Short Sea vs Long Sea - Which Ferry Route Should I Use?

Not sure whether to take a short sea or long sea ferry route? We have a breakdown of the ‘pros and cons’ to make the right decision for your business.

"The modern terms short sea shipping, marine highway and motorways of the sea refer to the historical terms coastal trade, coastal shipping, coasting tradeand coastwise trade, which encompass the movement of cargo and passengers mainly by sea along a coast, without crossing an ocean."

In a Rush?

Hitting the long sea ferry departure time is one aspect that can’t be argued with. If you can achieve this there are advantages. However, if you want maximum flexibility and to get there as quickly as possible, short sea is your best method.


The distance traveled from Cairnryan - Larne or Cairnryan - Belfast is two hours. Liverpool - Dublin is eight hours.

You could have travelled to Ireland and back twice by the time you had even reached the shores on a long sea route.

Even if you are travelling to the opposite end of the country, the chances are that you will have reached your destination in a quicker time on short sea than you would have done on long sea.

Short sea services provide a greater number of crossing times and therefore greater flexibility.


When there’s a need for speed, there aren’t really any cons are there? It’s all about Location, Location, Location.

Whilst short sea ferry routes get you across the water quicker, you may find yourself stuck being another five hours drive from your destination.

Depending on the location of your port, you need to decide which is more viable time wise. Is it long sea or short sea?

Driver rest periods are achieved on long ferry crossings. These may be important to achieve legislative rest periods or to ensure the driver can work through the next day without breaks.

Short – 1 Long - 0

health safety

Health & Safety

If there’s one thing we Brits love, it’s a good amount of health and safety. Both short and long sea routes have H&S considerations.


When you’re sending your goods on a short sea ferry route, in simple terms, there’s less chance of things going wrong with the ferries.


The seas around the British Isles can be choppy at the best of times but when the weather is bad, hauliers / couriers MUST make every precaution to ensure the cargo is correctly secured on the vehicle to avoid damage.

From time to time, long sea route means you are out on the water for longer than may be necessary, meaning if there’s a bad forecast, you’ll bear the brunt not only on arrival but on the journey too. Thankfully these instances are rare, but they do happen.


Times are hard. We’ve all got to tighten our belts. This makes it even more important to choose the best financial option when choosing the right ferry.


By opting for long sea ferry routes, your road journey may be less, and therefore possibly less expensive. Make sure to plan your route carefully and consider all your costs – your time, running costs of the vehicle per mile, fuel costs, drivers expenses eg food & accommodation.

It’s not all in the overall price of the ferry! The more expensive option may mean an overall cheaper journey.

rough sea

Bad Weather

Although we at Freightlink are always on your side, Mother Nature is not. If you get caught en-route or ‘en-ferry’ with bad weather, your journey just got a lot worse. Long and short sea ferry services protect your assets (and your feelings!) in their own ways.


When it comes to short sea, Cairnryan is slap bang in the Scottish Highlands. This can increase risks due to the windy roads, times of snow etc. Freightlink are here to help you plan your journey.

A ferry being cancelled due to poor weather is not unheard of. Thankfully short sea ferry services tend to catch up more quickly than long sea services.

If your ferry gets cancelled, you’re going to get on the road and to your destination far quicker with a short sea service than you would on a long sea service.


If there’s a chance your ferry may be cancelled, eight plus hours is a very long time to wait. When long sea ferries are cancelled, the operators work very hard to return to schedule as quickly as possible. However, you may be looking at a good few hours delay before you are ready to sail.

Thankfully, ferries in Europe are ultra safe. So even in times of heavy weather, although it may uncomfortable, you will be safe. If you don’t like sea travel, take this into account before travelling.

The World Never Sleeps

Nowadays, the world never sleeps. There is a constant demand for imports. Telling a business their goods are not available because they are still stuck at the port is never going to end well. To tell them they have to await another 24 hours is going to go down even worse.

This one seems a no brainer really. If it needs to be there on time, choose the fastest route – be it long or short.

Your Drivers

Keep your driver in mind when picking a ferry route.


Shorter journeys mean the driver turnaround is quicker; they can drive the van to the next destination and get home in time for tea. In many cases it can also mean it is cheaper for their employer.


Longer journeys give your drivers a chance to rest, making them more focused and possibly more efficient when they get off on the other side.

Whatever you decide, long or short – we’re here to help you make the best decision. Contact our experienced sales team.

20 February 2018

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