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MANLY JETCATS 1990 - 2008

A report by Councillor Hugh Burns (Manly Council)

Blue Fin at Manly Wharf on Monday 29th December 2008

Blue Fin waits at Manly Wharf for its 9:05 am departure to Circular Quay, on Monday 29th December 2008.

Hydrofoil Arms at Circular Quay in December 2008

A view of Sea Eagle moored at Circular Quay showing the Hydrofoil arms in December 2008. The Jetcats were built with the same door spacing as the previous Hydrofoils so they could use the existing wharf facilities.

Table of Contents
Jetcat Service Withdrawn
On-board Video of Jetcat in Operation
Long History of Manly High Speed Service
Initial Jetcat Operation
Consideration of Single Manly Service in 1996
The Supercat Plan
Jetcat Service Degraded
Jetcats as Ferry Substitures
Jetcat Patronage
Jetcat Passenger Loadings
Manly Ferry and Jetcat Fares 1988-2008 Compared to C.P.I.
Jetcat Revenue and Ticket Mix
Jetcat Operation Expenditure
Jetcat Reliability Statistics
Jetcat Engine Maintenance and Life
Maximising Jetcat Availablity and Reliability


This report examines the history and facts of the Manly Jetcat operation since these boats were introduced in 1990.

It finds that there have been a number of considerations and attempts to withdraw the Jetcat service from Manly since 1996 and the recent withdrawal was simply the final and successful attempt.

It finds that the Manly Jetcats have been poorly managed by Sydney Ferries for much of their service life, in terms of :-

  • progressive Jetcat service degradation (reduction of timetabled services) causing loss of patronage;
  • failure to ensure the Jetcat operation had sufficient spare parts resources, and associated failure to properly manage maintenance of the vessels to ensure high reliability and cost effective maintenance;
  • failure to financially provision for regular Jetcat engine overhauls;
  • failure to keep sufficient ticket price differential between the Jetcat and the Manly Ferry service fares to minimise Jetcat operating losses;
  • at times failure to organise sufficient crew to run both the Manly Ferry and Jetcat services; and
  • an apparent failure to control head office and administrative overhead costs.

View from the upper deck as Blue Fin departs Manly on 31st December

The view from the upper deck as Blue Fin departs Manly Wharf for its last trip on Wednesday 31st December 2008.

Jetcat Service Withdrawn

On the 11th November 2008 the NSW State Labor Government announced the withdrawal of Sydney Ferries Manly Jetcats (fast ferry) in its "mini-budget". The last Jetcat service operated was the 10:00 a.m. ex-Manly on the 31st December 2008, using Jetcat Blue Fin.

The decision to end the service is presented by some political opponents of the Government and even Sydney Ferries itself as a sudden rationalist decision made by a less than competent, unpopular and out of touch State government. However the ending of the Jetcat service has been an objective of Sydney Ferries (and previously State Transit ferry) management for many years.

Since the announced withdrawal and in response to lobbying, the government has called for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for a private operator to run a 20 minute “high speed” service between Manly and Circular Quay. In addition the three Sydney Ferries Jetcats and spare parts were quickly put up for sale by tender (SF RFT2008/14) which closed on the 16th January 2009.

Click here to download video

Blue Fin Video
(46.8 MB)

On-board Video of Jetcat in Operation

You can view the Jetcat trip from Circular Quay to Manly by watching this recording. It was taken from the upper deck on board Blue Fin on the 31st December 2008, as we travel to Manly on the 9:05 am service. This is a recording of the whole trip in real time, made with a fixed tripod-mounted camera in perfect weather.

For the trip timing note Blue Fin is returning to Manly contra-peak (virtually empty) but has worn engines, with a portable GPS recorded speed of around 29-31 knots. The ropes were let go about five seconds before the recording began. Blue Fin begins to be accelerated to normal operating speed during the turn around the Opera House (2:51).

Manly (IV) heads to Circular Quay in late 1984

Then new RHS160F Hydrofoil Manly (IV) on a morning service to Circular Quay in late 1984.

Long History of Manly High Speed Service

Manly has had both a conventional and a high speed ferry service to the city since the first 72 seat Hydrofoil Manly (III) was introduced on 7th January 1965. The Hydrofoil service became more regular with the entry to service of the second larger 140 seat Fairlight on 11th November 1966. The service must have been profitable on at least a cash accounting basis for the (then) private Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company, as further 140 seat Hydrofoils were delivered in 1970 (Dee Why) and 1973 (Curl Curl). The early Hydrofoils travelled at 32 knots, giving a 15 minute trip, which halved the travel time of the conventional ferries between Manly and Circular Quay. At their service peak the Hydrofoils were operated on a three-boat timetable.

