:  The Internet's leading website for Side-Wheeled Paddle Steamers 
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About   :   Text and most photographs by Gordon Stewart

This website is one of the internet's most comprehensive first-point-of-reference resources for side-wheel excursion paddle steamers in operation, statically preserved or laid-up. Basic details of coastal, river and inland passenger paddle steamers of the past are also provided for the UK and parts of Europe with limited reviews of some other areas. It is not a intended to be a history of these paddle steamers or paddle steamers in general but a basic framework from which to research the subject in more detail. Numerous books have been written about paddle steamers and their operating companies and there is a significant amount of information available on-line. A limited bibliography is provided.

The website is illustrated by webmaster Gordon Stewart's own photography (of which there is a full archive) and images kindly supplied for publication by his worldwide correspondents of their own work or from private collections now owned by them. If not otherwise acknowledged, the photos are by Gordon Stewart and under copyright, such as the photo above of PS Schiller at Brunnen on Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, taken in 2008. This website will not normally use other images even if they are in the public domain 

Gordon Stewart : A Life Member of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society

About Paddle Steamers

The first steamships were paddle steamers and for three decades they were the only steamships. Despite losing out to new forms of propulsion, they are now firmly established favourites in the tourist industry, providing excursions amongst fine scenery on lake, river and in the case of the UK's renowned Waverley, coastal cruises. Their visible steam engines, linked to large paddle wheels, are a unique selling point and these engines provide a quiet, smooth and virtually smell-free experience for the customer. 

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The form of propulsion unique to paddle steamers

The engines are a major on-board attraction

The most distinctive feature when seen from shore

The method of propulsion used by the first steamships and still ideal for calm and shallow waters. Many paddlers have viewing port-holes on the main deck so the turning wheels and splashing waters can be seen to good effect.

On most paddle steamers the engines are clearly visible and are, for many, a major on-board attraction. Here, lubrication oil is topped-up on Lake Lucerne's PS Schiller whilst the engines are stopped as she calls at a pier 

From a distance, Paddle Steamers can often be identified by their distinctive paddle boxes, with vents of different sizes and shapes, often highly decorated. The Paddle Steamer Waverley's port side vents gets a touch-up of paint whilst she waits at Tighnabruaich.


Operational Paddle Steamers

Paddle Steamer Reactivation Projects

Laid up Steamers

Statically Preserved Paddle Steamers

Paddle Steamers Under Construction

Lost Paddle Steamers

Paddle Steamers of the past

Paddle Steamer Engines

Clyde Steamers

British Paddle Steamer Index

Paddle Tugs


Gordon Stewart has made numerous photographs of Paddle Steamers.
Photos are of the ships, aboard the ships and a number of views from the ships
Many are displayed in the body of the text on this website.
Uncredited photos post 1966 are by Gordon Stewart
The others are shown catalogued and in reduced size format as per the photos above, taken at Interlaken West, Switzerland in 2016. 
Click here to see the photographs



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Click here to see on-board views of a range of paddle steamers

The first ships powered by mechanical means were Paddle Steamers. Their commercial passenger use can be traced back to 1807 when Robert Livingston and Robert Fulton started a public service on the Hudson River between New York City and Albany with the "North River Steamboat", which later became popularly referred to as "Clermont".  The paddle steamer "Comet" which, in 1812, introduced a service between Glasgow and Helensburgh to bring customers quickly and reliably to Henry Bell's hotel on the Clyde coast is acknowledged as the first successful steamship service in Europe. There had been earlier reasonably successful attempts to operate steamships, notably in the USA, France and Scotland, but not in a passenger context. Scottish engineer William Symington designed the first practical tow boat, a sterwheeler, which trialled on the Forth and Clyde Canal in 1801. Although not successful, an improved version was and Charlotte Dundas took up operations in 1803.

From the time of Robert Fulton onwards, any ships requiring the consistency of mechanical propulsion rather than relying on the vagaries of the winds and tides were paddle steamers.  This held true at least until the 1860s when the screw propellor gained the dominant role first in ocean-going ships and later in increasing numbers of roles. The advent of the steam turbine, which was unsuitable for adaptation to side paddle propulsion, gave the screw steamer a further advantage from 1901 onwards and soon afterwards, diesel combusion engines began their long and quite slow road to dominance. Paddle Steamers were gradually edged out of existence. The 1920s saw the last of the great paddle steamers built for the Great lakes in the USA and for the more modest roles of cross-lake and along-river connections in continental Europe.

In the UK operators persisted with new paddle steamers for their various coastal and estuarine services. There was a flurry of new-builds in the 1930s and, remarkably, three major new steamers in the immediate post-war period. These were built to traditional designs so as to be available quickly to make up for losses as a result of World War II. One more major passenger steamer was also built for a popular lake in 1953. In the late 1940s one Scottish yard in particular continued to supply river paddle steamers to some of their traditional customers in India, Pakistan and Burma.  
The Soviet Union persisted with paddle steamers with a new standard design for vessels on overnight services on its mighty continental rivers and these, some of which were built and used in Hungary, were delivered in substantial numbers throughout the 1950s. These final examples of paddle steamers illustrate clearly that paddle steamers were most suitable for use in very shallow waters, particularly those with shifting sandbanks, due to their comparatively shallow draughts. This was the prime reason for the Waverley of 1947 and now the world's last sea-going paddle steamer being so built.

