The Largs, Rothesay and Kyles of Bute Steamship Company*

A proposal for a company operating a historical paddle steamer on traditional routes on the Firth of Clyde, preserving a disappearing way of life and telling the story of how steam powered ships opened up new horizons for holiday-makers and day-trippers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. All profits would be reinvested in the business

The premise of the company is to preserve a suitable ship for its intrinsic historic interest and to sail her on a sightseeing route which is normally no longer possible for the public to experience due to the contraction of commercial services to a limited number of ferry-type links.
It is deemed to provide an attraction which adds to the quality of life of its customers and provide an economic benefit to the area in which it operates by attracting tourists and encouraging spending locally.
It is recognised that such a business is unlikely to survive outside the charitable sector and for this reason would be marketed primarily as a heritage attraction, with a ship markedly different from contemporary ferries and offering an element of public education in past lifestyles and technologies.

The Clyde has been chosen because of its scenic beauty, sheltered waters, tourist numbers and proximity to a major city. It is an area with a continuing tradition of day sails and therefore a market to sustain and develop rather than create from scratch.

The financal objective of the business is, through revenues, to cover annual operating, maintenance and refurbishment costs and to generate a surplus so as to hold substantial reserves. These reserves would be used to pay for maintenance requirements not covered through insurance, improvements to the fabric of the ship and work due for each five-year survey. It would be anticipated that any major refit (ie 25-year strip-down renovation) would be supported to some degree by private donations, sponsorship and partnership funding from national and local funding bodies as rerserves would never be sufficient. External funding for such an operation would only be possible if the ship were to be in the charitable sector.

A simple, easy to understand timetable with consistent timings, sailing in protected and well-charted waters with a minimised risk of losing sailings or pier calls due to poor sea conditions and tidal restrictions

Specialising on two "signature" routes for simplicity of marketing and customer brand association.
Serving the two most popular resorts on the Clyde (Rothesay and Dunoon) and the best of sights (the Kyles of Bute and Loch Long), plus giving views across to Arran.
Offering late morning and afternoon cruises for customers from Largs and Rothesay and a short afternoon cruise for those at Dunoon and Helensburgh
Providing a no-frills, but good quality and value-for-money, food and refreshment service with no complex preparation or closing-up requirements.
Educating passengers in an informal and enjoyable way regarding the history of steamship developments and their social impact
Encouraging passengers to delve more deeply into the history at a later date
Concentrating on one mainland base with good local potential and a good rail link with Glasgow and other rail stations in the Strathclyde region.
Offering the opportunity of a short cruise from a second mainland resort and railhead

SATURDAYS ONLY -  May to September - unless otherwise advised
AFTERNOON  CRUISE :   Cruise Loch Long and Loch Goil - from  LARGS, ROTHESAY, DUNOON and HELENSBURGH

LARGS12:0019:10 30.00 33.00 41.25
ROTHESAY12:5018:20 25.00 27.50 34.37
DUNOON13:4017:30 20.00 22.00 27.50
HELENSBURGH14:3016:40 15.00 16.50 20.62

TIME ASHORE AT ROTHESAY :  Enjoy a day or half-day (from 12:45 until 18:20) at the popular Bute resort - FROM LARGS

LARGS12:0019:10 12.50 13.75 17.20
TIME ASHORE AT DUNOON :  Enjoy almost two hours at Cowal's premier resort - FROM LARGS and ROTHESAY

LARGS12:0019:10 20.00 22.00 27.50
ROTHESAY12:5018:20 12.50 13.75 17.20
TIME ASHORE AT HELENSBURGH :  Enjoy almost two hours at this classy resort - FROM LARGS, ROTHESAY and DUNOON

LARGS12:0019:10 25.00 27.50 34.37
ROTHESAY12:5018:20 20.00 22.00 27.50
DUNOON13:4017:30 12.50 13.75 17.20

SUNDAYS and BANK HOLIDAYS ONLY -  May to September - unless otherwise advised
LATE MORNING CRUISE : Cruise around the Cumbrae islands and call at Rothesay - from LARGS

LARGS10:3012:30 15.00 16.50 20.62
TIME ASHORE AT ROTHESAY :  Enjoy around four and a half hours (from 11:15 until 15:45) at the popular Bute resort - FROM LARGS

LARGS10:3016:30 12.50 13.75 17.20

AFTERNOON CRUISE : Cruise past the Cumbraes, through the Kyles and around the island of Bute  - from LARGS and ROTHESAY

ROTHESAY11:3015:45 20.00 22.00 27.50
LARGS13:0016:30 20.00 22.00 27.50
Special Cruises : I would be anticipated that itineraries and timings may be amended on certain occasions in connection with special events and festivals taking place on the Firth of Clyde.