Manly Ferry and Hydrofoil September 1988 Timetable
Manly Hydrofoil Ferryten Ticket 1989

After operating successfully for many years, the Manly Hydrofoil service became more difficult and costly to run following the introduction of two larger and slightly faster Hydrofoils - Manly (IV) in September 1984 and Sydney in July 1985. The vessels were introduced as part of the modernisation and upgrading of the Manly Ferry service, carried out under the Wran Labour Government in the 1980s.

These new vessels travelled at 38 knots and reduced the trip time to about 12 minutes. However with hindsight the two new Hydrofoils appeared to be an overstretched and more complex design that lacked the simplicity and robustness of the earlier smaller Hydrofoils, that the Manly run had been established with.

Around September 1986 the Manly (IV) was accidentally reversed into a sea wall causing extensive damage to its rear 'foil. Repair attempts were not successful until a new rear 'foil was finally ordered from the makers and fitted in mid 1988. Thus the poor management of the sea wall collision repairs effectively meant this Hydrofoil saw little use for around 2 years. The apparent lack of availability of this "new" vessel enabled the impression to be created that the Manly Hydrofoils in general were unreliable.

By 1989 the Hydrofoil fleet consisted of Curl Curl (1973 - 140 seat), Long Reef (1969/1978 - 140 seat), Manly (IV) (1984 - 235 seat) and Sydney (1985 - 235 seat) which were operated on a two-boat timetable.

Initial Jetcat Operation

The first Jetcat Blue Fin was introduced by the Greiner Liberal Government on 16th July 1990. The Jetcats were custom designed and built for the Manly run, and were promoted as superior to the larger Hydrofoils on the basis of being lower cost to purchase and with an expectation of being more reliable. The second Jetcat, Sir David Martin, entered service in December 1990 and the third, Sea Eagle, entered service in March 1991. By mid 1991 the three Jetcats had replaced the four Hydrofoils, which were sold in October 1991 (reportedly for about $3.35 million).

Manly Ferry and Jetcat May 1992 Timetable Manly Ferry and Jetcat September 1998 Timetable Manly Ferry and Jetcat December 2001 Timetable Manly Ferry and Jetcat 2003 Timetable

By 1992 the Jetcats were considered an essential part of a more cost-efficient Manly Ferry service, as from the May 1992 timetable they were used in place of the conventional ferries to operate the early morning and the night Manly "ferry" services from around 8 p.m. to midnight. With less crew (4) they were claimed to be cheaper to run on the lightly patronised morning and night services than the conventional Manly ferries (6 crew each).

For the night services initially two Jetcats were used up to 8:30 pm and then one after this time to offer a faster trip at the same 50 minute frequency of the previous conventional ferry service. Due to rising patronage, the evening Jetcat service had to be increased in 1998 to reach a peak of a 15 minute trip running every 30 minutes using two boats up to midnight.

However this ended with the December 2001 timetable, when night Jetcat services were once again replaced by two conventional ferries. However the Jetcats continued to be used to replace the early morning ferry services until their withdrawal - a total of 10 timetabled return Jetcat services per week, with passengers carried at the ferry fare. The weekday 6:20 am ex-Manly Jetcat ferry replacement service was particularly popular, having a typical summertime load of up to 150 passengers.

Consideration of single Manly service in 1996

As will be seen in the patronage section below, there was a heavy decline in Sydney Ferries total patronage between 1992-93 and 1993-94. The combined patronage across all services fell by one third, with lower Manly Ferry patronage being a large proportion of this reduction.

Thus in its 1996 interim report on Bus and Ferry fares, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (I.P.A.R.T.) floated the option of withdrawing either the Manly Ferry or the Manly Jetcat service, as they considered these to be competing services. In their opinion either the Jetcat or the ferry service could be made profitable if the other one was discontinued. If the Jetcat service was ended they assumed 80% of the Jetcat patronage would transfer to the ferry. However in considering the matter from an economist's viewpoint they did not consider the reality that the three Jetcats simply could not physically carry the peak-hour ferry patronage. Nor did they appear to understand the Jetcats and ferries served different demographics.

I.P.A.R.T. also noted both services could continue be run with higher fares which covered all costs. At that time this would have required the average ferry fare (based on ticketing mix) be increased by 60 cents (20%) and the average Jetcat fare be increased by $2.20 (50%).

