Current ferries on the crossing are the Mersey built Portaferry II dating from 2001 and the Strangford Ferry which was built in Cork in 1969. Both vessels were built specifically for the crossing to the order of the Department of Regional Development for Northern Ireland which manages the operation via the Roads Service. The newer Portaferry II is the normal vessel on the crossing serving both towns at half hourly intervals. Departures from Strangford are on the hour and half past the hour while Portaferry is served at a quarter past and a quarter to the hour.
Strangford Ferry is kept in reserve to cover the dry docking of Portaferry II. She is also available to help out at busy periods when two ferries are required to keep up with demand. When she is off service Strangford Ferry is normally moored to buoys off shore from Strangford.
During dry dock the ferries are beached at the Strangford terminal on a concrete bay made specifically for the purpose alongside the high tide slipway. Usually this work is done during the winter season with both ships being refitted and put back into service in time for the Easter peak.
Although itís a short crossing very few sailings follow exactly the same course due to the strong tidal flow. When the tide is the running the strongest usually ensures the longest crossing as the ferry must sail a course along the tidal flow into the Lough rather than take the most direct route and cut straight across it.
Further reading, including a detailed history of the origins of the crossing, is available at:
With thanks to Aubrey Dale.