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Paddle Steamers of the Past : vessels and paddle steamer operators

Note : This database covers primarily passenger excursion paddle steamers. It is important to recognise that all steam powered vessels in all roles worldwide were paddle steamers until the middle of the 19th century, when screw steamers and later screw-propelled motor vessels increasingly took over most roles

Above : A replica of PS Comet, built in 1962, to celebrate 150 years since the inauguration of a service between Glasgow and Helensburgh promoted by Henry Bell to bring customers to his shoreside hotel and is regarded as the first commercial use of a steamship in Europe. It, entered service three years after Robert Fulton's North River Steamboat which was the world pioneer for such services when it introduced a service on the Hudson River at New York in the USA in 1809.

This replica, owned by the local authority (Inverclyde Council), is located alongside the main road past Port Glasgow on the Clyde estuary. In 2020 is was reported that the wooden-hulled ship was deteriorating badly and beyond economic repair

Click below to see brief historical notes of inland and inshore passenger steamer operators and vessels in many of the major operating areas in Europe, with very limited coverage of other parts of the world.

These areas are not the only ones where paddle steamers operated. Many ferry and coastal services were operated by paddle steamers before replacement by motor vessels. Most of the areas covered are rivers and lakes with a significant element of tourist excursion traffic as well as ferry services.

You can return to this page (Paddle Steamers of the Past), or follow onward links (e.g to existing vessels / services) from the individual area historical pages
Vessel dates are first and last years in the fleet. Vessels may or may not have sailed for the company in the year of purchase / disposal
Links are provided to vessel profiles from the pages covering the paddle steamer operating companies in each geographical area.

United Kingdom

List of British Excursion Paddle Steamers (not fully comprehensive - only those profiled individually on this website)

EXCURSION PADDLE STEAMER SAILING AREAS : including mixed ferry and excursion services

Firth of Clyde
Loch Lomond
Western Isles
Bristol Channel
Thames Estuary - Medway - North Kent and East Anglian Coasts
South Coast  (Southampton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Weymouth & Isle of Wight)
Sussex Coast
South Devon Coast
River Dart
River Tamar
Conwy, Clwyd and Lancashire
Morecambe Bay
Firth of Forth
Firth of Tay
Belfast Lough
Rivers Orwell & Stour


The Humber ferry service from Hull to New Holland saw large paddle steamers continue in operation well into the 1970s. The remarkable survival of paddle steamers on the Humber run was due to the shallow draught required to negotiate the notorious shifting sands of the estuary. Their demise only came with the advent of the Humber road bridge and similar major bridges also put paid to paddlers on the crossings of the Forth and Severn estuaries. Other major ferry crossings included the Mersey crossing between Liverpool and Birkenhead and other piers on the Wirral, where paddle steamers dominated until the beginning of the 20th century, after which all new-build was, typically, for screw-propelled ships.

There were cross-river and down-river services on numerous rivers not mentioned here, with most employing paddle steamers at some time in their history

The Pembroke ferry in west Wales is remarkable to the extent that the UK's last paddle steamer was built to serve the short crossing of the Cleddau River to Neyland. Paddle Steamer Cleddau Queen was introduced in 1956 and was a small primarily vehicular ferry and replaced the older passenger ferry PS Alumchine. She later sailed in association with the newer Voith-Schneider propelled diesel ferry Cleddau King and was converted to closely match her, with the removal of her paddles and steam machinery in 1968. The ferry service survived until 1975 and the opening of a road bridge.

Humber Estuary


Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstattersee)
Lake Geneva (Lac Leman)
Lake Zurich (Zurichsee)
Lake Brienz (Brienzersee)
Lake Thun (Thunersee)
Lake Constance (Bodensee)
Lacs de Neuchatel et de Morat
Lake Biel (Bielersee)
River Aare (Biel - Solothurn)
Lake Lugano
Lake Zug (Zugersee)
Untersee and River Rhein

River Rhein
Lake Constance (Bodensee)
River Elbe (upper) - Dresden
River Elbe (lower) - Lauenburg
River Elbe (estuary) and services to the sea resorts and Helgoland
River Weser (estuary) and services to the sea resorts and Helgoland
River Ems and services to the Ostfriesian Islands

River Danube
Lake Constance (Bodensee)