It is interesting to note that in 1995-96 the Sydney Ferries service closest to break even per passenger trip was to the Zoo (-0.11), followed by Neutral Bay (-0.35) then the Manly Ferry (-0.60), Darling Harbour (-0.78), Balmain (-1.48), Mosman (-2.10), Watsons Bay (-2.18), Manly Jetcat (-2.20) then Meadowbank (-4.53), Hunters Hill (-4.55) and Parramatta (-6.57).

Despite this report, both Manly services were continued and no significant fare increases occurred at that time. Note the Jetcats were then being used for night and early morning ferry replacement. Given this mixed use there would have been an allocation of operation and maintenance costs between normal premium Jetcat and Jetcat ferry replacement operations. Thus at that point true separation of the ferry and Jetcat operation costs would have been fairly difficult.

The Supercat plan

The most obvious previous campaign to end the Manly Jetcat service was the plan that emerged in 2000 to replace the three Jetcat boats with newer, slower "Supercat" boats. Despite public opposition, due to a longer journey time of 20 minutes, slower passenger unloading due to the single centre location of the doors and fairly stark utilitarian interiors, this plan only ended when the Supercats proved unsuitable for the sea conditions across the heads to Manly.

On 28th March 2001, the Mary MacKillop was operating a packed 8:25 am ex-Manly peak service when a large wave came over and through it's front Perspex glazing, soaking a large number of passengers. To this day Sydney Ferries management still maintains these boats are suitable for service to Manly and suggests only "political" reasons prevent their use on this run.

After this plan was abandoned the three Jetcats were all re-engined, which was completed in the 2002-3 financial year, so a factor motivating the 2000 replacement plan appears to have been avoidance of this capital re-equipment cost (the estimate for fitting two new diesel engines at that time was $1.3 million per Jetcat).

Jetcat Service Degraded

The quality and economics of the high speed Manly Jetcat service has been degraded over a number of years - particularly since 2001. The visible changes have included:-

  • the withdrawal of weekday off-peak daytime and some weekend morning Jetcat services in 1998, leaving the service peak hour (and evenings) during weekdays, and from December 2001 operating only peak-hours and an infrequent one boat service with limited hours on weekends;

  • allowing the fare differential between the conventional Manly Ferry and high speed Jetcat service to fall, to the extent that the well patronised Jetcat service appeared uneconomic to operate. In 1988 the Manly Ferry fare was $1.60 one way and the (then) Hydrofoil fare one-way was $3.00 (i.e. 187.5% of ferry fare). At the time the Jetcat service was withdrawn in 2008 the single ferry fare was $6.40 and the single Jetcat fare was only $8.20 (i.e. 128% of ferry fare). Based on the 1988 relativity, the Jetcat fare would be $12.00 one way). However as will be seen in the fares section below, the differential has been lost by the doubling of the Manly Ferry fare in real terms. Note the figures also do not take into account the generous 10-trip ticket discounts - 18% off single ticket fares if you bought the Jetcat 10 in 2008;

  • using the Jetcat service as an easy source of backup crew when Sydney Ferries has a shortage of Manly Ferry staff, causing extensive Jetcat cancellations (which make a significant undisclosed negative contribution to the reliability statistics of the Jetcat service). For example, the last two afternoon Jetcat service cancellations (two boats on 24th and one boat on 30th December 2008) were due to this cause.

Manly Ferry and Jetcat Interim Timetable 2004 for repair of Queenscliff

Jetcats as Ferry Substitutes

The Jetcats (and the Hydrofoils before them) were traditionally used as cover for maintaining the conventional Manly Ferry service. They replace ferry services lost due to mechanical failure, refuelling or crew safety drills etc.. Ferry passengers were either redirected to a scheduled Jetcat service or a Jetcat trip was run specially to replace the missing ferry service.

Effectively the three Jetcats acted as a fifth Manly Ferry, at least for off-peak use. Following the Collaroy's withdrawal with control system issues, the Queenscliff needed to be withdrawn for repair, and Jetcats were used as the third ferry in the Manly Ferry timetable for some weeks in 2004. The period of this operation was sufficiently long to warrant the printing of a special "interim" timetable.

Beyond the 10 timetabled replacement trips per week noted previously, the Jetcats regularly operated another 10 return ferry replacement trips per week to cover ferries missing for refuelling and crew safety drills. There have been questions raised as to how these replacement trips were recorded in terms of the reliability statistics for the ferry service, the patronage figures attributed to each service and whether appropriate credits for Jetcat operating costs other than fuel consumption were made.

