The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company has been named the ‘worst domestic ferry service’ of 2024 by members of a consumer organisation.

The island’s ferry firm has been placed at the bottom of a list of the ‘best and worst domestic ferries’ in the UK.

The list was compiled by consumer brand Which? whose members gave the Steam Packet a customer satisfaction score of just 56%.

That percentage was calculated using scores from a survey of almost 2,000 Which? subscribers who were asked in December 2023 to rate aspects of their own ferry experiences over the last three years. Which? members gave the Steam Packet’s service between Heysham and Douglas a ‘3 out 5 for customer service’, ‘3 out of 5’ for passenger space, ‘2 out of 5’ for its facilities and ‘three out of five’ for cleanliness and toilets.

But the survey garnered too few responses to mark the Steam Pocket on ease of booking, food and drink and value for money - factors which will have affected the Steam Packet’s overall percentage score.

Nevertheless, the ferry firm found itself at the bottom of the pile in the ratings, ranking below Scotland’s NorthLink Ferries, Jersey and Guernsey’s Condor Ferries and the Wightlink service linking Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Which? describes itself as a UK consumer champion that promotes informed consumer choice in the purchase of goods and services using its print magazine and website.

Information published by Which? accompanying the scores said that ‘long-suffering islanders complain about poor facilities, too many cancellations and sky-rocketing prices [on the Steam Packet]’.

The Steam Packet has responded by highlighting the fact that the survey was conducted in December 2023 which is ‘right in the middle of storm season’ and when the ‘live aboard discussions were ongoing’, a factor which has ‘affected the tone of the article’.

The government-owned operator said that ‘it is also worth noting that the Steam Packet voyages are classed as short international voyages between the Isle of Man and the UK/Ireland, rather than domestic services as outlined in the Which? survey’.

The comment from Which? continued, saying ‘you’d think the world’s oldest continually operating ferry service would be a treasured public service’ but instead is the worst rated of any domestic route’.

The consumer brand alluded to the recent union dispute, with negotiations between the Steam Packet and Nautilus International Union rumbling on for more than two years due to the union’s concerns over the live on board terms proposed by the operator for crew serving on the flagship vessel Manxman.

However, in March this year it was announced that the Steam Packet had reached an agreement with the union over contract terms for its members of staff.

The Which? comment said that Steam Packet had plans to ‘improve reliability by making staff sleep on board to respond more flexibly to bad weather and firing those who refuse’.

A Steam Packet spokesperson said the firm is adamant that the Manxman has been a worthwhile investment, saying: ‘We always take on board customer feedback, with an example being with the creation of the flagship Manxman, where we asked the Manx public via a major survey (8,500 responses) for their input on what is most important to them in a ferry service.

‘The impact of the Manxman can also be seen in our Q1 figures which show a 21% increase in passengers travelling with the Steam Packet Company compared to 2023. 

‘Almost 70,000 passengers travelled with the Steam Packet Company in Q1 of this year, in comparison to almost 57,000 passengers that travelled over the same time period last year. The transportation of essential freight also saw a 7% increase.

‘And with TT coming up, we are looking forward to another strong year, with more passengers booked to travel over this year’s TT period compared to last year. The uplift in passengers and freight is notable, despite more disruptions due to the increased adverse weather conditions, silting and storms we have experienced recently.’