About Us

If you require any further information which is not available on this website, and do not want to send us an email, please contact our Reservations Team on 661661 (IOM), 08722 992 992* (UK) or 0044 8722 992 992* (ROI & Outside UK).
*Calls to this number are charged at 11 pence per minute, plus your telephone company’s access charge.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company History

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company is the oldest continually operating passenger shipping company in the world, having begun operations in 1830.

The Isle of Man before the Steam Packet Company

Prior to 1830, there were other shipping companies serving the Isle of Man, before the Steam Packet Company was formed. The smuggling trade (causing considerable loss to the British Revenue) led to the Crown purchasing the Isle of Man from the Atholl family in 1765 and the Redcoats moved in. Two years after this, Westminster organized a weekly packet boat service between Douglas and Whitehaven, thereby providing a lifeline to the Garrison on the Isle of Man.

Irregular crossings

Sea crossings between the Isle of Man and England could be terrible and ships could be driven back to Cumberland after days at sea and there were times during the winter months when the Isle of Man was cut off for weeks. The sailings carried too many of the Isle of Man’s young men away, who wanted to escape the harshness of Island life. But, many people arrived on the Isle of Man – some adventurous wanting change, some merely escaping creditors (debts in the United Kingdom could not be enforced on the Isle of Man).

Population growth

The Isle of Man’s population grew between 1767 when the first regular sailings started from 20,000 to around 40,000 by the time the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company was formed.
From the beginning of the 19th Century many things happened to open the Isle of Man to an increasing amount of traffic. Work on the Red Pier at Douglas commenced in 1793 and was completed in 1801 at the cost of £25,000 to the British Treasury.

The first Engine ships

In 1815, sail was giving way to the first engine. The first steamer called at the Isle of Man on its voyage from the Clyde to Liverpool and in 1819 James Little opened up the first steam ship service to the Isle of Man using it as a port of call between Liverpool and Greenock. The first class fare was 17 shillings and 6 pence from the Isle of Man to Liverpool including provisions and steward’s fees, with second class without provisions costing 9 shillings and 6 pence. The journey between Douglas and Liverpool first took 10 hours, later reduced to 9 hours and was a seasonable trade with no winter services.

More competition on the Irish Sea

Competition arrived with the St. George Steam Packet Company of Liverpool, commencing a service between Liverpool and Glasgow in 1822, using a vessel called the St. George and calling at Douglas. The locals began to feel it was essential that they should have their own dedicated sea service. In 1826, a Manxman named Cosnahan living in Liverpool took over a new steamer called Victory, put her on the Douglas-Liverpool route for 2 months and then offered to syndicate shares in this enterprise. He failed to get the support he had expected, no doubt he was disappointed. His family came from the Vicar of Santon and the family had produced a number of Manx lawyers and clerics.

A need for stability

Soon the Manx people started to feel that they deserved their own dedicated service and preparations began to form a suitable company. A meeting was held at Dixon and Steele Sale Rooms at Douglas Harbour on December 17th, 1829 during which a committee was appointed charged with finding out the cost of a Steam Packet and £4,500 was immediately subscribed from the floor. The committee was set the task of raising the capital to £6,000 and on June 30th 1830 the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company was born, although it was actually called the Mona’s Isle Company at that time after the Company’s first vessel of the same name.

The Steam Packet Company’s war record

No review of the Company’s history would be complete without reference to its distinguished war record. Our vessels and many of our crews were actively involved in both the 1st and 2nd World War, acquitting themselves with honour in both instances. The King Orry for example, which was attached to the British Grand Fleet, had the distinction of leading the German Fleet into Scapa Flow at the end of the First World War.

The Great War

During the Great War, 11 out of a total of 15 Steam Packet Company vessels were requisitioned by the Admiralty, 4 of which were lost, 3 retained by the Government and 4 returned to service some 4 years later.

One particular vessel worthy of mentioning is the Manxman as she is believed to have been one of the first (if not the very first) vessels to be converted to an aircraft carrier, to launch Sopwith Pup single-seater planes, and in doing so made a significant contribution to nautical and aviation history.

The 2nd World War

The 2nd World War saw the Steam Packet ships employed on war service once again. This time, having rebuilt the fleet to 16 vessels, it had its best 10 ships commandeered for active duty – 4 of which were sadly to be lost. Dunkirk was perhaps the Company’s finest hour, with the Mona’s Isle being the first vessel to leave Dover for Dunkirk and the first to complete the round trip during the evacuation. Eight company ships took part in the historic mission, rescuing a grand total of 24,699 British Troops from certain death (as a matter of interest, this means that 1 in 14 lives saved during the Dunkirk evacuations was brought by an Isle of Man Steam Packet Company vessel).

Happier times

Fortunately there have been happier times since, with the company owning some 72 vessels in total from its inception to the present day. We saw busy summer seasons during which Douglas became a fashionable resort for tourists from England aided further by the introduction of car ferries, starting with the Manx Maid in 1962.

The Isle of Man TT Races

And of course, a very special mention is due for the continued success of the Isle of Man T.T. Race Festival which takes place late May/early June each year and celebrated its centenary in 2007. During the TT race fortnight, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company carries around 35,000 passengers and around 10,500 motorbikes on over 200 sailings.

Current services

Today we operate regular ferry (and fast ferry) services which connect the Isle of Man to Heysham, Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin. Those who reminisce about the past are often surprised to learn that we have more passenger sailings now than at any time in the past 50 years.

New fast craft ferries

We offer the latest fast craft ferry services. The first SeaCat Isle of Man crossing was from Fleetwood on June 28th, 1994 (taking just 94 minutes). There are services to Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast with crossing times of 2 hours 45 minutes to Liverpool and just slightly longer to Ireland.

Friday 22nd of May 2009 saw the first sailing of the latest addition to the fleet, Manannan. The 96-metre catamaran, the largest of her type on the Irish Sea at the time, had undergone a complete refurbishment. The extensive work included the construction of completely new aft accommodation and a much enlarged sky lounge on the top deck, both of which have contributed to the vessel’s increased seating capacity of more than 800 passengers.

For a more leisurely cruise across the Irish Sea, we offer the Ben-my-Chree which operates a twice daily conventional ferry service between Heysham and Douglas.

A Nation's Lifeline

We carry around 600,000 passengers annually and 170,000 cars and motorcycles. This represents an increase in passenger traffic of around 35% and 50% in vehicle traffic since 1996 not a bad performance given the increased competition from airlines servicing the Isle of Man.

Best deals online

Around 80% of our passengers now benefit from our special offer fares with most of our customers now choosing to book online via this website for the best fares.

In general it pays to book early to get the best choice of special fares and choosing alternative sailings or midweek travel can give substantial savings.

We also offer booking facilities over the telephone by calling our Reservations Team on 661661 (IOM), 08722 992 992* (UK) or 0044 8722 992 992* (ROI & Outside UK).

*Calls to this number are charged at 11 pence per minute, plus your telephone company’s access charge.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this brief insight into the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

We look forward to welcoming you on-board in the very near future.