Port passenger and freight traffic

The Department for Transport publishes sea passenger statistics that include details of passenger movements on the service between Heysham and Douglas. 

  • Sea passenger numbers on the Heysham-Douglas service in 2021 were 143,417, 130.6% higher than in pandemic affected 2020
  • There were 40,236 accompanied cars and motorcycles carried on the Heysham-Douglas route in 2021, 113% up from the 2020 figure
  • The 4,906 thousand tonnes of freight handled at Heysham port in 2021 was a new highest figure
  • Just 93 thousand tonnes of freight was handled at Lancaster (Glasson Dock) port in 2021, the lowest since the mid-1970s

In 2021, the Heysham-Douglas ferry service accounted for 55.9% of maritime passengers on the GB to Isle of Man route. The remainder travel on the ferries via Liverpool. Sea passenger numbers on the Heysham-Douglas service have fluctuated between 2003 and 2021. The 2021 final sea passenger numbers (143,417) were 81,452 (130.6%) more than in 2020 (61,965). They are -52.1% lower than the recent peak in 2007 (299,495). Table 1 shows figures for years from 2003 to 2021.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company operates both the Liverpool and Heysham routes to Douglas. The Liverpool route is the quicker service whilst a slower vessel (Ben-My-Chree) operates out of Heysham. 

Heysham Harbour railway station has a very limited number of services that have the sole purpose of connecting with the Heysham-Douglas sailings. Yearly passenger numbers (see railway station usage article) are modest and are listed with the other stations in Lancaster district.  

Table 1 Domestic waterborne passenger movements, thousands of passengers, 2003-2021 (reverse order, table scrolls left to right)

 Year 2021

change, 2020-2021

2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003
Heysham-Douglas 143 130.6% 62 268 251 265 268 259 258 256 257 279 258 284 290 299 269 260 272 261

Source Department for Transport, sea passenger statistics SPA SO201

The former passenger service between Fleetwood and Larne in Northern Ireland was withdrawn on 24th December 2010, after a period of declining passenger numbers. Between 1999 and 2010, passenger levels varied between a high of 71,507 in 2004 to a low of 50,930 in the final year of 2010.

Table 2 Accompanied cars and motorcycles (thousands), 1999-2021 (reverse order, table scrolls left to right)

 Year 2021

change, 2020-2021



2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999
Heysham-Douglas 40 113.2% 19 67 79 62 108 76 72 79 76 77 80 86 82 94 83 67 76 75 86 97 123 121
UK ports, all cars  2,397 18.1% 2,029 6,157(r) 5,748 5,394 5,615 5,606 5,854 5,719 5,689 6,188 6,449 6,405 6,498 6,677 6,388 6,305 6,818 6,804 6,939 6,631 6,806 7,336

Source Department for Transport sea passenger statistics table PORT0301 (formerly SPAS0401) r=revised

Table 2 presents the number of accompanied cars and motorcycles through Heysham and UK ports. The figures are for the years from 1999 to 2021.

On the Heysham to Douglas route, the numbers for previous years have been somewhat volatile, ranging from 66,938 in 2005 to 93,993 in 2007, but the 107,512 vehicles conveyed in 2016 was the most since the year 2000 (122,945). In the succeeding three years numbers were in the 60,000 to 80,000 range until 2000 when the Covid-19 pandemic had a dramatic effect on every aspect of travel, so vehicles carried on the Heysham to Douglas route fell by 48,083 to 18,872 in 2020 (-71.8%) and carried on all UK routes by 4,128 thousand to 2,029,199, down by -67%. There was at least a partial recovery in 2021, an 113% increase to 40,236, on the Heysham to Douglas route.

The market for accompanied cars at the national level has been affected by the growing number of passenger vehicles using the Channel Tunnel, and fewer vehicles on routes to the Irish Republic. Despite the success of the Channel Tunnel, between a third and two fifths of all UK car crossings were taking place at Dover every year until Brexit and Covid-19 had an impact. In 2021 the share on cross-channel routes had fallen to a quarter, while there were more vehicles on the routes to Belfast.

