Sydney Ferries

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Sydney Ferries
Sydney Ferries hop logo.png
Sydney Ferry Golden Grove.jpg
Locale Sydney
Waterway Port Jackson
Transit type Passenger ferry
Owner Transport for NSW
Operator Harbour City Ferries
No. of lines8
No. of vessels32
House Flag Flag of the Sydney Ferries House.svg
House Flag

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.


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


Dee Why in the early 1930s with the Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction Dee Why ferry.jpg
Dee Why in the early 1930s with the Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction

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 crafted by convicts and powered by sails and oars. Trips inland from Sydney Cove to Parramatta typically took up to one week to complete. As time progressed, a series of rowboat ferrymen set up small operations to transport people from either side of Sydney Harbour. 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.

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. [1]

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. After the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in March 1932, SFL patronage dropped almost overnight, decreasing from 44 to 20 million passengers per year.

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. This arrangement lasted until 1974, after which services were operated by government agencies; the Public Transport Commission (1974-1980), 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. [2] 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. [3] Walker's report, [4] delivered in November 2007, [5] 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. [6]

In 2008, the NSW Government called for private sector bids to provide ferry services under a services contract, [7] 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. [6] [8] In April 2010, the NSW Government decided the service contract would remain with the Sydney Ferries Corporation. [7]


Borrowdale passing Barangaroo Reserve in 2018 Borrowdale, Millers Point, 2018 (01).jpg
Borrowdale passing Barangaroo Reserve in 2018

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. [9]

On 28 July 2012, Harbour City Ferries, a 50/50 joint venture between Transfield Services (later Broadspectrum) and Transdev Australasia, began operating the services of Sydney Ferries under a seven-year contract. [10] [11] [12] In December 2016, Transdev Australasia exercised an option to purchase Broadspectrum's share. [13]

In August 2018, expressions of interest were called for the next contract to commence in July 2019. [14]



Sydney Ferry wharves are identified with a green and white F symbol TfNSW F.svg
Sydney Ferry wharves are identified with a green and white F symbol

Sydney Ferries operates services on eight routes: [15]

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


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

Planning has commenced for four new ferries for Parramatta River services. [16] In January 2019 these plans were shelved due to the lack of availability of suitable vessels from shipbuilders. [17]

Sydney Ferries fleet [18] [19]
Freshwater 41982-881100/1150 Manly
First Fleet 91984-86393/403 Inner Harbour, Taronga Zoo, Eastern Suburbs
RiverCat 71992-95230 Parramatta River
HarbourCat21998150Inner Harbour, Parramatta
SuperCat 42000-01250Eastern Suburbs
Emerald 62017400Eastern Suburbs, Inner Harbour


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
[lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 2]
[lower-alpha 3]
Reference [20] [21] [22] [23]
Sydney Ferries
  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] [24]

Patronage split post-November

Sydney Ferries

Sydney Ferries

Patronage split pre-November




2017-18 patronage of Transport for NSW's Sydney services by mode [25]
Sydney Ferries
  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. [26] 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 as of 2 July 2018: [27]

Ferry0–9 km9 km+
Adult cards$6.01$7.51
Other cards$3.00^$3.75^
Adult single trip$7.40$9.20
Child/Youth single trip$3.70$4.60

^ = $2.50 for Pensioner/Senior cardholders


Sydney Ferries’ Maintenance Facility at Balmain Shipyard in Mort Bay in July 2013 Sydney Ferries’ Maintenance Facility.jpg
Sydney Ferries’ Maintenance Facility at Balmain Shipyard in Mort Bay in July 2013

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 Harbour City Ferries.


Freshwater at Balmain Shipyard following a collision with Manly Wharf in June 2013 Sydney Ferry Freshwater.jpg
Freshwater at Balmain Shipyard following a collision with Manly Wharf in June 2013

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. [28]

In January 2007, one man died after a Sydney RiverCat, Dawn Fraser, collided with a dinghy. [29] [30]

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. [31] 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. [32] 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. [33] [34]

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. [35]

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. [36]

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. [37]


  1. 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.
  2. "Crash ferries face special inquiry". The Daily Telegraph. 3 April 2007.
  3. Action for Public Transport (NSW) (2009-12-06). "Submission to The Special Commission of Inquiry into Sydney Ferries". Action for Public Transport (NSW). Retrieved 2013-01-20.
  4. Bret Walker (2007). "Sydney Ferries Report" (PDF). NSW Transport. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 March 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  5. Linton Bessera & Robert Wainwright (2001-11-01). "Sydney Ferries' day of reckoning". Sydney Morning Herald . Retrieved 2013-01-20.
  6. 1 2 Deborah Cornwall (2009-04-20). "Rees paralysed over Sydney Ferry reform". ABC 7.30 Report. Retrieved 2013-01-20.
  7. 1 2 The Infrastructure Journal (2011-05-20). "Let the private sector improve Sydney Ferry services". ClaytonUtz. Retrieved 2013-01-20.
  8. Battle to be the last fast ferry on the harbour Sydney Morning Herald 9 April 2010
  9. Transport for NSW 2016-17 Annual Report page 122, Transport for NSW, Retrieved 19 January 2018
  10. "Harbour City Ferries". Harbour City Ferries. 2013. Retrieved 2013-01-20.
  11. Private Operator to take control of ferry services Sydney Morning Herald 3 May 2012
  12. Steady as he goes: ferries sail into private hands Sydney Morning Herald 28 July 2012
  13. Transdev Australasia Acquires 100% of Harbour City Ferries Transdev Australasia 8 December 2016
  14. Sydney Ferries contract goes to tender Transport for NSW
  15. Sydney Ferry Map Archived 25 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine Transport NSW Information
  16. "Budget delivers $10.5 billion for public transport". Transport for NSW. 21 June 2016.
  17. Purchase of new ferries for Sydney's busy Parramatta River shelved Sydney Morning Herald 2 January 2019
  18. Sydney Ferries Fleet Facts Archived 12 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine Transport for NSW 15 April 2014
  19. "Hull 082 - 35m Passenger Catamaran on the Derwent River". Incat. February 2018.
  20. "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.
  21. "Transport for NSW Annual Report 2014-15" (PDF). Transport for NSW. p. 131. Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  22. "Ferry Patronage". Transport Performance and Analytics - Transport for NSW. December 2016. p. Top Level Charts. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  23. "Ferry Patronage - Monthly Comparison". Transport for NSW. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  24. "Ferry Patronage - Monthly Comparison". Transport for NSW. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  25. See Transport for NSW patronage in Sydney by mode for sources
  26. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 March 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  27. "Opal fares". Transport for NSW. Retrieved 2 July 2018.
  28. OTSI(NSW) (2005-06-30). "Ferry Safety Investigation Report Collision of the Louise Sauvage,Rose Bay Wharf, 12 May 2004" (PDF). Office of Transport Safety Investigation.
  29. Julia Alder (2008-10-28). "NSW Ferry Master fined for Harbour Death". OHS News.
  30. "Sydney Ferries 'deeply regret' fatal accident". ABC News Online. 2007-01-14.
  31. 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.
  32. 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.
  33. Rhett Watson (March 29, 2007). "Public search for missing skater". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 9 April 2008. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
  34. Brisbane teen still missing - Queensland - BrisbaneTimes -
  35. Master to blame for ferry running on to rocks at zoo | The Daily Telegraph
  36. Robinson, Georgina (11 October 2010). "Ferry crashes into sea wall at Kirribilli". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  37. "Dundas man charged over speedboat crash with Sydney ferry". Daily Telegraph . November 10, 2010. Retrieved December 26, 2016.