Door to Door: a travel guide for disabled people
Going by sea
Sources of information
The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) has published 'Access to Sea Travel: Information for Disabled People and People with Reduced Mobility'. DPTAC has produced this guide to help make travelling on boats, ferries and ships an easier and more positive experience. You can download the guide from the DPTAC website at: dptac.independent.gov.uk/pubs/seatravel/index.htm.
The guide sets out areas you may need to think about as you plan and book your journey. It provides information on the range of services that may exist across various types of passenger vessels, so that you can be clear about what to expect.
The guide takes you through all stages of travelling by sea: planning your journey and booking arrangements, getting to the port, facilities within the port terminal and on board the ship, disembarking and leaving the port on arrival at your destination. There are sections on what to do if things go wrong as well as a list of useful contacts and websites. There is guidance on arrangements for travelling with assistance dogs, taking medical equipment with you, and carrying oxygen.
One of the main messages of the guide is be prepared. Never assume your access needs are obvious to other people. Passing the correct information of your particular requirements to booking agents, transport providers or operators is essential.
You should always check with the ferry company or cruise operator before you book your ticket or start your journey, as different companies, ports and vessels will have different facilities and policies.
If you use a wheelchair when travelling or have severe walking difficulties, are blind or partially sighted, always let the ferry company or cruise ship operator know in advance what assistance you will need, to ensure that this can be provided.
Some ferry and cruise ship operators may require disabled travellers to be accompanied by a non-disabled companion.
However you travelling to the port, by bus, coach, train or car, check the distance from the station, car park or set-down point to the ship, as some can be quite a distance away.
At ports with rail connections, some train services go right alongside the ship.
At some ports in both the UK and Continental Europe accessible minibuses are available to transfer passengers direct to the quayside.
Most British ports have good facilities, but facilities at European Continental ports vary. Details should be available from the ferry companies. Where you need to use port facilities, check in advance the availability of lifts/ramps in the terminal building, the availability of wheelchairs to assist between the terminal and the ship and the availability and location of wheelchair accessible toilets.
Most ferry companies operate fleets which are accessible to people with all disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs, although some of the smaller ones, such as those linking the mainland with the Scottish Islands do not always have very good facilities for disabled people. Access to the ship for non-car passengers is usually by ramp, which may be steep.
If you need help with boarding and disembarking you should give the ferry company as much notice as possible, so that alternative arrangements can be made (e.g. boarding via the car deck and using a lift to reach the passenger deck). Wheelchairs can usually be made available.
The more modern ferries have wheelchair accessible toilets, but this is not always true of older vessels, so it is important to check the particular facilities available with your travel agent or the Ferry Company before booking.
If you are travelling in a wheelchair, or you are blind or partially sighted, ferry companies generally prefer you to give advance notice and to be accompanied by a non-disabled companion. This is usually so that the appropriate assistance can be given where needed, but they may be actual 'conditions of carriage' so check beforehand.
You should also check the companies policy about travelling with Assistance Dogs as this varies greatly, for example some ferry companies will only allow Assistance Dogs to travel if they remain in a car.
When travelling by sea, to increase the safety of your assistance dog on board, you should take a well-fitting harness (including a lifejacket) for your assistance dog. Please ask the organisation that trained your dog for further guidance.
You can find out more information about travelling abroad with your Assistance Dog by visiting the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association website at: www.guidedogs.org.uk/adviceandservices/travel/travel-abroad/. Guide Dogs has produced a helpful publication: "Travelling abroad with your guide dog or other assistance dog" which can also be downloaded from their website at: www.guidedogs.org.uk/AdviceServices_travelguidedogs_travellingwithyourguidedog.pdf.
The availability and accessibility of catering facilities vary greatly between different ports and ferries. If this is an important consideration in your ability to travel, you should contact the ferry company direct or make alternative arrangements such as taking your own food and drinks with you.
A list of ferry companies operating between the UK mainland and Northern Ireland and the larger islands in the UK can be found here.
A list of ferry companies operating the main services between the UK and other European countries can be found here.
Some cruise ship operators may require disabled travellers to have medical clearance. This will usually be a letter from your doctor saying that you are fit and well enough to travel.
Some things to think about when planning and booking a cruise.
- If you use a wheelchair, ask your travel agent to check, or check direct with the cruise ship operator, that cabin door widths and bathroom/toilets are suitably accessible for your needs.
- Modern cruise ships have lifts between decks and level access to cabins and public areas, but check anyway that there are no sills at doorways which make access difficult.
- What types of beds are provided as some cabins may have bunk beds.
- Also check if any special facilities are available for transferring ashore at ports of call for any excursions (sometimes transfer to a launch is necessary).
- If you have special dietary needs, check that these will be available.
- If you need oxygen, check with the operator that this will be available on board, or that you can bring your own supply. Information on access to oxygen supplies or carrying oxygen supplies with you when travelling on holiday is available from the NHS Home Oxygen Service website at: www.homeoxygen.nhs.uk/5.php. A good source of additional information can be found at the American website: www.breathineasy.com and at the British Lung Foundation website: www.lunguk.org/supporting-you.
- If you have difficulty in walking, check when booking, whether it is possible to have a cabin near the lift.
- If you use an electric scooter or wheelchair check that you will be able to recharge it on board (the voltage may be different, so you may need to use a transformer).
- What is the company policy about travelling with an Assistance Dog.
Help with costs
Some ferry companies offer discounted fares to disabled passengers. They vary considerably and you should seek further information from the company concerned.
Taking a car on domestic and European ferry services
Concessions vary considerably and some companies give none at all. Where concessions are given they may only be available to disabled motorists who are members of one of the disabled drivers' motoring organisations. Concessions may also vary according to the time of year.