GIFT AID fares are treated as a donation by the UK tax authorities. The donor must pay at least the equivalent amount of value of the donation in UK taxes to qualify. Donors must also fill in their name and address on the Gift Aid declaration form supplied. UK taxpayers may make such a donation on behalf of families travelling together
Concessionary fares : Children 11 and under - 50%. Under 2 - free.  Persons aged 65 and above - 5.00 off any fare

A sailing season of  May-September inclusive would normally include 22 weekends and three bank holidays, giving a potential maximum of 47 sailing days, excluding any other special arrangements.


The Kyles of Bute :  

The Narrows in the Kyles of Bute which separate the Island of Bute from the mainland Cowal peninsula and the heights of Argyll are regarded as the prime scenic attraction on the Firth of Clyde. Customers from the mainland and from Bute's major resort, Rothesay, will be able to undetake a circular trip around Bute to enjoy these scenic highlights which give a taste of the remote highlands of Scotland. It is anticipated that the majority of custom from the mainland and all from Rothesay will be for the circular, non-landing tour.

The Arran Coastline :

The Isle of Arran's rugged scenery and peaks give a real glimpse of a remote highland idyll. The proposed cruises would not involve calling at any pier on Arran. It is believed that intending visitors to the island are best served by the regular ferry service to Brodick provided by Caledonian-MacBrayne.  However, on the cruise around the Isle of Bute there is the opportunity to see much of the spectacular northern part of Arran at reasonably close quarters.

The Cumbraes and Fairlie Roads :

The narrow channel between the two Cumbrae islands with the backdrop of the Isle of Arran adds to the scenic interest of the cruise.

Loch Long and Loch Goil :

Loch Long penetrates into distinctively highland scenery and is often desribed as "fjord-like" with its steep sides and narrow channel. Loch Goil joins Loch Long approximately half-way along its length. In glorious weather the wooded slopes display a magnificence of green, but in cloudy and misty weather offer a completely different perspective on highland scenery. The haunting grandeur can transport you into a mystical world of clans and battles - a world away from modern-day Clydeside. This photo is taken from the decks of PS Waverley which normally offers the route on a Tuesday in the main summer season (late June to mid-August) and in 2014, on three Sundays during the same period


There is good potential for mainland customers wishing to spend an afternoon at Rothesay, an attractive town on Bute set in a pleasant bay. It was once a magnet for steamer services from the city and is still the major resort on the Firth of Clyde. The major local attraction is the magnificent house of Mount Stuart, home of the Marquis of Bute, only a short bus ride from Rothesay. It is recognised that most visitors to Mount Stuart would arrive at Rothesay by Caledonian-MacBrayne ferry, possibly with their own car. There is an opportunity for the company to arrange all-inclusive packages to visit Mount Stuart subject to sufficient demand, which would by necessity have to be pre-booked. Whether this would be financially sustainable has yet to be tested, but the costs involved in trials would not be unacceptably onerous
Whilst Rothesay only has a resident population of approximately 5,000, there are significant numbers of holidaymakers on short stays with days to spare to explore the area. Much business is associated with coach-tour companies and there would be potential to market the cruise in association with these organisations. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the cruise could become the second-top excursion priority for most Rothesay holidaymakers.


Second only to Rothesay as importance as a Clydeside resort, Dunoon is still a favourite day-out for many . Linked regularly to Gourock by a small passenger ferry and to the Inverclyde coast by a nearby car ferry service it is not anticipated that Dunoon will be a major destination for passengers although some from Ayrshire will undoubtedly wish to make the occasional visit rather than make the full cruise. Dunoon 's resident population is a little over 8,000 but this is swelled in the summer by tourists and there is potential for coach-trip holidaymakers in particular to make the short afternoon trip into Loch Long a highlight of their stay.

Helensburgh :

A popular town for day-trippers, Helensburgh could attract a modest number of visitors from Largs, Rothesay and Dunoon, but is likely to be a significant source of  business for the Loch Long cruise. Whilst Helensburgh itself has a fair resident population of almost 15,000, swelled in summer by holidaymakers, the main business is likely to be customers from Glasgow and the west of Scotland arriving by car or train for a shorter cruise than would be available had they joined the ship at the other mainland pier, Largs

The ship itself :

The ship must quickly develop a reputation for excellent facilities, comfort and level of customer service. The business premise is to use a historical ship. It will be difficult but essential to ensure that facilities meet the exacting standards of today's customers whilst retaining the heritage aspects necessary to achieve charitable status. A suitable ship has the potential to develop a dedicated following which could provide a substantial amount of repeat and on-going business. A paddle steamer with an open engine viewing gallery will fascinate many. As a charity and with a popular ship, there is the possibility of public donations and the opportunity to develop formal membership schemes or a separate support group to raise money, provide other support and draw the "enthusiast" community together.
Paddle Steamer Caledonia (above) would have been an ideal candidate for this business


Having one home base simplifies logistics such as provisioning and crewing, eliminate costly positioning runs and help generate a sense of ownership by the local community.

