Check-in and Boarding

From checking in to boarding the ferry to Shetland and Orkney, everything has been carefully thought out with your ease in mind.


To board the ferry as a foot passenger, first head to the check-in desk. If you’ve taken a note of your booking reference number, this will speed up check-in. You will be issued a boarding card and directed on board, this will be checked just as you are about to board the vessel. Vehicle drivers are asked to approach the car check-in booth which should be clearly signposted.

Check-in opens 120 minutes prior to departure at Aberdeen and Lerwick and 90 minutes prior to departure at Hatston, Stromness and Scrabster.

Check-in closes 30 minutes prior to departure at all ports and if you have not checked in at least 30 minutes prior to departure you will not be allowed on board.

Car drivers are recommended to check-in at least 1 hour prior to departure.

If you are leaving Stromness on the early morning sailing and have booked a Bed and Breakfast cabin you may board between 21.30 and 23.30 the previous evening.


Boarding is an easy process, all terminals and passenger ships are connected with covered walkways. The walkways are accessible to wheelchairs and all stairs have accompanying lifts to enable access.

Car drivers and their passengers will be directed on board and shown a parking space on the car deck. Lifts and stairwells to the passenger decks are available. Please note that once on board you may not come ashore again prior to sailing (this is a Marine Law requirement).

We can provide staff to assist disabled and frail foot passengers with boarding if required – if possible please let us know your requirements in advance. If you are in a car, you can request that it is located near a lift on the car deck but please notify us in advance.

NorthLink Ferries also offer a valet service for drivers who would rather not drive their car on board or away from the ferry. For a small charge we will arrange to load your car whilst you board as a foot passenger. On arrival in Aberdeen / Lerwick we will unload your car and leave it, locked, in the terminal car park. You may then stay on board to enjoy breakfast and leave the ship at your leisure, collecting your keys at the ship’s Reception Desk.

On Stromness to Scrabster sailings, NorthLink Ferries offer a priority boarding service. For a small fee, be one of the first to board the ship and disembark from the vessel in your car. Please note: passengers selecting this option must arrive at check-in 1 hour before sailing, and being one of the first to disembark is not always guaranteed.


If you are travelling with your car then please only take your overnight requirements on board with you. For safety reasons there is no access to car decks during sailings. If you are a foot passenger, your baggage should be checked in at the terminal. You will place it on to a secure trailer and it will be taken on board for you and stored securely. Upon arrival it will be unloaded in the terminals. Please note that whilst we take every possible care of your baggage, it is left at your own risk.

Please keep any items you need onboard with you as there is no access to checked-in baggage during the voyage.

Passengers are advised that a number of items that could be adapted or intended for use as an offensive weapon are not allowed on board ship without valid lawful reason. A list of these items can be found on our Prohibited items page. Divers are also advised to check our Diving Policy Page. Diving cylinders may be subject to regulations, and some gases may not be carried on our Passenger vessels. Diving cylinders may not be taken as hand baggage by foot passengers and must instead be placed within our specialised dive containers.


At NorthLink Ferries, across all routes, taking a bicycle is free of charge. We simply ask that you add it to your booking. If booking online, it’s bookable under the ‘vehicles’ menu and if you’re booking by phone, please state that you intend to take your bicycle.

Bicycles at Stromness, Scrabster and Hatston:

  • Please check-in at the foot passenger desk inside the terminal
  • When safe to do so you will be asked to wheel (or ride) your bike over the stern ramp on to the ship’s car deck and instructed where to park it.

Bicycles at Aberdeen and Lerwick:

  • Please check-in at the vehicle check-in entrance
  • When safe to do so you will be asked to wheel (or ride) your bike over the stern ramp on to the ship’s car deck and instructed where to park it.

When the ferry arrives at its destination you will need to return to the car deck again to collect your bicycle and disembark.

Header image: A warm welcome when checking in photo © Copyright Stephen Mercer Productions