It had been assumed that once the remaining paddle steamers in the world had come to the end of their useful and economic lives, they would be replaced by motor ships if, in fact, there was any need for a vessel at all.  With the expansion of road networks and car ownership, the need for coastal and estuarine passenger-only ferries virtually disappeared and for major crossings, in the absence of a bridge, car ferries were required. Restricted almost entirely to being excursion ships, they could survive only if there was suitable demand for such services and in the volumes necessary to sustain ships of their size. This did not eliminate the threat of replacement with vessels of more modern design and lower operating costs. Lake Geneva in Switzerland, one place where large excursion ships still had sufficient business, adopted the innovative solution of replacing worn-out machinery with diesel-electric drives in a number of their ships where the hulls themselves were not life-expired, but this strategy was not widely adopted elsewhere. Although it was too late for most paddle steamers, the 1970s saw an increasing interest in the preservation of interesting items of industrial and social heritage and the establishment of numerous preservation societies. These societies' objectives were to pursuade existing operators to retain and renovate their paddle steamers or, in the worst case scenario, take ownership of reundant vessels and attempt to operate them on their own accounts. The former has been remarkably successful in Switzerland. The latter has led to the survival of major paddle steamers such as Waverley, Schonbrunn, Hohentwiel and Kaiser Wilhelm.   

Paddle Steamers can be operated successfully - but only if they find a niche role
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Paddle Steamer Waverley cruises up and down the Firth of Clyde. Here she is seen heading homewards off Skelmorlie in 2013 in a photo kindly supplied by Kenny Whyte.  She now fulfils a purely excursion cruise role. Ferry services were the main staple of her and similar paddle steamers, but the link between Wemyss Bay on the mainland and Rothesay on the Isle of Bute is now maintained by car ferries on a shuttle service. The current holders of that roster are motor vessels Argyle and Bute, seen above crossing the Firth with the Cowal coastline behind and the higher hills of Argyll in the distance
Century-old paddle steamers are being renovated to "as new" but incorporating all modern conveniences

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109 years old in 2011 and as good as new. With the help of enthusiasts and under the control of a sympathetic shipping company, PS Unterwalden (above), one of a fleet of five paddle steamers on Lake Lucerne, returned to service in May 2011 after a major refit. She was restored to closer to her original profile, but with a glass-enclosed upper deck to meet modern expectations. Clever design, however, means she looks much more like she once did, with the heavy construction of the 1961 refit removed. This photo of Unterwalden, back in service for the first time since 2009 was kindly supplied by Nadia Joehr
The world's Paddle Steamer fleet is growing
2013 saw the return to working order of two paddle steamers which had been out of service for many years and only recently had any hope of such a renaissance. The provincial government at Como, Italy, sponsored the restoration of PS Patria and a local enthusiasts' group in Switzerland, with local government support, arranged the renovation of PS Neuchatel (above). The Swiss paddler had been used as a restaurant ship for many years and needed the installation of an engine and boiler. Photo by kind courtesy of Sebastien Jacobi (via Olivier Bachmann)

There are still chances for it to grow further 
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Maid of the Loch (above) looks like she is ready to cast off from Balloch Pier on Loch Lomond. Unfortunately she has been out of service since 1981, but much work in recent years has meant she has been open to the public for static use. Hopes that a major grant from the UK's Heritage Lottery Fund would allow her to be returned to service in 2019 were dashed when it was announced that the project had failed to get the required funding at the September 2018 round of allocations. It is anticipated that a bid for the funding will be re-submitted for future assessment. In the meantime, her enthusiast owners continue to raise funds and work on her restoration and renovation. Work has been progressing well, supported by a major grant from the Scottish Governement and donations from several trust funds. The engines are now able to turn with steam generated by a boiler on the pier.

Having a "paddle steamer" is good for your marketing
MPV Herrsching on the Ammersee lake in Bavaria, southern Germany (seen above) is one of a new generation of ships with a genuine set of paddle wheels. It was a surprise that the ship was built as a paddler. It would have been even more of a surprise if she had been a paddle steamer - an option which did receive genuine consideration, but was ultimately ruled out on cost grounds. Nevertheless, the operating company saw advantages in having a modern yet "traditional" vessel on its timetabled services and later rebuilt its traditional (but motorised) paddler Diessen in similar style
An innovative solution for the retention and reactivation of vessels at risk

There is a way to reduce operating costs by around 40 % and reduce the carbon footprint  : Click here for more details


For a comprehensive guide to paddle steamers in general from a historical development point of view  :

The Coming of the Comet : The Rise and Fall of the Paddle Steamer   by Nick Robins

Seaforth Publishing, 2012 : ISBN 10 : 1848321341  and ISBN 13 : 978-1848321342

It is an almost impossible task to cover such an enormous subject, deciding what to include and within those topics, how much detail to present. This book makes as good an attempt as must surely be possible. 