Largs is the prime source of excursionist business close to the Isle of Bute and the Cumbraes. As well as a resident population of a little over 11,000, it is a popular holiday destination for short Clydeside holidays and for day trips, with good potential walk-up custom for relatively short cruises.

The prime source for custom in the region is the city of Glasgow. It  has a resident population of 598,000 (in 2011) with a similar number living in the Greater Glasgow urban area but outside the city's administrative boundary. It is also a significant magnet for visitors and tourists from elsewhere in the UK and overseas with 2.2 million staying visits in 2011. Overseas visitors stayed an average of 6.1 nights. 
Largs is linked to Glasgow by a regular rail service with a journey time of approximately one hour and is easily reachable from numerous railway stations in the Strathclyde area. Largs is also reachable by road from the Glasgow conurbation within one hour. The equivalent sailing time would be two and a half hours.

Glasgow is deemed too remote from the prime sailing areas to be considered as home base for this business and is also well provided for as the home base for paddle steamer Waverley and starting point for its weekend cruises and also for shorter river cruises by Clyde Cruises (operated by Clyde Maritime Services Ltd).

A cruise must become the number one "must do" activity for anyone visiting the Largs area and be attractive enough in terms of price to encourage local residents to make occasional repeat cruises. It is expected that a more limited number of enthusiasts will be attracted to visit the region from distance specifically to undertake a cruise, thus increasing tourist numbers in the area. Paddle Steamer Waverley's main Clyde season only runs from late June until late August and does not serve Largs on Saturdays although a range of different cruises which include Largs in its itinerary are offered on Sundays   


High costs and overheads must be eliminated if the business is to survive longer-term and to be able to survive temporary dips in revenue. The business should be made as simple as possible. Crew, staffing and, as far as possible, care and maintenance would be on a volunteer-only basis. Any administrative office establishment, if found to be required, would be limited in size and cost

Crew and staffing : It is believed that there is a sufficient reservoir of retired or unemployed trained seafarers willing to crew the ship on an unpaid basis and others likely to be willing to undertake training for many on-board tasks. Recruitment is made easier by being based at one pier and operating weekends and bank holidays only, extending the potential workforce to people in employment. PS Waverley (with a passenger capacity of 860) currently requires a minimum crew of 19.

Customer bookings and general administration : Handled by assigned volunteers with the assistance of small-business software and internet communications. The majority of custom would, at least initially, be expected to be "walk-up" trade.

Marketing : Highly concentrated in the area of operation, ie Largs and Rothesay. 
Broader awareness would be achieved through the use of various internet platforms. As a high-profile attraction in these areas, the service is expected to feature on many independent and private websites. To encourage potential customers to come to Largs, the beauty of the driving routes to Largs and the speed and attractiveness of the train journey from Glasgow should be highlighted.

Catering : It is not anticipated to provide anything other than light and inexpensive snacks such as sandwiches and filled baguettes. Tea and coffee would be available along with simple accompaniments such as biscuits, cake and crisps. Confectionery would be available from the catering outlets and souvenir shop. A limited licenced bar operation would be anticipated with bottled drinks only. Sub-contracting of catering to a well-recognised high-street coffee bar or sandwich bar chain would be considered to guarantee quality and service availability and would allow the sub-contractor to consider extending their service to a fuller meals service.

Technical : Paddle steamer Waverley, motor ship Balmoral and steamship Shieldhall amongst others have shown how skilled volunteer technicians can be mobilised to ensure that most technical requirements of the business are met. This can also significantly reduce the cost of annual maintenance and renovation work.


The model below shows a breakeven scenario based on fares and on-board takings alone. The company would also
pursue income from merchandising and brand licensing, potential advertisers and sponsors and welcome donations from supporters.  Such income would contribute towards the required financial reserves. The company would not seek grants from local tourist funding bodies for revenue support unless there were temporary financial shortfalls which threatened the survival of an otherwise sustainable business.

The financial model  uses estimated costs based on figures from known sources including published data for paddle steamer Waverley (for full-time summer operation), motor vessel Balmoral (with a more limited season) and steamship Shieldhall (operated on an even less intensive schedule than proposed here) - all regarded as suitable benchmarks for cost comparison.

