paddlesteamers.info  :  The Internet's leading website for Paddle Steamers past and present
Schiller Brunnen 08.jpg
Paddle Steamers are ships which 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 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. 

Photo Above : Paddle Steamer Schiller at Brunnen, Lake Lucerne in 2008. Schiller is one of five paddle steamers in the SGV fleet on this beautiful lake in Switzerland, where such ships are now seen as an indispensible tourist attraction and where they survive as part of an extensive fleet of  more modern motor vessels. 
What are the distinguishing features of a paddle steamer ?


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PADDLE WHEELS

STEAM ENGINES

DECORATIVE PADDLE BOXES

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.


FIND OUT ABOUT PADDLE STEAMERS PAST AND PRESENT WITH  www.paddlesteamers.info

Please note that this website concentrates on river, lake and estuarine paddle steamers and does not cover the history of ocean-going vessels, short sea ferries or military ships

Follow the links on the blue main index (below and near foot of the page) which take you to the main sections of the database where you can research excursion and inshore-ferry paddle steamers in detail whether operational, preserved, laid-up and at risk or now consigned to the pages of  history books. 

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
Sternwheelers

and visit the photo archive  
paddlesteamers.info photo archive

Gordon Stewart is keen to promote paddle steamers, and educate the public into their historical significance, both objects of the UK's Paddle Steamer Preservation Society of which he is a member. He has created what is probably the internet's most comprehensive reference resource for excursion paddle steamers worldwide. The historical database is limited to coastal, river and inland passenger paddle steamers . The website is illustrated by Gordon's own photography (of which there is a full archive) and images kindly supplied for publication by his worldwide correspondents. This is not a full history of paddle steamers. Readers are invited to research individual vessels or sailing areas in more detail. A limited bibliogrpaphy is provided.


WHAT IS IT LIKE ABOARD A LAKE, RIVER OR COASTAL EXCURSION PADDLE STEAMER ?

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Come aboard and take a detailed look around some of our paddle steamers, going on deck, looking into the deck houses, cafeteria and restaurant and, of course, the attraction specific to paddle steamers : the engines. Click here
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THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF PADDLE STEAMERS
The paddle steamer era was very short  - but there was a niche to which they well suited and where some still survive



The first ships powered by mechanical means were Paddle Steamers. Although not the first steam-powered vessel by any means, their commercial 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 much later became popularly referred to as "Clermont". A photo of a centenary replica is shown above. British commentators, at least, acknowledge the paddler "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. There had been earlier reasonably successful attempts to operate steamships, notably in the USA, France and Scotland, but not in a commercial context. The idea of applying steam to drive vessels went back further still but awaited the advancement of technology to make it practicable. Mechanical propulsion meant that ships were no longer subject to the vagaries of the wind and could sail with some degree of certainty and closely to a published timetable. Paddle Steamers were soon to be found criss-crossing the oceans and penetrating major rivers deep into developing continents as boiler, engine and paddle wheel technology advanced rapidly. However, the development of the screw propellor saw them made obsolete and replaced in most marine applications, and even steam was, in time, replaced by new power sources, particularly diesel.

The paddle steamer notably continued to hold its own on the short-sea passenger services between the UK and continental Europe and Ireland, but the refinement, after 1901, of the steam turbine, unsuited to paddle propulsion and finding a couple of extra knots for services where speed was of the essence, resulted in no further construction of paddlers for this business. Relegated to secondary duties, few survived long. Steam turbines also widely usurped the traditional vertical reciprocating engine in screw steamers.

On lakes, rivers and coastal services where paddle steamers were most suited and survived the longest,
a later challenge came from oil and diesel powered vessels, which brought a significant reduction in fuel consumption. The 1920s saw the last of the great American paddle steamers, which had evolved into an enormous size, built. So too in Europe with its much smaller-scale vessels. In the United Kingdom it would continue into the immediate post-World War II period and in the former Soviet Union, a little longer. 

It was not only to new forms of shipping that paddle steamers lost out. Where once ships provided a vital link with remote coastal communities and where rivers were the prime means of communication with the interior, the expansion of first railways and then roads often meant that services became increasingly redundant. In the USA in particular, operators went for increased capacity and luxury at a low price. This tempted many away from the less comfortable overland trips, but when demand fell, the consequences for the operators were serious and generally fatal. Some paddle steamers were designed specifically to carry railway carriages where expanses of water remained to be bridged, but this was only a short-term need. Very few car ferries were ever built as paddle steamers.  

Virtually all that remained for paddle steamers was excursion traffic and in most cases this business alone could only justify much smaller vessels. Often it could not justify any service at all. Despite the rapid rise in tourism around the world, there was only a chance of success if the ships were located in places to which the tourists actually went in large numbers and where they were likely to wish to take a boat trip. Traditional holiday destinations such as the resorts on the Clyde in the UK declined in importance and with them the requirement for passenger ferry and excursion fleets. Where demand held up it was still assumed that any remaining paddlers would eventually be replaced by motor ships.

