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Coin operated cable ferry at Espevær in Bømlo, Norway

A cable ferry is guided and in many cases propelled across a river or other larger body of water by cables connected to both shores. They are also called chain ferries, floating bridges, or punts.

Early cable ferries often used either rope or steel chains, with the latter resulting in the alternate name of chain ferry. Both of these were largely replaced by stronger and more durable wire cable by the late 19th century.


There are three types of cable ferry: the reaction ferry, which uses the power of the river to tack across the current; the powered cable ferry, which uses an engine or electric motors (e.g., the Canby Ferrymarker) to wind itself across; and fast disappearing is the hand-operated type, such as the Stratford-upon-Avonmarker Chain Ferry in the UK and the Saugatuck Chain Ferry in Michiganmarker, USA.

Both of the last two types use powered cogs or drums on board the vessel to pull itself along by the cables. The cables or chains have a considerable amount of slack built into them, in order that they sink below the surface as the ferry moves away, allowing other vessels to pass without becoming grounded, snared or trapped. Where a ferry carries both passengers and vehicles the car deck occupies the centre (helping to balance the vessel) and two passenger areas are at the sides, over the tunnels for the chains and the engines. As the ferry cannot steer a ramp is built at both ends, and there is usually a set of controls facing in either direction.

Ferries are common where there is little other water-borne traffic that could get snagged in the cable or chains, where the water may be too shallow for other options, or where the river current is too strong to permit the safe crossing of a ferry not attached to the shore. Alignment of the platform at each end of the journey is automatic and, especially for vehicle ferries, safer than a free-moving ferry might be in bad conditions.


Cable ferries have probably been used to cross rivers and similar bodies of water since before recorded history. Examples of ferry routes using this technology date back to the 13th century (Hampton Ferrymarker in Englandmarker).

Cable ferries were particularly prominent in early transportation in the Sacramento Deltamarker of Californiamarker. At one time, cable ferries were a primary means of automobile transportation in New South Walesmarker in Australia. In Tasmaniamarker, for a century before 1934, the Risdon Punt at Hobartmarker was the only fixed method of crossing the Derwent Rivermarker within Hobart city limits.

In the early 1900s a cable ferry designed by Canadian engineer William Pitt, was installed on the Kennebecasis River near Saint Johnmarker, New Brunswickmarker in Canadamarker. There are now eight cable ferries along the St John Rivermarker system in southern New Brunswick.

Most of the road crossings of the Murray Rivermarker in South Australiamarker are cable ferries operated by the state government using diesel engines. The platforms at the ends can be moved up or down according to the water level.

In Canadamarker a cable ferry is proposed to transport automobiles across the Ottawa River in Ontariomarker. There are several in BC: two onthe Fraser, one at Lytton, one at Big Bar, three on Arrow Lakes. A suspended cable ferry worked until the 1980s in Boston Bar. A small seasonal cable ferry carries cars across the Rivière des Prairies from Laval, Quebecmarker (Sainte-Dorothéemarker neighbourhood) to Île Bizardmarker (part of Montrealmarker). Dozens of cable ferries operated on the Columbia River in the US northwest, and most have been rendered obsolete by bridges. A suspended cable ferry for railway cars crossed the American River in Northern California.

In the fishing village of Tai Omarker on Lantau Islandmarker, Hong Kongmarker, a cable ferry (橫水渡) crossed the Tai O River before a bascule bridge was built.

List of cable ferries

Current cable ferries include:



The Mannum Ferry.
Wisemans Ferry
The Wymah Ferry



Lytton Ferry (Fraser River)
Needles Cable Ferry (Arrow Lakes)
Riverhurst Ferry

Czech Republic



Alassalmi cable ferry
Karhun cable ferry



The Pritzerbe Ferry

Hong Kong


Chain ferry being handcranked in Mozambique
  • Ferry across Shire Rivermarker, 37 km south of Malawi's southernmost border



South Africa

Malgas Ferry on the Breede River, Western Cape, South Africa




United Kingdom

United States

Canby Ferry
White's Ferry
Wheatland Ferry




See also


External links

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