Major cost assumption : The major cost element is the annual overhaul. A significant increase in this figure has the potential to put the business into major difficulties. This element has been budgeted as significantly below the amount currently attributed to paddle steamer Waverley primarily on account of a much shorter sailing season and the planned restriction of her range to sheltered waters. It is anticipated that she will require a passenger certificate for Class V waters only, rather than Class III which is required by Waverley.

It is essential that the company as a charity obtains free or highly favourable rates for berthing, overnight, midweek and off-season lay-up. As indicated in the "Public Benefit Objectives" below, it would be anticuipated that as far as possible, volunteer staffing would be sourced to allow the ship to be open for public inspection, providing a benefit to the area in which she is tied up

Major revenue assumption : Achieving the target average number of daily passenger fares is critical to the business. The budget is set at a figure considerably below the number achieved on a weekend by PS Waverley, in recognition of the latter already being a well-established business and the proposal not to embark customers at Glasgow. 
Waverley is reported to average in the region of 1000 "boardings" per day across her season - somewhere in the region of 700 discrete daily passenger fares. This includes busy summer weekends and trips in high-potential areas outside the Clyde, but more than half of the days sailed are mid-week days where patronage is significantly lower than at weekends. The financial forecast presented below is based on an average of 575 fares per day (sailing at weekends and bank holidays only)

The business would likely only be sustainable if constituted as a charity, due to the benefit of Gift Aid on fares (generating an extra 25% above customer-generated revenue on a significant proportion of fares) and the greater possibility of receiving private donations (which could also benefit from Gift Aid provisions). A charity is also more likely to receive grants from external funding bodies should they be sought.

Competitive pressures : Whilst there are a number of point-to-point car and passenger ferry services operated by Cal-Mac Ferries Ltd, Western Ferries Ltd and Argyle Ferries Ltd, none are in direct competition for the purely excursionist traffic courted by this business. The proposed cruise routes do mot directly link any piers which are at present linked directly by existing ferry operators.
The one ship serving the same market sector is the paddle steamer Waverley. Her main summer season on the Clyde lasts from late June until late August, offering daily services on a range of routes. Her Saturday schedule takes her to Dunoon and Rothesay on a cruise originating in Glasgow and without a call at Largs. Only on Sundays would she provide direct competition at Largs from where she would offer a range of single cruises depending on the date, again originating in Glasgow. Waverley also offers cruises from Largs on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays (ie days of more limited market potential). Waverley is well established in the market. Waverley is traditionally absent from the Clyde in May, most of June and September with no replacement to serve the market.

However, with Waverley also being a heritage paddle steamer in the charitable sector, it would be essential to cooperate as far as possible on as many issues as possible, to expand the market and to reduce costs for both parties. They should not be regarded as in competition, but as giving different cruising opportunities an expanding market.

Budgeted Average Daily Fares Total Annual Fares 575 25,300
Average Daily hours in steam Daily fuel cost 7.0 3,325
Operational Season
Budgeted Revenue Days 44
Lost days Actual Revenue days 0 44
Budgeted Crewed Inactive Days 0
Budgeted Light Sailing Days 0
Average hours/day sailing light 0
Crew paid on Days 44
Fares and on-board revenue
Average Fare (inc VAT) Gift Aid Fare 20.00 22.00
Fare receivable after VAT deducted 16.67
Average HMRC Gift Aid Reclaim 5.50
Percentage of fares Gift Aided 50
Net fare return per passenger 20.42
On-board Retail profit per fare 3.00
Total profitable income / passenger 23.42
VAT 3.33
Daily Income exc VAT 13,465
Daily Contribution 10,140
Fixed Costs 10,057
Crew costs 0
Numbers needed to extend season 142
Other Revenue
Public authority grants 0
Merchandising 0
Advertising 0
Donations 0
Other 0
Other 0
Off season profits 0
Cash at bank and interest rate  0.5% 0 0
= Total Other Revenue 0
Variable costs excluding VAT
Fuel /hour  475
= Fuel Costs per day 3,325
= Fuel Costs per season 146,300
Employment Costs
Seasonal Crew Numbers (inc cover) 22
Average annual salary 0
Add Employer NICs % 13.8 0
Seasonal Crew Costs 0 0
Retained Crew Salaries/NIC 0
OR Assumption/day for crew 0 0
= Total Emploment Costs 0
Fixed Costs excluding VAT 
Insurance 60,000
Other costs / contingencies 100,000
Sales and marketing 20,000
Office and overheads 10,000
Annual Refit 250,000
Other items 0
Other items 0
Other items 0
= Total Other Fixed Costs 440,000
Capital and Financing
Start-up Finance : Debt or equity 0
Finance Cost (%) : Interest or notional dividend 5.0
= Interest / dividend payable 0
Additional Working Capital 50,000
Cost (%) of working capital 5.0
= Interest payment on working capital 2,500
HMRC Adjustments
included in calculations Gift Aid Reclaimable 69,575
VAT Payable (rate) 20 84,333
VAT payable on standard fare for all passengers
Business Result
Income exc VAT 592,442
Costs exc VAT 588,800
Profit  3,642
Rate %
Allowance Capital Allowance Ship 8 0
Capital Allowance other
Tax - Corporation tax is 23% Corporation Tax payable 0 0
Profit after Tax 3,642