Jetcat Patronage

Passenger figures for the Manly services are available continuously from 1959-60 to 1986-87, then 1995-96, then 1999-00 to up until services ended on December 31, 2008. In most years Hydrofoil/Jetcat patronage is available separately from the ferry patronage. Recent attempts made to obtain the missing figures from both Sydney Ferries Corporation and State Transit have not been successful.

Hydrofoil/Jetcat and Ferry annual patronage currently available between 1986-87 and 2008-09 is as follows:-

Year 1986-87 1995-96 1999-00 2000-01 2001-02
Jetcat pass. trips 1,380,000 1,453,000 1,520,116 1,278,791 741,990
Ferry pass. trips 9,677,000 3,718,000 4,368,797 5,318,555 5,082,110
Jetcat as % of total 12% 28% 26% 19% 13%
Jetcat / ferry replacement
return trips per week
(timetabled - typical)
199/0 199/57 115/74 115/74 96/10

Year 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09
Jetcat pass. trips 1,022,000 856,603
816,500 801,715 393,506
Ferry pass. trips 4,124,500 5,535,807
5,406,300 5,704,085 6,060,500
Jetcat as % of total 20% 13% 14% 15% 15% 14% 13.2%
Jetcat / ferry replacement
return trips per week
(timetabled - typical)
106/10 106/10 106/10 106/10 106/10 106/10 106/10

As a base line for comparison, the passenger trip figures for the Hydrofoils in 1986-7 are included. Daytime off-peak Jetcat services and many weekend Jetcat services were withdrawn in the September 1998 timetable. Night ferry replacement Jetcat services were discontinued and weekend services were further reduced in the December 2001 timetable. From that date the service was mainly a weekday peak-hour only operation.

Unfortunately the annual Manly figures are not available for the critical years 1987-88 to 1994-95. However the March 1996 I.P.A.R.T. Interim Report - Buses and Ferries (p39) reveals that between 1990 and 1994 the total Sydney Ferries patronage (across all services) plummeted, from over 22 million annual trips in 1989-90 to just above 14 million annual trips in 1995. The greatest decrease occurred between 1992-93 and 1993-94, when patronage fell from below 21 million to below 14 million trips per year.

Because there is currently no data available for the Manly Ferry and Jetcat patronage in this period, it is difficult to make precise conclusions, but from the surrounding available data it appears a significant fall in the Manly Ferry patronage was a major component in the overall Sydney Ferries decline, with 9,677,000 Manly Ferry trips in 1986-87, reducing to 3,718,000 in 1995-96.

Conversely the Hydrofoil/Jetcat patronage actually increased by 5% over the same period, with 1,380,000 Hydrofoil trips in 1986-87 increasing to 1,453,000 Jetcat trips in 1995-96.

Since 1995-96 the Jetcat patronage has declined to an estimated 816,500 annual trips, which is around 59% of the 1987 Hydrofoil patronage (but note there were only 106 return services a week in the 2006-07 Jetcat timetable compared with 203 in the 1987 Hydrofoil timetable). The ferry patronage has improved since 1995-96 to an estimated 5,406,300 annual trips, which is around 56% of the 1987 ferry patronage (largely the same timetable).

Sources of data: Figures for 1995-6 are from I.P.A.R.T.'s March 1996 Transport Review Interim Report - Buses and Ferries(p45). Figures for 1999-2000 to 2002-3 are from Manly Council's State of the Environment Report 2004-5 (p27) (data was sourced from Sydney Ferries). Figures for 2003-4 to 2005-6 are from Sydney Ferries Corporation's Submission to I.P.A.R.T. for the Review of Ferry Fares 2006 (p37), Note there is an overlap between the last two sets of data revealing a variance in the patronage figures of up to 1%, with one figure, the 2004-5 ferry patronage, having a 2.4% variation between the two sources. Figures for 2006-7 are estimates extrapolated from the Manly Fact Sheet (p3).

Sea Eagle at Manly Wharf on Monday 29th December 2008

Sea Eagle waits at Manly Wharf for its 9:35 am departure to Circular Quay, on Monday 29th December 2008.