Freight Traffic, Lancashire Ports 

The Department for Transport releases port freight statistics on a quarterly basis along with yearly reports. Table 3 has results from the yearly reports, but the quarterly updates have the most up-to-date figures for the major UK ports that include Heysham. 

Table 3 , Lancashire ports and UK total, all freight traffic, 1965 - 2021 (thousand tonnes)  (reverse order, table scrolls left to right) 

Source: Department for Transport.  (file port0101) * The closure of the Fleetwood-Larne ferry service in 2010 has meant that no freight traffic (excluding fish landings) has been recorded for Fleetwood since 2010. 

The Department for Transport has published the 2021 port freight statistics that include long-term trends over a number of years. Table 3 presents historic data on total tonnage through the three Lancashire ports covering the period from 1965 to 2010 and the two remaining until 2021. In the related information panel of this web page we have also included the UK port freight annual statistics: interactive dashboard, which presents data on all UK ports.

Over the years, the national picture was one of constant increases up to 1999, when the results became somewhat more volatile. As a result of economic slowdown, the 2009 figure for the UK (501 million tonnes) was well below the result for the previous year, but the 2010 and 2011 numbers saw modest increases. UK ports handled just over 519 million tonnes of freight in 2011, but between 2012 and 2014, the totals were between 501 and 503 million tonnes. From 2015 to 2021 there were further falls to 446 million tonnes. These levels are well below the peak of just under 585 million tonnes in 2005.

The Lancashire results show some variations over the 57-year period. Heysham saw an enormous decrease in activity between 1965 and 1970, and it was not until 1997 that the port managed to surpass the 1965 figure of 3,563 thousand tonnes. From a high point in 2003, Heysham once again entered a period of decline until there was a turnaround in 2010 and most noticeably in 2011. The rise to 4,291 thousand tonnes in 2011 was underpinned by traffic being transferred after the closure of the Fleetwood to Larne freight route in December 2010 backed up by investments in infrastructure by Peel Ports. The following two years however saw some reduction in activity, but strong growth during 2014 saw a 14% increase on 2013 at Heysham. Following the investment of £10 million in a new link-span bridge allowing expansion of the port and the opening of the Heysham to M6 link road (the Bay Gateway) there was a new high of 4,703 thousand tonnes in 2018. There was a small fall to 4,536 thousand tonnes in 2019 and a larger pandemic related fall to 4,067 in 2020. However the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have much less impact on freight than it has on passenger traffic. The recovery in 2021 to 4.9 million tonnes marks a new high for the port.

The closure of the Fleetwood-Larne service has meant that no freight traffic (excludes fish landings) has been recorded through Fleetwood since 2010.

The small port of Glasson Dock (Lancaster) has a modest trade flow, and the 2021 figure of 93 thousand tonnes represents a major decrease from recent years, and is comparable with freight levels in the 1970s.

The figures for port activity in Lancashire reveal a useful role for traffic flows to the Isle of Man and Ireland, but the Lancashire ports only account for 1% of total UK tonnage. In a national context, activity at the Lancashire ports is small scale, however as sources of employment, and conduits to the movement of passengers and freight, they are still important to the local and wider economy.    


Heysham Port opened in 1904 and offers immediate access to the sea at all states of the tide. 

In addition to the Heysham to the Isle of Man passenger service, Stena Line operates a freight service between Heysham and Belfast, whilst Seatruck Ferries is an Irish Sea ferry company (part of the multi-national Clipper Group) that specialises in the carriage of unaccompanied freight. It operates from Heysham to Dublin and Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland. 

The Morecambe Bay Gas Fields in the Irish Sea are operated by Centrica Energy, and Peterson UK Ltd has a gasfield support operation at Heysham.    


The port of Fleetwood is one of the 21 UK ports owned by Associated British Ports. The company's website lists the range of facilities at Fleetwood that includes an important fish auction hall. Fish landing results are excluded from the tonnage figures in Table 2. 

Glasson Dock (Lancaster) 

Glasson Dock is a small facility situated to the south of Lancaster that handles ships of up to 3,000 tonnes. There is a regular liner service to the Isle of Man for general cargo in conjunction with Mezeron

Page updated August 2022