Accessibility Policy

Serco NorthLink Ferries values all passengers who wish to travel on Northern Isles services and has attained very positive feedback from customers and various bodies such as Mobility and Access Committee Scotland (MACS) and the Scottish Accessible Transport Alliance (SATA), who represent those with additional needs.

We commit to operating our services with a focus on customer care on all vessels and at all ports which customers and representative organisations will continue to rate very highly.

We recognise that accessibility is an issue for a wide range of passengers with disabilities and that a person has a ‘disability’ under the Equality Act 2010 if:

  • they have restricted mobility, cognitive impairment and those with hearing and visual impairments
  • the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities.

At Serco NorthLink Ferries we also recognise that accessibility can also be an issue for others, for example, people travelling with young children and people travelling with bulky items of luggage.

Our current arrangements, which already provide a high level of accessibility, were devised with the support and input of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) and (MACS).  Our plan is to continue to act on feedback from customers and from these groups. We will introduce new measures to further optimise accessibility to services, including the more extensive deployment of large print and Braille reading materials and signage along with the installation of hearing assistance systems.

We will continue to operate beyond regulatory compliance wherever there are attainable benefits for customers with additional access needs, taking into account and adopting any final recommendations within the final post consultation Scottish Ferry Services Review, first issued for consultation in December 2011 and legislation for Passenger Rights under EU Regulation 1177/2010 when travelling by sea and inland waterway.

The report recommended the introduction of an Accessibility Information System. Serco NorthLink Ferries has developed this for each of the ports in which we operate and the system can be viewed on the Serco NorthLink Ferries website.  The Information System will evolve to include standardised symbols, developed in consultation with DPTAC & MACS.

How We Will Provide Excellent Accessibility

Information dissemination

Self-identification is vital to us as we can then discreetly flag a booking for any additional assistance. If a passenger has reduced mobility or any other additional requirements the booking will have relevant notes added which will then be flagged during the check-in process. We would ask that passengers give a minimum of 48 hours’ notice of any such requirements where possible.

Passengers are able to make specific requests for relevant facilities, services and assistance when making their reservation either through our Customer Service Centre on 08001114422 (free from UK landlines and mobiles) or at our terminal check in locations. On-board and shore employees can then be made aware of any specific requirements through our reservation system and by internal verbal communication to the vessels onboard manager if assistance has been requested during the check-in process.

The Serco NorthLink Ferries website

The Serco NorthLink Ferries website follows the latest accessibility standards and contains a great deal of information for customers, including an “on board the vessels” sub-section and two dedicated pages about accessibility in boarding the vessel and accessibility facilities whilst on board. The website also includes information about the accessibility facilities at each of the port terminals from which Serco NorthLink Ferries operates.

A Frequently Asked Questions page provides detailed information relating to key accessibility-related queries ranging from issues such as specific facilities provided on-board the vessels to discounts available to disabled passengers.  Currently there are over twenty different questions answered on this web page, and we will be pro-active in further updating the list in response to our customers’ needs.

/on-board/ and /on-board/accessibility-options/

The Serco NorthLink Ferries website has been constructed with visually impaired viewers in mind.  The coding used to build the website has been tailored to ensure that assistive technology, which visually impaired people will typically have installed on their home PCs, can work without interference, enabling the visually impaired user to view the website easily.

Assistive technology such as screen readers can work unimpeded whilst navigating our website and will read out aloud what is on screen without meeting any barriers.  We actively do not use flash animations for navigation purposes and use clean code throughout.  All images have “alt tags” which can be read aloud, and tables are only used cosmetically for tabular data, ensuring the information on the Serco NorthLink Ferries website is accessible to all.

Visually impaired viewers are also assisted through a text only version of the website which completely replaces the regular website design with a text only, high contrast version simply through the touch of a button.

Making Sure Our People Can Deliver

Serco NorthLink Ferries recognises that our staff and contractors have a vital role to play in ensuring easy and appropriate access to Northern Isles ferry services.  Staff awareness through training is vital to providing the appropriate accessibility for all passengers.Staff compassion and awareness of issues as they are presented is essential for a smooth transition from shore to ship, during the voyage, on disembarkation and the onward journey for any passenger with a disability. This awareness also helps in reducing any perceived social stigma which may be felt by a passenger while using our public services.

