Transport / Physical distancing reduces capacity of north boats by 80 per cent

Photo: NorthLink Ferries

THE NORTHLINK ferries are currently running at around one fifth of their usual capacity as physical distancing measures continue to be implemented on board.

The Hjaltland and Hrossey returned to their usual timetables on Monday (22 June) as lockdown rules relaxed to allow people to travel to meet family, alongside keyworkers and essential travel.

Their capacity has been reduced to around 120 passengers.

Scottish minister for energy, connectivity and islands Paul Wheelhouse said in a letter to MSPs and Scottish MPs that the impact of the two metre physical distancing rule has a “significant” impact on ferries’ capacity.

“On the Serco NorthLink vessels, the requirement to maintain two metres physical distancing has the impact of reducing capacity to around 20 per cent of the normal certified capacity on the passenger vessels,” he said.

Current bookings on the north boats is about one third of what operator Serco NorthLink usually has at this time of the year, before the school holiday period.


Wheelhouse confirmed that ferry operators have explored with the coastguard whether passengers could remain in their cars for the whole journey to create more space for passengers on board.

“While this can be achieved on vessels where the journey is short and there is an open deck, this is not permissible for longer journeys or where there are closed deck vessels,” he said.

Wheelhouse reiterated that “travelling to and from islands to visit family is acceptable, as is the case elsewhere across Scotland, but individuals should consider whether they can do so while acting in line with all other guidance”.

The minister added that “clearly we would also be grateful for restraint where possible to enable as much capacity to be available for essential travel as is possible”.

He also said the government is also looking at possible measures to manage demand to ensure that islanders are not disadvantaged.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


In his letter to politicians, Wheelhouse added: “There will also be a need to carefully balance the needs of the economy and tourism sectors and, of course, ensure key workers are accommodated and we will continue to engage with local authorities on the balance of our approach.”

During the initial period of lockdown NorthLink had reported a drop in passenger numbers of up to 95 per cent as it remained open to essential travel only.

A reduced timetable was introduced in March.

More information on NorthLink’s current guidelines on travel can be found online.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.