Other suggested reading is listed in the separate sections of this database. Nick Robins has also written a number of other books on paddles steamers, all of which are highly recommended

ABOUT THIS WEBSITE is designed and maintained by Gordon Stewart, life member of the UK's Paddle Steamer Preservation Society

The website aims to be a source of basic reference, setting the scene for those who wish to understand the general situation regarding paddle steamers. Those who wish to research further are directed to the appropriate sources shown in the bibliography. Links to various steamer operators' websites are provided. 
The webmaster attempts to keep information as up-to-date as possible but does not guarantee that any information is necessarily current.  Any views expressed are those of the webmaster alone unless otherwise indicated.

Send an e-mail to the Webmaster, Gordon Stewart   

What counts as a Paddle Steamer in this side-wheeled steamer database ?

Steam powered side-wheelers including those which have been converted to diesel power and those which survive statically (even if the machinery has been removed). Side-wheelers built as motor vessels are also included where they can be regarded as equivalent in size to the steamers covered.  Some very small steamships in private ownership and limited to 12 passengers are noted. Modern ships primarily propelled by screw propellor but with a side-wheel either entirely or substantially for visual effect are excluded. Stern-wheel vessels are excluded.

Copyright and re-use of information and images

Most **  material and photographs displayed on this website are the property of Gordon Stewart or the accredited photographer where shown and not for re-use without permission of webmaster (uncredited photos post 1965 are those of Gordon Stewart, the webmaster) or photographer unless allowed under the appropriate Creative Commons licence (quoted alongside all photos used under this permission).
All information is presented in good faith based on meticulous research. If any information is clearly wrong, please advise the webmaster and it shall be corrected

Photographs displayed are with the permission of the acknowledged photographer but are not to be copied for re-use for any other website or publication without the specific authorisation of the photographer. You are welcome to use the text from this website as a research source and basis for your own work but it should not be copied and republished elsewhere verbatim or only slightly altered.
All acknowledged photos and text on the database is Gordon Stewart or the individual photographer where acknowledged. Photos after 1965 not otherwised attributed are by Gordon Stewart.


The webmaster gratefully acknowledges many sources of information, including websites shown on the links page, magazines such as Paddle Wheels and Dampferzeitung and published books which he has read and absorbed information from. Many of these are listed in the Bibliography sections of the main pages to which they refer and readers of this website are referred to these books for much more detailed information about the relevant subjects. Thanks go to everyone who has submitted photos. They are acknowledged on the website alongside their photos. Particular thanks are due to Kenny Whyte, Phil Barnes, Kevin Hoggett, Olivier Bachmann, Enrico Crosti, Chris Allen and Malcolm Oliver for the large number of excellent photos which they have submitted to this website.

Paddle Steamer Information Requests

Most of the information available to me is presented in abbreviated form in this database and it is unlikely that I will be able to help with ships which are not included in this database, but please send the webmaster an e-mail and I will give as much assistance as I can. I can for example also give general guidance about paddle steamer services in Europe (e.g. Swiss lake steamers operations) and guide you to the best sources of external information.
Send an e-mail to the Webmaster, Gordon Stewart

Can You Help With This database ?

The webmaster would be delighted to receive any updates of relevant information and non-commercially available photographs which could help to keep this database as up-to-date as possible and fill in gaps in the historical record. These should be taken by yourself, a family member or from unpublished collections to which you own the copyright. However, recent photographs of PS Waverley sailing in preservation with Waverley Excursions are not required due to the enormous number of images of her now available on the internet and in numerous publications


Clyde Turbine Steamers

Although Clyde Steamer fleets were dominated by paddle steamers, the introduction of the turbine steamer King Edward in 1901 dramatically improved the quality of the long-distance day excursion fleet. The world's first ever passenger ship powered by turbines brought a new level of speed, comfort and smoothness and in the next 35 years a number of excellent vessels joined the Clyde fleet.

The only surviving example is TS Queen Mary (seen above in 2017 in Prince's Dock, Glasgow) which sailed from 1933 to 1977. She was bought by a Scottish charity the Friends of TS Queen Mary in October 2015 with the intention of taking her to Glasgow and preserving her in a permanent berth near the city centre and she was returned to the Clyde on May 15th 2016 to be prepared for her new life. Stripping out of old fittings was proceeding rapidly when the above photo was taken

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InTramCities  with Gordon Stewart : Infrastructure, Architecture and Environment along streets with trams

Gordon Stewart travels regularly throughout Europe to create what is perhaps the finest tramway photograph resource on the internet. Although trams are the focal point and common thread throughout, it is where they are running which provides the diversity and interest in his photos. As well as city centres with their grand architecture, Gordon takes you to less well-known suburbs to give a real feel for the tramway city. The photos are becoming an important historical record for those interested in the city itself as well as its trams and also show how trams fit into urban environments to provide an attractive and accessible transportation system.  Domain front page
Gordon Stewart 2001-2021