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For the Australian ferry operator, see Kangaroo Island SeaLink. For the New Zealand ferry, see MV Sealink.
Industry Maritime
Fate Privatised 1984, resold 1991 (becoming Stena Line (UK))
Headquarters Great Britain and adjacent waters
Products Sea transport
Parent British Transport Commission (until 1962), British Railways Board (since 1962)

Sealink was a ferry company based in the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1984, operating services to France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Channel Islands, Isle of Wight and Ireland.

Ports served by the company included: Dover, Folkestone, Newhaven, Southampton and Harwich for services to the European continent; Holyhead, Fishguard, Heysham and Stranraer for services to Ireland and the Isle of Man; services to the Channel Islands from Weymouth & Portsmouth. The Isle of Wight was also served from Portsmouth and Lymington.

Sealink also operated the "Steamer" Passenger Ferry services on Windermere in Cumbria until privatisation when these were passed to the newly reformed Windermere Iron Steamboat Company (now Windermere Lake Cruises Ltd).


Sealink was originally the brand name for the ferry services of British Rail which ran shipping services in the UK and Ireland. Services to France, Belgium and the Netherlands were also run by Sealink UK as part of the Sealink consortium which also used ferries owned by French national railways, the SNCF, the Belgian Maritime Transport Authority, Regie voor Maritiem Transport / Regie des transports maritimes (RMT/RTM) and the Dutch Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland (Zeeland Steamship Company).

Historically, the shipping services were exclusively an "extension" of the railways across the English Channel and the Irish Sea in order to provide through, integrated services to Europe and Ireland. As international travel became more popular in the late 1960s and before air travel became generally affordable, the responsibility for shipping services was taken away from the British Rail Regions and in 1969 centralised in a new division - British Rail Shipping and International Services Division.

With the advent of car ferry services the old passenger-only ferries were gradually replaced by roll-on-roll-off ships catering both for motorists and rail passengers as well as road freight. However, given that there was now competition in the form of other ferry companies offering crossings to motorists, it became necessary to market the services in a normal business fashion (as opposed to the previous almost monopolistic situation). Thus, with the other partners mentioned above, the brand name Sealink was introduced for the consortium.

As demand for international rail travel declined and the shipping business became almost exclusively dependent on passenger and freight vehicle traffic, the ferry business as was incorporated as Sealink UK Limited in 1978, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Railways Board (BRB), but still as part of the Sealink consortium. In 1979 Sealink acquired Manx Line offering services to the Isle of Man from Heysham.

The Antrim Princess in Larne with Sealink in large letters.

On 27 July 1984 the UK Government sold Sealink UK Ltd to Bermuda-based Sea Containers for £66m. The company was renamed Sealink British Ferries. 7 years later, In 1991 Sea Containers sold Sealink British Ferries to Stena Line. The sale excluded the operations of Hoverspeed, the Isle of Wight services and the share in the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, as well as the Port of Heysham. The new Swedish owners changed the company name to Sealink Stena Line then again a few years later to Stena Sealink Line.

In 1996 the Sealink name disappeared when the UK services were re-branded as Stena Line. The agreement with the SNCF on the Dover-Calais route also ended at this time and the French run Sealink services were rebranded as SeaFrance.


The livery from 1984 to 1995 was a distinctive blue-on-white. Previously, the British Rail logo had been used, with a BR corporate monastral blue hull, white upperworks and black-topped red funnel. From 1972/73 "Sealink" was displayed in white Rail Alphabet typeface on the side of the hull. Prior to 1964/65 the colours were black hull, white upperworks and black-topped buff funnel.

Sealink house flag

An inverted version of the BR symbol was used on Sealink's funnels and flags.[1] This was because:

  1. The inverted arrows make an "S" for Sealink when in that direction.
  2. While railways in the UK pass right to right (i.e. drive on the left), ships have to pass left to left (i.e. drive on the right), so this version was more accurate.
  3. On the ships' funnels the symbol was reversed on the port side but correct on the starboard side, so the 'top' arrow was always pointing towards the bow of the ship.

British Rail owned ships had red funnels with a white logo. Elsewhere in the company the symbol was white on blue.[citation needed]


In the 1960s, British Rail started hovercraft services from Dover to Calais and Boulogne, and also across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. Rather than use the name Sealink, the services were marketed as "Seaspeed" and 'Solent Seaspeed'. Seaspeed merged with rival Hoverlloyd in 1981 to create Hoverspeed.

See also[edit]

Category:Ships of British Rail


  1. ^ British Rail

External links[edit]