The future : it is anticipated that the basic cost / revenue relationship would remain constant with cost rises covered by rising fares. 


Charitable status comes with a strict requirement to provide public benefit. The company would aim to gain charitable status through its role in preserving the nation's heritage.

Social history : A cruise along traditional lines encourages the understanding of how millions of people and their families enjoyed a day out in the days before the motor car, mass media and the development of more modern forms of entertainment.

Technical history : Ships showcase technologies which developed quickly following the industrial revolution yet were soon overtaken as time advances. Paddle steamers are now regarded as a historical curiousity because their method of propulsion has been superceded by new forms of engineering, particularly those which younger people are now familiar.

The company would aim to ensure that a volunteer representative would be available on all cruises to answer questions about the ship's engines, which, in a paddle steamer, would be open for the public to see in action. This would be backed-up by informative displays and a free basic fact sheet.  The company would also aim to open up part of the ship as a reading room with books available for the passengers to consult on such subjects as steamships and their history and engineering, shipbuilding and other local historical matters associated with the ships and excursionism.

It is accepted that during the relatively short cruises offered, only a limited amount of time would be spent by a limited number of people looking at such materials. Therefore, there will be books available for purchase and materials provided to encourage people to take the interest further, such as joining the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society or other relevant organisations. It might prove possible for the ship to be open for visitors on occasion outside sailing days and used to encourage study. This would also give the opportunity for additional modest revenues from a limited catering service.

The concentration on limited sailing routes makes it easier to provide customer commentaries about passing points of interest. Customers appreciate such a service and with a standard route, the commentary can be pre-recorded rather than relying on volunteers being available. As well as an educational role, a commentary adds general interest to a cruise

There is no better way to learn how steam was adapted to provide motion in the days before the discovery of the more efficient internal combustion engine than to witness a steam engine in operation at close quarters. The photo above shows the triple-expansion engines of Waverley, built in 1946 by the Rankin & Blackmore foundry and engineering works at Greenock, using the best of steam practice, albeit at a time when such engines were, for most new ships and customers, obsolete.


The company intends to operate in the charitable sector, but all necessary commercial disciplines will apply to its business including the highest level of customer service possible in terms of product offered, assistance given to customers and prompt and fair resolution of complaints. The customer will be at the heart of the business. As operatives will generally be volunteers it is expected that they will undertake their tasks with enthusiasm and friendliness with their passion for the job being clear and rubbing off as far as possible on the ship's customers.


A ship with sufficient open deck space from which to enjoy the passing scenery and spacious covered saloons to take shelter, sustinence or refreshment.
A ship with sufficient capacity to earn enough revenue to cover her costs
A ship with sufficient speed to maintain tight schedules

A ship of sufficient size and sea-going qualities to be comfortable in all but the very worst sea conditions likely to be encountered
A ship where the operation of the engines can be seen and understood by the passengers
A ship which provided passenger excursions in the "historical" period being portrayed
A ship with close connections with the area in which she is to operate
A ship currently in operable condition and suitable for the area in which she is to operate

Paddle Steamer Caledonia (above) would have been an ideal candidate for this business, but she no longer survives.

There is no other Clyde paddle steamer surviving (and no British paddle steamer of a suitable type available) so this rukes out recreating an exact historical scenario. However, paddle steamer Waverley continues to trade on the Clyde to provide  this historical link.

Another suitable vessel will have to be sought 

There are a number of operational paddle steamers in Europe. The largest and most suitable paddle steamer with access to the North Sea and therefore direct access to UK waters is PS de Majesteit, a former Rhine excursion ship now based at Rotterdam in the Netherlands. She is of similar size to Waverley and Caledonia. In 2013 she was put up for sale, but continues to trade occasionally on charter at Rotterdam

* The company name as stated is for illustrative purposes. No company with this name exists at present - and there is no prospect of such being established unless by overwhelming popular demand and the guaranteed prospect of the required staffing and infrastructure being available