Their fortunes turned on vociferous public preservationist groups raising awareness of their demise, persuading operators to retain and renovate their paddlers and raising money to make it worth the operators' while.  Such groups had their most marked success in Switzerland, beginning with the saving of Lake Lucerne's PS Unterwalden in the late 1970s. Where they were unsuccessful, some groups have had to restore and operate vessels on their own account. 

With heritage preservation and nostalgia now being key elements in the tourism industry, those areas still possessing paddle steamers are capitalising on their tourist potential. In Switzerland no paddle steamer has been withdrawn since Unterwalden's future was secured. Since then she has passed her 116th birthday, undergone two major overhauls and it is virtually inconceivable that she will not receive yet another when the due time arrives. 

It was a short-lived heyday. Nevertheless, paddle steamers can be credited with facilitating a rapid expansion of world trade, connecting remote communities to a modernising world and the opening up of undeveloped continental interiors to explorers, colonists and empire builders. They can now be credited as opening a window on the past yet providing a fascinating and enjoyable boat trip for the modern excursionist.


Paddle Steamers were less suitable than screw-propelled ships as sea-going vessels


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Only in sheltered waters, but crowds at a Royal Navy review on the Clyde in August 1965 edge to the starboard side of this paddle steamer (Caledonia of 1934) to view a destroyer leaving the port-side wheel largely out of the water and paddling thin air. The starboard wheel would have been bogged down and the paddle box full of water and the ship would be making very slow progress. This illustrates how a paddle steamer might perform when rolling in a lively sea and was one of several reasons why the paddle lost out to the screw propeller. Paddle steamers had an advantage in acceleraton, deceleration and reversing and were thus well suited to services with closely-spaced piers, such as the Clyde and numerous rivers and lakes.  Photo by Ian Stewart
The military were not keen on paddle steamers as warships - but they were glad of their assistance
caledonia goatfell

When paddle steamers were in the ascendancy, the British Royal Navy remained sceptical of any steamship and when won over, quickly adopted the screw as the favoured means of propulsion. Nevertheless, the military were glad of paddle steamers on occasion. River paddlers with shallow draughts were perfect as gunboats and troop transports when campaigning inland, such as on the Nile, Euphrates and Irrawaddy. Their shallow draught came in useful as a number were built as and many were requisitioned by the Royal Navy during both World Wars I and II for coastal minesweeping and anti-aircraft battery duties. Their finest service possibly came with their role in the troop evacuations at Dunkirk in 1940.  Two of the largest paddlers ever built were converted to being aircraft carriers for the US Navy, operating on the Great Lakes in World War II.  The Clyde's PS Caledonia of 1934 is seen again above as HMS Goatfell when requisitioned by the Royal Navy in World War II. (Official Royal Navy photograph)  
Paddle Steamers were not ideal as car carriers and totally obsolete if their ferry run was replaced by a road bridge  
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Tattershall Castle and her sister Wingfield Castle (1934) were innovative paddlers, designed to carry cargoes on the relatively short crossing of the Humber Estuary between Hull and New Holland, and in the photo above dated 1971 by Jake Dale, it can be seen that the cargo space became useful for carrying cars. Nevertheless, the two only had a few more years of working life and their younger quasi-sister Lincoln Castle only until 1978, replaced by a diesel car ferry temporarily introduced in anticipation of the ferry service being replaced outright by a road suspension bridge in 1981. Paddlers ruled here because of the shifting sands in the estuary which created large areas of shallows, whose locations constantly changed.
Motor ships were more fuel-efficient and required fewer engineering crew
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Germany's mighty River Rhine was a stronghold of paddle steamers providing connections between piers along both sides of the river - primarily for passengers, but in early years, goods as well. PS Goethe (seen on the right in the photo above taken in 2000 by Gordon Stewart) was built in 1913 as a goods and passenger ship and has been expensively rebuilt on two occasions for her now passenger-only role. The last paddler built for the German section of the Rhine appeared in 1929 and operators KD have since then specified motor ships (often propelled by Voith-Schneider units) as road, rail and bridge connections left the ships increasingly with the tourist trade only. From 1981, Goethe was the only remaining paddler and even she was withdrawn in 1989. Restored late in 1996 after a significant rebuild she was placed on the "Nostalgic Route", the highly-scenic tourist run between Koblenz and Rudesheim. Still marketed as a nostalgic paddler, she was converted to motor operation after the 2008 season, partly on technical grounds but also as a cost-limiting measure. Fuel costs were reported to have halved after the conversion and there were also savings in engine room personnel.
Some conservatively-minded operators continued to order paddle steamers ..... but they were few and far between

