A popular and useful attraction is the Sandbanks Chain Ferry which crosses the entrance to Poole Harbour, between Sandbanks and Studland (Shell Bay).
Operated by the Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company, the ferry (or floating bridge as it is classified as) links Bournemouth and Poole with Swanage, allowing people to avoid a 25 mile journey around the harbour by road.
The current ferry is known as “Bramble Bush Bay” and has been carrying passengers back and forth since 1994. She is the fourth ferry to operate this service since an Act of Parliament was passed in 1923 allowing the statutory company to be created and which allowed the company to charge a toll on the road it was to build from South Haven to Studland. The first journey across the harbour then came on 15th July 1926, the ferry was coal fired, steam driven and could hold 15 cars and the trip one way cost 2.5p (2s 6d plus 3d per passenger).
Jumping forward to January 1994, Bramble Bush Bay is a diesel-hydraulic driven vessel with the ability to hold 48 cars (nominal capacity) and is 242 feet in length. The chain, with drive wheels pulling the ferry along it, is only powered on one side at a time, this means less power is needed and allows the ferry to be brought better onto the slipway. It was the first ferry to be named, being named after a small bay south of the boatyard where a number of house boats are moored.
The chain ferry has right of way over other vessels, except those under compulsory pilotage. You may also notice that when it is moving the forward end will raise a black shaped ball and display a white flashing light which indicates the direction of travel.
The ferry runs daily from 7.00am to 11.10pm. The first sailing leaves from Sandbanks at 7.00am, then every 20 and 40 minutes after each hour and on the hour until 11.00pm. The first departure from Shell Bay is at 7.10am, then every 30, 50 and 10 minutes past the hour until 11.10pm. On Christmas Day the ferry operates half hourly from 8.00am to 6.10pm. It leaves Sandbanks on the hour and half hour and from Shell Bay it leaves at 10 minutes and 40 minutes past the hour.
Crossings are subject to shipping movements, maintenance and other operational factors. It is normally taken out of service every two years, usually in November, for a full service.
The toll prices for the ferry are as follows (1st April 2023):
Pedestrians (one way charge from Sandbanks) – £1.00
Pedal or motorcycle – £1.00
Car or Light Van/Most Camper Vans (up to 3500 Kg maximum operating weight), minibuses up to 17 seats – £5.20
Goods Vehicle with a maximum operating weight of more than 3500 Kg. Toll includes VAT at the applicable rate – £10.40
Bus or Coach (with 18 or more seats inc. driver) – £10.40
Vehicles towing will be charged double
Pedestrians and bikers pay at the ticket machine before getting on the ferry at the Sandbanks end or on the ferry itself, the other vehicles pay at the toll booth on Shell Bay after the crossing. Previously the original toll was a wooden hut below Knoll House at Pipley Bridge. When the current owners took over they moved the toll booth to Shell Bay implementing a computerised toll system as well as rebuilding both slipways and building a new roundabout at Shell Bay.
Regular users of the service can get discounted tickets when buying in bulk. These can be ordered from the Sandbanks Ferry website. Card payments are now accepted at toll boxes on the Studland side and at the Northaven box (the blue hut on the Poole side) and on the ferry itself.
The Sandbanks Ferry is a “must do thing” when you’re in the area, allowing you to take in some beautiful views of Studland beach and Brownsea Island. And if the weather’s good why not get the open top bus from Bournemouth to Swanage? The Number 50 Purbeck Breezer, operated by Wilts and Dorset Bus Company, is a great way to see the stunning countryside.
Please beware though that in peak season queues can be long although the company do run a shuttle service in these circumstances to get you across as soon as possible.
Some interesting facts
– The beam is approximately 53 ft 6 inchs
– Each chain is 1,235 ft long (376.5 m)
– Crossing time is normally 4 minutes
– The chain hangs at 14 ft depth (deepest)
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