Contractors working on customer facing tasks will be required to attain the same levels of training. Employee training programmes are designed to ensure that passengers with disabilities are not disadvantaged and that they can, so far as is possible, enjoy the same ferry experience as able-bodied users.  The training is also aimed at ensuring that staff are familiar with current legislation.  Importantly, weekly drills on-board also cover the actions necessary to assist disabled passengers in an emergency scenario.

Training is undertaken with booking, check-in and ship staff to ensure that, when a booking is made by a disabled driver or passenger, a note will be placed in the booking to ensure that the driver/passenger’s requirements are met.  The passenger will be given a colour-coded marker to visibly hang from their vehicle, in addition to our normal destination vehicle hanger.  This ensures that the ship’s crew is aware that this vehicle should be placed as close as possible to the lift which takes passengers from the vehicle deck to the passenger area.   All new staff are advised of this procedure during their initial induction training.

Vessel facilities

The three Ro-pax ferries Hjaltland, Hrossey and Hamnavoe were designed and constructed with the requirements of disabled passengers very much in mind.  The disability associations in Orkney and Shetland, Orkney Disability Forum and Disability Shetland, were heavily engaged throughout the build process to ensure suitable and appropriate facilities were included for disabled access.  All of the passenger vessels have wheelchair access available to all internal sections of the vessel and between decks by a passenger lift.  All general doorways are of a width which allows wheelchair access and there are four specially designed cabins with wider automatic doors for easier access on the Aberdeen based vessels Hjaltland and Hrossey and two on the Hamnavoe on the Pentland Firth route.

These cabins have larger floor space to assist manoeuvrability, low level access to toilet and shower facilities, wider beds and in some, hoist arrangements. All disabled cabins have televisions and tea and coffee making facilities.

Specifically designed public area disabled toilets and shower facilities are available on each passenger vessel.  In addition, the lounge, restaurant, cinema and public seating areas all have available wheelchair spaces designed into the floor plan which all provide wheelchair accessibility.

Passengers are able to take a virtual tour of our vessels using the link below:

NorthLink has been scrutinised and approved by the “Disabled Go” organisation who publishes on their website details of the facilities and access arrangements for those with disabilities.  See

Guide/Assistance Dogs travel free of charge on all of our vessels, and are allowed access to the cabins and public areas on-board.

Port facilities

All of the Serco NorthLink Ferries foot passenger terminal buildings have automatic entry door openings, and low level ramped access for wheelchair users.  Access from the terminals to the vessels is facilitated for wheelchairs by the use of passenger lifts along with covered walkways which make it possible to use motorised wheelchairs for embarkation from terminal to ship and vice versa. The vessel crew and shore side staff are available to assist those passengers in wheelchairs or with walking difficulties to access or leave the vessel or when moving between various areas on the vessel.

Serco NorthLink Ferries operate a luggage system in all our ports where passengers are able to stow their larger items onto specially made trolleys prior to embarkation. These trolleys are then loaded onto the vehicle deck of the vessel and are available to passengers on disembarkation at the port of arrival. This system along with the customer service staff support in providing it, removes the need for passengers to carry heavy items of luggage whilst using our services. “Airport” style luggage trolleys are also available on each site for use by passengers during both embarkation and disembarkation and assistance will be given where required, by ship and shore side customer service staff.

We commit to further improvement of accessibility within the port facilities through the introduction of Braille signage, particularly on the passenger lifts.  We will also improve our provision for hearing-impaired passengers with the introduction of hearing assistance systems within the port facilities.

Transport links

Serco NorthLink Ferries will do everything they can to assist passengers with disabilities or those requiring assistance whilst they are in the terminals and on board the vessels.  Information is available on-board, shore-side and on the two special assistance web pages referred to above.  These advise of all transport links to and from the terminals and the major transportation providers.

Our staff will be pleased to call a local taxi firm to ensure an appropriate vehicle is sent to aid on-going travel for passengers with disabilities.

Engagement regularly takes place with local transport service providers when considering timetable and onward connections, and in particular for the Northern Scotland connectivity through Rail and Bus providers for provision of train and bus services.

Review and continued improvement

Serco NorthLink Ferries operates a continuous improvement programme.  We will continue to carry out regular reviews of our operations to determine where any improvements can be made to our offering for disabled customers and will also further develop our ‘Disabled Persons Assistance Policy’. We will act decisively on customer feedback and will continue to work closely with representative bodies.

Header image: Boarding the ferry to Orkney and Shetland with a guide dog photo © Copyright Stephen Mercer Productions