Paddle Steamer Maid of the Loch (above, at Balloch in a photo by Kenny Whyte) was built in 1953 for service on Scotland's Loch Lomond.  It was the last of a long line of passenger paddle steamers built for service in the UK and many thought it was obsolete as soon as it was ordered. It was not just the propulsion method, but the size of the ship which raised eyebrows. With hindsight, the critics were right, but at the time she was the sole replacement for two paddle steamers and prior to World War II, the loch had supported four plus various much smaller vessels operated by independent owners. The Maid accumulated increasing losses and was eventually withdrawn after the 1981 season. She is seen above with her replacement, the much smaller motor vessel Countess Fiona, which did not last long in service herself, alongside. Three other paddle steamers were built for excursion work in the UK in the immediate post-war period (1946-47), no doubt in haste to recover from wartime losses and for conservatively-minded owners. The Clyde-based Waverley is still in operation, owned by enthusiasts since 1974, but Bristol Channel-based Bristol Queen and Cardiff Queen failed to see out the 1960s

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
Paddlers remained suitable in certain areas and are now valued elements of the tourist economy
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At the right place at the right time and going to the right places, paddle steamers can attract the crowds like Waverley at Largs in 2011 (above).

Century-old paddle steamers are being renovated to "as new" but incorporating all modern conveniences

Unterwalden 2011 nadia.jpg
109 years old 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
Having a "paddle steamer" is good for your marketing
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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
Some operators have taken the concept of having a paddler one step further .....
Yarmouth Belle 2010 Garry Knight.jpg
The addition of a paddle wheel to a ship indicates that even just appearing to be a "paddle steamer" gives a ship an important selling point. Mock wheels tend to be more common on motor ships trying to imitate Mississippi-style steamers with a large wheel at the stern, but mock side-wheels are not unknown. The photo above shows the Yarmouth Belle, taken on the Upper River Thames near London in 2010 and kindly made available under Creative Commons License by owner Garry Knight. What is interesting about Yarmouth Belle, now owned by the renowned and historical Turks shipping company, is that its wheel, a very poor decorative representation, has been added only recently to what was a magnificent historical vessel dating from 1892. The operator's website rather disingenuously called her a "traditional English side wheeler"
The world's Paddle Steamer fleet is growing
Neuchatel
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)

With the help of the public it can 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, but in the meantime, her enthusiast owners continue to raise funds and work on her restoration and renovation.
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FIND OUT MORE ABOUT PADDLE STEAMERS 

The main sections of this database are listed on the blue main menu below. The main menu can be found on the entry pages to each section and at other points in the database. You will normally be able to get back to the entry page for each section by following the return links at the bottom of individual pages.

Homepage

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
Sternwheelers

paddlesteamers.info photo archive

Bibliography

For a comprehensive guide to paddle steamers in all their guises from a historical development point of view I would direct you to the following for further reading :

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 a good attempt. They key things to take away are the reasons why certain things happened causing the "rise and fall".  


ABOUT THIS WEBSITE


paddlesteamers.info is researched, designed and maintained by Gordon Stewart, life member of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (North of England & North Wales branch) and is based in England
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 sections of the relevant past of the historical database. Links to external websites are provided to take viewers to steamer operators' websites and for general research purposes only. It is not responsible for the content of these websites. Please report any broken or corrupted links to webmaster
The webmaster attempts to keep information as up-to-date as possible but does not guarantee that any information such as ship status etc is necessarily current. If you have any news updates or corrections, please advise the webmaster so these pages can be updated. Any views expressed are those of the webmaster alone unless otherwise indicated.

Send an e-mail to the Webmaster, Gordon Stewart   Your comments and views, questions or information requests are welcomed

What counts as a Paddle Steamer in this database ?

Steam powered side and stern-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. Stern-wheelers built as motor vessels are excluded because a large number have been built in recent times (some are genuine paddlers, others have screw propulsion and wheels mainly for effect only). Very small steamships of the "hobby steamboating" nature are excluded.  Modern ships primarily propelled by screw propellor but with a side-wheel either entirely or substantially for visual effect are excluded (except in the case of "Freya" which is a genuine hybrid vessel and includes traditional paddle steamer machinery as well as a diesel motor.  The historical database is limited to lake, river, estuarine and inshore paddle ships

Copyright and re-use of information and images

All 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 are those of 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

All 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 material on the paddlesteamers.info database (formerly and including the Paddle Steamer Resources by Tramscape database) is Gordon Stewart or the individual photographer where acknowledged. Photos not otherwised attributed are by Gordon Stewart


Acknowledgements

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 to Kenny Whyte, renowned ship photographer resident on the Clyde coast for his kindly allowing me to use numerous images from his collection. 

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.
The "Paddleducks" website
www.paddleducks.co.uk
 is the home of the world-wide modelling community where there is a lively forum for information about paddle steamers as well as modelling issues. Paddleducks members often have access to ship plans and other information of specific relevance to modellers.
  Paddle Steamer Preservation Society in the UK accepts enquiries for inspection of the material in its historical collection for research purposes. 


Can You Help With This database ?

The webmaster would be delighted to receive any updates of relevant information and photographs (of which you own copyright) which could help to keep this database as up-to-date as possible and fill in gaps in the historical record. Howeever, photographs of PS Waverley are not required due to the enormous number of images of her now available on the internet

ASSOCIATED WEBSITES

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.
paddlesteamers.info  Domain front page
Gordon Stewart 2001-2019  

                                           


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