST Ajax 1894–1936
TSST Neptune (I) 1896–1904
TSST Hector 1903–1958
TSST Neptune (II) 1910–1961
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
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
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[edit]

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

Onboard facilities[edit]

Red Funnel Ferries offer hot and cold food, fresh coffee and cakes, a bar, and were the first on the Solent to offer a free Wi-Fi service.


  1. ^ a b Red Funnel. "Red Funnel Company History". Retrieved 23 August 2010. 
  2. ^ "Red Funnel Corporate Information." Red Funnel. Retrieved on 19 October 2010. "Red Funnel Travel Centre: 12 Bugle Street, Southampton, SO14 2JY, UK."
  3. ^ "Timeline". Red Funnel. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  4. ^ a b c Adams, RB (1986). Red Funnel and Before. Southampton: Kingfisher Publications. ISBN 0-946184-21-6. 
  5. ^ "Chronology | Red Funnel Isle of Wight Ferries". Retrieved 2012-04-19. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Adams, Keith (2010). Red Funnel 150. Isle of Man: Richard Danielson. ISBN 978-0-9513155-5-2. 
  7. ^ "Island ferry company may be sold". BBC. 2007-04-12. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  8. ^ Ferry and barge channel collision, ''
  9. ^ "Investigators examine ferry crash". BBC. 2006-03-11. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  10. ^ "Red Funnel - Vehicle ferry fleet". Retrieved 2008-12-25. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b "Red Jet Hi-Speed Fleet". Red Funnel. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  14. ^ Keith Adams [2010], Red Funnel 150; Richard Danielson, ISBN 978-0-9513155-5-2
  15. ^ "Vessel Archive 1840-1860". Red Funnel. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  16. ^ "Vessel Archive 1861-1880". Red Funnel. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  17. ^ "Vessel Archive 1881-1900". Red Funnel. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  18. ^ "Vessel Archive 1901-1920". Red Funnel. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  19. ^ a b c "Vessel Archive 1921-1950". Red Funnel. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  20. ^ "Vessel Archive 1951-1980". Red Funnel. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  21. ^ a b "Vessel Archive 1981-2010". Red Funnel. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  22. ^ a b "News Release 21-07-2009". Red Funnel. 2009-07-21. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  23. ^ "Red Jets sail into sunset". Isle of Wight County Press. 2009-05-15. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 

External links[edit]