Mull & Iona Ferry Committee update

The Mull & Iona Ferry Committee have responded to the newly published Calmac timetables which help gives a fuller picture. The original is published here

The first minister today announced that in some settings (including ferries), a reduction of the social distancing rule from 2 metres to 1 metre would now be possible. Although the detail of how this will affect ferries is not yet confirmed, we should now expect CalMac to be able to take advantage of this new guidance. This should mean that passenger capacities will roughly double – so for example we should expect that the MV Isle of Mull will be able to carry a little over 200 passengers inside, rather than the current 104. Mitigating measures will have to be agreed before this is possible (for example screens, hygiene practices etc), but we should see greater capacity as a result of this before too long.

CalMac’s Managing Director has confirmed to us that outside-only foot passenger tickets will be available soon on the Oban-Craignure route (together with some other services), on a turn-up-and-go basis. This may add around 200 further passenger spaces per sailing, on the assumption that 1 metre spacing will be possible at least on outside decks.

The combination of both potential changes above could result in total passenger capacity of around 400 on the MV Isle of Mull. This is still less than half of the boat’s legal maximum of 962, but 400 should be adequate for most scenarios through this summer. Even in a ‘normal’ summer, the IOM carries 400 people or more on only 14% of sailings. Although ferry frequency is reduced this summer, tourist volumes will certainly be very much lower than normal – so a capacity of 400 is likely to be more than sufficient. It is therefore unlikely that foot passengers will have difficulty getting space on our main vessel to the mainland, which hopefully will be reassuring to many.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be issues on some sailings, particularly those operated by the Coruisk. So please remember to book ahead. But we now have reason to be less fearful that capacity will be overwhelmed by demand.

Many people have understandably been asking if travellers with medical appointments would be given priority boarding. Formally, CalMac cannot prioritise someone because they have a hospital appointment, and this remains the case. However, if passenger capacities are increased as above, the need for medical priority should be negligible. We have made the case for medical priority and will continue to do so, but today’s announcement seems to make it less likely that such a measure will be needed, at least on services to Mull.
Also bear in mind that CalMac are only taking bookings to 80% of capacity, with the final 20% remaining for turn-up-and-go. So if you have an urgent and unexpected need to travel, there should be capacity available for you. But please do book if you can!

Many people have been contacting us and CalMac, complaining about the implementation of the temporary booking arrangements. The objective was to give locals and visitors an equal ‘crack of the whip’, but the detail of how it works creates other problems. The system effectively forces travellers to book each leg of a journey separately, and some may even have to embark on a journey before knowing if they can get a return or not. We have written to CalMac management on this several times, but as yet the system remains unchanged. It is possible that thanks to the potential capacity increases, the two week window may be lengthened or removed in the future. Meanwhile, be aware that you can only book 2 weeks ahead, and that date horizon applies individually to your outward and return legs.

Since the start of lockdown it has been prohibited to use pubic transport if showing Coronavirus symptoms. Now that travel restrictions are relaxing, there are scenarios in which symptomatic people would need to use a ferry:
a) Island residents travelling or working away from home who fall ill, and need to return home to isolate (this can include island-to-island travellers, eg Iona to Mull)
b) Visiting tourists who fall ill on the island
c) Island school children who fall ill whilst in the hostel in Oban
We have flagged this issue with Transport Scotland, and they have today told us that a solution is being worked on, together with the Health and Tourism departments. They aim to arrive at an agreed protocol before the full resumption of tourism on July 15th. Hopefully a practical solution can be found that enables ill people to travel home without endangering others on the ferry.

Remember that whatever your frustrations or worries in the coming months, as ferries get busier and tourists return, everyone on the front line in CalMac are doing their best for us. They have to follow the rules they’re given. If you have a particular individual issue or concern, ask the office staff, and they will do their best to help within the rules they are given.


  • Face coverings are now mandatory whilst on board ferries – except for those with a medical exemption
  • Foot passengers should pre-purchase their tickets online, so that your place is booked.
  • All minor vessels (eg Lochaline-Fishnish) remain as turn-up-and-go
  • When the Coruisk re-enters service, you can stay in your car for the crossing
  • From Friday July 3rd, self-catering properties will begin to be occupied – so this marks the beginning of a return of tourists
  • Tourism is scheduled to fully re-start on July 15th. But final confirmation of this date and the detail of how all phase three regulations will apply will not be announced until July 9th. If some form of passenger prioritisation is decided upon, this is when it may be announced