Sandbanks Ferry break down, leads to evacuation and RNLI rescue

Both Swanage and Poole Lifeboats were called to rescue a “Good Samaritan” boat that got pinned against the Sandbanks Ferry, after it tried to evacuate foot passengers and cyclists from the broken down ferry.

The Sandbanks Ferry suffered mechanical failure as it attempted its 2.50 pm departure from Studland, heading towards the Sandbanks side of Poole Harbour on Wednesday 14th April 2021.


There was a full load of vehicles including the double decker bus as well as foot passengers and cyclists.

Sandbanks Ferry
Library image

Appeared to be a problem with the drive mechanism

An eyewitness who was cycling to Poole said that the engine of the ferry started up fine but it appeared to be a problem with the drive mechanism as it couldn’t propel forwards. The crew, who he said were great, kept everyone informed and the vehicles including the bus managed to reverse off the ferry, back onto the Studland side. They could then drive round the road route.

However he said there were about 10 to 15 cyclists and going round the long way round to Poole wasn’t an option for them, so they stayed on the ferry hoping that the problem may be fixed. However after about an hour and half of waiting in the cold, without any shelter on the ferry, he decided to return home to Swanage.

Meanwhile, a dive boat saw the dilemma of the passengers and offered to help. However things did not go to plan and the RNLI were called out at around 5 pm.

“A local experienced skipper offered to help”

Poole RNLI reported:

“A local experienced skipper offered to help take the people off. He carefully laid his vessel alongside the chain ferry to evacuate passengers off the ferry. Conditions in the harbour were clear and calm, with a south westerly force 1 breeze…

“The vessel had gone smoothly alongside, and passengers began to disembark, meanwhile the chain ferry had managed to overcome its problem and it was decided that the passengers should return onto the chain ferry to resume their journey.

“As this was happening the tide turned and the good Samaritan vessel found itself pinned against the chain ferry and low tide was not until some two hours later.”

Swanage Lifeboat heading back from Poole Harbour
Caroline Abbott

Swanage Shannon Lifeboat heading back from Poole Harbour on Thursday 15th April 2021

“Precarious and potentially dangerous situation”

Swanage Lifeboat Station picks up the story:

“In an effort to evacuate foot passengers, a local dive boat had come alongside the ferry on the Poole Harbour side, but then found itself stuck fast in 3 knots of ebb tide.

“This precarious and potentially dangerous situation caused the UK coastguard to call both Poole and Swanage lifeboats, along with Police and Harbourmaster craft.

“Poole lifeboat arrived on scene first and placed a crewmember on board to check on the crew and ensure their safety. When the Swanage lifeboat arrived on scene there was still considerable time before local low tide, so it was decided to tow the dive boat to safety.

“The lifeboat was positioned carefully and a towline passed to the Poole lifeboat crew on board. When the tow was attached the vessel was slowly towed up-tide and was quickly able to drop the tow and continue under its own power.”

Sandbanks Ferry closed sign

Ferry service suspended

The Sandbanks Ferry, having managed to get going was able to continue over to the Sandbanks side of the harbour in order to get the foot passengers and cyclists back on their journey home.

However the Sandbanks Ferry Company then suspended the service to investigate the mechanical issues. Posting on it’s website it said:

“The ferry service is currently suspended, the next update is expected at 12 pm on Thursday (15th April 2021).”

The ferry service resumed at 3 pm on Thursday 15th April 2021. The company said:

“The safety tests are now complete and we’re pleased to say that the ferry is back up and running normally. Thanks again for your patience and understanding.”

Kimmeridge Coastguard and ambulance
Kimmeridge Coastguard

Second rescue for Swanage RNLI at Kimmeridge

Meanwhile Swanage’s Shannon Lifeboat returned to its station at about 6.22 pm, only to get called out again to rescue a walker who had fallen and injured themselves at Broad Bench in Kimmeridge Bay.

Swanage’s inshore lifeboat (ILB) was also paged and in the end it was the ILB that was able to rescue the walker from the shore and get them to the ambulance waiting at the Kimmeridge slipway.

Both Swanage Lifeboats returned to the boathouse for re-fuelling and washing down and were ready for service by 8.24 pm.

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