DURING its long history Red Funnel has hosted millions of passengers, including islanders, commuters, families, celebrities, royals and more. 

The ferry operators have seen many changes throughout their 160-year history – but none more so than in their technology.

As steam gave way to diesel Red Funnel experienced major technological developments. 

During the 1930s the Solent ferry company developed the first diesel-powered vessel with no paddle wheels to make the Solent to East Cowes crossing. 

As Red Funnel progressed into the late 1930s, the last paddle steamer boat was constructed before it switched all new shipping innovations to diesel.

Nearing the 1970s the first Red Funnel Shearwater hydrofoil was introduced. 


Shearwater 4 - Red Funnel Hydrofoil. February 1985.

This industry-leading service offered its passengers a fast service between Cowes and Southampton

With the introduction of the Red Jet class of passenger ferries from 1991 onwards the hydrofoils were used less and the last one was disposed of in 1999. 

When the company reached the end of the 20th century it took a revolutionary step forward by introducing Red Jet 1 into service. She was the first waterjet propelled scheduled high-speed ferry on the Solent. 

Red Funnel's Red Jet.

As Red Funnel moved into the early 2000s Red Jet 6 was unveiled which came with a variety of new technologies to improve passenger comfort, reliability and reduce running costs. 

The latest Hi-Speed catamaran welcomed into the fleet was Red Jet 7 which entered the water for the first time in June 2018.

As well as changes in technology the company’s piers and routes have also seen significant change.

In 1914 the outbreak of the war signalled the end of many of the Solent’s piers and excursion routes. 

Where piers no longer existed, landings were made using the ship’s boats or via the services of local longshoremen. 

5 July 2014 - Red Funnel Terminal in Southampton

Red Funnel Terminal in Southampton in 2014.

As more piers were built and paddlers got faster, longer trips and even excursions to France were possible. 

As the 1930s arrived Red Funnel started to operate a variety of popular excursions once again. 

Red Funnel offered many popular routes on their steamers up until 1968 when excursion sailings were eventually phased out. 

During its 160 years, Red Funnel has worked with many organisations to help protect the environment. 

One of its biggest projects during this time has been, Red Goes Green – Red Funnel’s long-term environmental strategy to help tackle climate change. 

Since its launch, Red Funnel has returned nearly 8,000 litres of cooking oil to its supplier to be turned into biodiesel or animal feed, and have replaced terminal vehicles with new electric models.

Red Funnel continues to trial new green technologies on Red Falcon, and in 2018 they announced a partnership with the Environment Centre and Southampton’s Clean Air Network with the launch of its anti-idling campaign. 

Red Falcon

Red Funnel's Red Falcon

Red Funnel is the original Isle of Wight ferry company with roots tracing back to 1820. 

Based in the UK port of Southampton, Red Funnel carries 3.4m passengers and more than 800,000 vehicles on its ferry route between the UK port of Southampton and East Cowes and 1.1m passengers between Southampton and West Cowes on its Red Jet Hi-Speed service.

Fran Collins, Chief Executive at Red Funnel said: “We are extremely proud to reach our 160th year – over the decades we’ve experienced so much change, from two world wars and supporting the Dunkirk evacuations, to welcoming the first-ever Isle of Wight festival-goers on board in 1968 and not to forget Red Funnel’s significant involvement in the story of Titanic.

“The island is so unique and has so much to offer, and we are extremely privileged to be a part of its history, identity and future.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve often thought about our predecessors and considered the challenges we know they faced. 

Red Funnel chief executive Fran Collins.

Red Funnel chief executive Fran Collins.

“There’s a comfort in knowing that during that last 160 years, no matter what, they kept going. Through wars, recessions, pandemics – they persevered and kept sailing. 

“Today their legacy lives on as we continue to uphold their unwavering spirit of strength and resilience, and that enduring commitment to our Island community spanning 16 decades.”

Over the past 160 years, Red Funnel has supported many charities and organisations, including Isle of Wight Independent Lifeboats, Mountbatten Isle of Wight, and the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary.

Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctury.

Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary.

Red Funnel also operates a scheme called ‘Good Neighbours’, a community grant programme to help local community groups based on the island. 

More on Red Funnel in this Friday’s Daily Echo.