River Danube
Lake Balaton

Lake Lugano

Lake Annecy
River Rhone

Istanbul / Bosphoros


These notes on selected operating areas of interest are illustrated with photos which I believe to be out of copyright and in the public domain.
It should be noted that paddle steamers provided lifeline ferry services and carried cargo to the main ports as well as passengers
Egypt was an interesting exception where British tour operator Thomas Cook owned a fleet of ships which catered for tourists to the River Nile
Photos of Thomas Cook vessels kindly supplied by that organisation for publication

The history of steamships in the USA & Canada is a long and large one. The the world's largest side-wheel paddle steamers could be found in large fleets serving in particular the eastern seaboard around New York City and up the Hudson River, the St Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.
Paddle steamers were widely used elsewhere around the world and no attempt has been made to cover these areas.


River Nile

Burma (Myanmar)

Irrawaddy River

Ganges River


Port Phillip Bay
Port Jackson / Sydney Harbour / Manly

Newcastle & Hunter River


USA and Canada


Paddle tugs were very numerous. As tugs are out-of-scope, no attempt is made in this database to trace their history or profile any vessels except those currently in preservation. Paddle tugs included small vessels used for manoeuvring larger vessels around confined port areas and larger vessels used for carrying cargo (and also pulling cargo barges) on larger river systems.
A typical example of a Rhine or Danube tug is Adolf Linden IV, seen near Koln on the Rhein in 1958 in a photo kindly supplied by Alan Murray-Rust

OFF-TOPIC : SHORT SEA FERRIES FROM GREAT BRITAIN  (brief notes included for indication purposes only)

On short-sea connections paddle steamers quickly lost prominence to screw steamers and after the advent of turbine power at the beginning of the 20th century, turbines were specified for new-build steamers. Not all companies, ships or services are listed. 
For a comprehensive annotated photographic record through historical postcards : go to Ian Boyle's Simplon Post Cards Website :  
Great Britain to Ireland 

London and North Western Railway
City of Dublin Steam Packet Company
Drogheda Steam Packet Company
Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway
Great Western Railway (inc. Ford & Jackson)
Belfast Steamship Company
Stranraer to Larne services

Great Britain to Isle of Man

Isle of Man Steam Packet Company

Great Britain to the Netherlands

Great Eastern Railway
Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland

Great Britain to Belgium

Dover-Oostende : Regie voor Maritiem Transport

Great Britain to France

Dover : South Eastern Railway -  London, Chatham & Dover Railway  :  operating jointly as the "South Eastern and Chatham" from 1899-1923
Newhaven :
South Western and Brighton Railway Companies Steam Packet Service

Paddle Minesweepers

The Royal Navy, finding that paddle steamers were ideal for use as minesweepers, ordered purpose built vessels during World War II, including the ill-fated Kempton (below). Two steamers found use as passenger ships following their purchase from shipbreakers in 1927 and are featured in this database. For more about the Navy paddlers, click on the link above.

OFF TOPIC : PADDLERS WITH STEAM TURBINE ENGINES : Tried but never followed through on
Turbines were fitted to three experimental paddle tugs built for use on the River Rhein in the mid 1920s and one on the River Rhone, but it never caught on and as far as the webmaster knows, was not attempted elsewhere. The photo and drawing below show the turbine and reduction gear fitted to the tug "Dordrecht". Photo courtesy of Felix Brun of Alstom Power (successors to Brown Boveri) archive.

The tugs were :

PT Zurich (1922) : Escher Wyss (Zurich)
PT Dordrecht (1925) : Schiffs- und Maschinenbau Gesellschaft (Mannheim) / Brown Boveri Company
PT Toulon (1929) : Sachsenberg / Parsons
PT Rhone (1931) : Escher, Wyss (Zurich)

Above : Rhine turbine paddle tug "Dordrecht" at Kaub. Photo courtesy of Felix Brun / Alstom Power archive

The ship was built for Dutch owners and with collapsable funnels so as to be able to sail beyond Basel in Switzerland. She was one of the longest Rhine tugs at 77.81 metres and was 22.20 metres in breadth. Steam was fed to two turbines, one high-pressure, the other low. There was one reverse turbine. Gearing reduced the revolutions from 3600 to 38. Reboilered in 1954 she was withdrawn in 1957, parts of her boiler reused in another vessel and the forward part of her hull used as a boathouse at Mannheim      

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Statically Preserved Paddle Steamers