Jetcat Passenger Loadings

The estimated 2006-7 annual Jetcat patronage figure equated to an average of 15,700 passenger trips per week. From the December 2007 Jetcat timetable there were typically a total of 115 return services (ex-Circular Quay) operated per week, which equated to 61,640 one-way seats. Thus the average seat utilisation was around 25.5% across all timetabled Jetcat services. For comparison the 1987 utilisation figure for the Hydrofoils was 27.8% (203 return services per week in 1987). Note for a peak hour commuter service the maximum utilisation (both directions) would be just over 50% - i.e. the boat leaves full in the direction of the peak and then returns virtually empty, to fill up again in the direction of the peak, and so on.

There was a real-time Available Seats count displayed at the passenger gates at both Manly and Circular Quay, which is also a public display of the passenger load on each Jetcat trip. Thus from sample passenger loading statistics it can be noted the weekday morning average seat utilisation from Manly (peak direction) was typically 54%, the afternoon average seat utilisation from Circular Quay (peak direction) is typically 52% and the weekend average seat utilisation is around 14% (both directions). The most popular services ex-Manly were the nearly fully loaded 7:25, 7:45 and 8:05 weekday morning services and ex-Sydney fully loaded 18:10 and 18:40 weekday evening services.

The total evening Jetcat patronage was significantly lower than the morning patronage and suggests the ex-Sydney frequency of the Jetcat timetable needed to be increased between 6pm and 7:30 pm to attract more of the morning Jetcat passengers. (The frequency of afternoon departures was previously reduced as one of the changes in the September 1998 timetable.) Given the times of the peak demand, the core clientele of the Jetcat service appears to be office workers.

The loading statistics also reveal in excess of 1500 local residents are directly affected by the decision to withdraw the service. This figure is equivalent to around 4% of the total population of the Manly Local Government Area.

Manly Ferry and Jetcat Fares 1988-2008 compared to C.P.I.

The following tables trace the Hydrofoil and Jetcat ticket prices over 20 years. The data is from I.P.A.R.T fare determinations and original magnetic-stripe tickets (which have the fares printed on them). Shown for comparison are the single Manly Ferry and 1988 Hydrofoil ticket price adjusted for inflation (using National Consumer Price Index (C.P.I.)).

Note the C.P.I. is a consumer index calculated to include items like food, recreation, housing and transport. External cost changes faced by Sydney Ferries are primarily influenced by labour rates and fuel costs, internal costs are influenced by the numbers of people employed and how effectively both capital and labour resources are used.

Year 1988-9 1989-90 1990-1 1991-2 1992-3 1993-4 1994-5 1995-6 1996-7 1997-8
Manly Ferry Single $1.60 ? $3.20 $3.30 $3.40 $3.40 $3.40 $3.60 $3.80 $4.00
Manly Ferry FerryTen (per trip) Not Avail. ? $1.92 ? ? ? ? ? $2.66 $2.80
Jetcat/Hydrofoil Single $3.00 ? $4.30 $4.50 $4.60 $4.60 $4.60 $4.80 $5.20 $5.20
Jetcat/Hydrofoil FerryTen (per trip) Not Avail. $3.00 $3.20 $3.35 $3.65 $3.83 $3.96 $3.96 $4.16 $4.30
1988 Hydrofoil fare adjusted for National C.P.I. $3.00 (base) $3.24 $3.51 $3.68 $3.74 $3.78 $3.83 $3.96 $4.17 $4.22

Year 1998-9 1999-00 2000-1 2001-2 2002-3 2003-4 2005 Y 2006 Y
Manly Ferry Single $4.00 $4.60 $5.00 $5.30 $5.40 $5.80 $6.00 $6.20
Manly Ferry FerryTen (per trip) $3.00 $3.40 $3.74 $3.88 $3.93 $4.29 $4.51 $4.66
Jetcat/Hydrofoil Single $5.20 $5.80 $6.30 $6.60 $6.70 $7.50 $7.90 $7.90
Jetcat/Hydrofoil FerryTen (per trip) $4.40 $4.80 $5.20 $5.47 $5.58 $6.25 $6.57 $6.57
1988 Hydrofoil fare adjusted for National C.P.I. $4.22 $4.29 $4.84 (inc GST) $5.14 (inc GST) $5.29 (inc GST) $5.44 (inc GST) $5.56 (inc GST) $5.70 (inc GST)

Year 2007 Y 2008 Y 2009 Y 2010 Y* 2011 Y 2012 Y 2013 Y 2014 Y 2015 Y
Manly Ferry Single $6.40 $6.40 $6.40 $6.40/$6.60 $6.60 $7.00 $7.20 $7.40 $7.60
Manly Ferry FerryTen (per trip) $4.81 $4.81 $4.81 $4.81/$5.28 $5.28 $5.60 $5.76 $5.92 $6.08^
Jetcat/Hydrofoil Single $8.20 $8.20 - - - - - - -
Jetcat/Hydrofoil FerryTen (per trip) $6.78 $6.78 - - - - - - -
1988 Hydrofoil fare adjusted for National C.P.I. $5.87 (inc GST) $6.02 (inc GST) - - - - - - -

