Paddle steamer returns to Swanage after appeal keeps her afloat

The Waverley paddle steamer, the last of her kind in the world, is calling into Swanage on eight days in September 2023 after its successful return to the pier last year.

But the return trip was only made possible after an online appeal raised £180,000 in three months to cover the cost of her maintenance in dry docks this spring, following hugely increased running costs in 2022.

The waverley at Swanage Pier

The Waverley berths alongside Swanage pier in September 2022

Cost of living crisis increased bills by 60 percent

The cost of living crisis – specifically fuel costs – sent the price of operating the Waverley sky rocketing by more than 60 percent, or around £300,000 in real terms.

With other associated costs such as coach hire, catering supplies, insurance and berthing fees also increasing, the charity which owns Waverley was plunged into a funding crisis.

The world’s last remaining ocean going paddle steamer returned to Swanage Pier in 2022 for the first time in four years, having had to cancel all of its trips in 2019 because of engine problems and then being hit by Covid restrictions for two summers.

But nearly 20,000 passenger journeys were recorded when she returned to cruise along the South Coast and Swanage Pier was filled with crowds on the dates she docked.

The number of dates in Swanage this year have been increased to eight because of the welcome she was given by the town and will include a trip to see Bournemouth Air Festival, a cruise along the Jurassic Coast to Lulworth Cove and a steam journey around the Isle of Wight.

A public appeal raised £180,000 to cover costs of dry dock maintenance and repair

“There is widespread affection for Waverley”

Paul Semple, Waverley’s general manager, said:

“The level of support for Waverley has been truly fantastic once again, we saw so many Swanage people donating to the dry dock appeal and had raised more than £100,000 towards our target within just a few weeks of launching.

“Clearly there is widespread affection for what Waverley represents, the unique experience she offers and a wider understanding of the level of funding required to maintain her in seagoing condition.

“Operating a historic steamship like Waverley, who is now more than 75 years old, is inherently expensive. We are spending over £600,000 a year just to maintain her in operating condition.

“Spare parts for a paddle steamer are rarely off-the-shelf and come at considerable cost, while dry docking is the single largest expense of the winter maintenance work, though essential if the ship is to carry passengers.”

The crowds who welcomed Waverley to Swanage Pier in 2022

Faced a staggering rise in fuel bills

Paul added:

“Last year we faced staggering fuel costs and we were left with no choice but to raise funds by public appeal to be able to afford the dry dock fees and start-up costs for the 2023 summer season.

“We all want to continue to sail the Waverley because she means so much to so many people. She is an expensive lady to maintain and operate, but I believe she is worth it.

“She is essentially in very good condition and has many years of operational life in her, but she needs continued support from the public to keep paddling.”


The original PS Waverley was sunk while evacuating troops from Dunkirk in 1940

Replaced paddle steamer sunk at Dunkirk

Waverley has been berthed in James Watt Dock, Scotland, for an annual hull survey, repainting, steel renewals in both paddle boxes, the rudder removed for inspection and much work on the paddles themselves.

Passenger cruises begin again in Scotland on Friday 19th May 2023 and she will call at more than 50 ports in all four nations of the United Kingdom before the end of her season in autumn.

The South Coast and the Isle of Wight will form the last leg of the year in September, and the first day that the Waverley will berth alongside Swanage Pier will be Sunday 3rd September at 12.30 pm with steam train services on Swanage Railway being coordinated to tie in with her visit.

The PS Waverley is named after Sir Walter Scott’s first novel and was built in 1946 to replace the former paddle steamer Waverley that was built in 1899. The original Waverley served at the start of World War Two as a minesweeper before being sunk in 1940 while helping to evacuate troops from Dunkirk.

Since 2003, the Waverley has been listed in the National Historic Fleet as a ‘vessel of pre-eminent national importance’ and is now funded and operated by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society charity.

Further information

  • Full details of the Waverley’s visits to Swanage in 2023 can be found on its website

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