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. In 2016, the Heysham-Douglas ferry service accounted for 48.1% of maritime passengers on the GB to Isle of Man route, with the rest largely using the service from Liverpool. 

Sea passenger numbers on the Heysham-Douglas service have fluctuated between 2003 and 2016. The 2016 final sea passenger numbers (268,000) were 9,000 (3.5%) greater than in 2015 (259,000), and are 12,000 (4.7%) higher than the recent low point in 2013 (256,000). They are 31,000 (10.4%) lower than the recent peak in 2007 (299,000). Table 1 shows figures for the odd-numbered years from 2003 to 2015, and for the latest year of 2016.

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

Year 2003 2005  2007  2009  2011  2013  2015 2016  Per-centage change 2015-16
Heysham-Douglas 261 260  299 284  279  256  259 268  3.5

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The former passenger service between Fleetwood and Larne in Northern Ireland was withdrawn on 24th December 2010, after a period of declining passenger numbers.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 72,000 in 2004 to a low of 51,000 in the final year of 2010.

Table 2, Accompanied cars and motorcycles (thousands)
Year 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013 2015  2016 Per-centage change, 2015-2016
Heysham-Douglas 75 67 94  86  77  79  76  108  +42.1% 
UK ports, all cars 6,804 6,305 6,677 6,405 6,188 5,719 5,606 5,615 +0.2% 

Source DfT, sea passenger statistics table SPA SO401 

Table 2 presents the number of accompanied cars and motorcycles through Heysham and UK ports. The figures are for the odd-numbered years from 2003 to 2015, and the latest year, 2016.

On the Heysham to Douglas route, the numbers for previous years have been somewhat volatile, ranging from 67,000 in 2005 to 94,000 in 2007, but the 108,000 vehicles conveyed in 2016 was the most since the year 2000 (123,000). Over the last year, from 2015 to 2016, the number of accompanied cars and motorcycles on the Heysham to Douglas route increased by 32,000 (42.1%) and by 9,000 (0.2%) at UK ports. The change since the Heysham low point in 2005, to 2016, equates to a 61.2% increase. The recent investment in the port, mentioned below, could be behind this increase. At the UK level, there was a reduction of 10.9% in the number of accompanied car (including motorcycles) over the 2005 to 2016 period and a fall of 17.5% since 2003. 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.  

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, all freight traffic, 1965 - 2016 (thousand tonnes) 

Year 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985
Fleetwood 259 253 1,025 1,944 1,879
Heysham 3,563 586 593 885 926
Lancaster -- 85 49 134 233
Year 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
Fleetwood *  1,381 1,236  1,530  1,635  1,137 
Heysham 1,485  2,708  3,723  3,676  3,461 
Lancaster 213  129  135  111  141 
Year 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Heysham 4,291 4,035  3,920  4,472  4,557  4,590
Lancaster 134 127  158  151  144  158

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

In September 2017, the Department for Transport published the 2016 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 2016.

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. In 2015 and 2016 there were further falls to 497 and 484 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 52-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. Further increases occurred in 2015 and in 2016 the freight traffic figure reached 4,590 thousand tonnes, which was the highest recorded yearly figure at the port.

It is anticipated that the opening of the Heysham to M6 link road (the Bay Gateway) and the planned £10 million expansion of Heysham port will support future growth.

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 2016 figure of 158 thousand tonnes represents a modest improvement over the previous year.   

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 0.98% 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 November 2017