Manly Hydrofoil Ferryten Ticket 1991
Manly Jet 10 Ticket January 1992
Manly Jet 10 Ticket August 1992
Manly Jet 10 Ticket 1993
Manly Jet 10 Ticket 1995

* = The first 2010 single fare and TravelTen rates applied from the beginning of the year (when TravelPass were increased but single and TravelTen tickets remained unchanged), the second applied after the TravelPass to MyMulti changeover on 18th April 2010. ^ = The 2015 FerryTen2 price was set but only the Concession (half-fare) 10-trip ticket was actually sold beyond 31st August 2014. Sales of all magnetic-stripe tickets, other than singles and returns, ended on 31st December 2015. Although sales have ended, all valid magnetic-stripe tickets remain usable, which makes the decision to also suddenly withdraw all support information about these tickets look rather heavy handed.

However it can be noted that from the passenger's perspective, Manly Ferry and Jetcat travel is significantly more expensive in real terms than it was in 1988. Particularly the single ticket Manly Ferry fare in 2008 is actually higher than the inflation corrected Hydrofoil fare of 1988. This has been the case since the mid-1999 I.P.A.R.T. fare determination. Corrected for inflation, the $1.60 single ticket Manly Ferry fare of 1988 would currently be around $3.21 (inc. 10% G.S.T.). Allowing for the G.S.T. introduced in July 2000, the 2008 Manly Ferry single fare is thus around 100% above inflation (and in fact is 6% above the inflation and G.S.T. corrected 1988 Hydrofoil fare). The Manly Ferryten ticket in 2008 was $4.81 per trip which was 50% above the inflation and G.S.T. corrected 1988 single fare.

The Jetcat 10 (per trip) discount price generally stayed on par with the inflation corrected 1988 Hydrofoil fare until the mid-1999 I.P.A.R.T. fare determination, where the differential was increased. Allowing for G.S.T., the 2008 Jetcat 10 fare (per trip) is 12% above inflation. If the Jetcat 10 fare had been increased to match the percentage change in the Ferryten fare over the last 20 years, the discounted fare in 2008 would have been about $9 per trip.

Given the reduction in passenger numbers being carried since 1987, it would be interesting to be able to determine if the real fare increases (excluding inflation) have had a significant effect on the patronage. Fare increases after 1996 appears to have been driven in part by the substantial reduction in passengers carried (i.e. to improve cost recovery against fixed boat operating costs which remain much the same whatever the patronage).

Jetcat Revenue and Ticket Mix

Beyond the utilisation statistics, which are a function of demand and the vessels used, the most important figure was the maximum number of seats being sold per week, as the fares from these should have provided the revenue to operate all Jetcat services run over the week.

From I.P.A.R.T.'s March 1996 Transport Review Interim Report - Buses and Ferries and from the Manly Fact Sheet (pp3-4), the estimated Jetcat ticket type usage and revenue as follows:-

  1995-96 2006-07
Ticket Type Pass. Trips Percent Fare Amount Pass. Trips Percent Fare Amount
Jetcat Single 812,988 56% $4.80 $3,943,543 275,886 34% $8.20 $2,262,261
Jetcat 10 (per trip) 640,012 44% $3.96 $2,500,457 515,256 63.5% $6.78 $3,493,441
SydneyPass and other - - - -   20,286 2.5% included   $129,828
Estimated Revenue 1,453,000     $6,444,000 811,428     $5,885,500

Jetcat Operation Expenditure

Whereas the revenue was fairly easy to determine from published information, the true cost of operating the Jetcats is harder to establish. The cost of on board crew, fuel and engine overhauls (from engine hours) can be estimated from the public timetable, but the cost of day to day maintenance is unknown. Sydney Ferries has on occasion reported claimed costs for operating the Jetcat service but the high staff numbers in their city office (reportedly 130) raise questions about how many staff were actually needed to run the Jetcat service verses how many staff hours and overhead costs were charged to this service.

The public Jetcat timetable can be converted into a computer spreadsheet that shows the crew hours, the number of return trips, and the main engine operation hours per week. The manufacturer's engine data and number of return trips gives the fuel consumption and the main engine operational hours combined with the manufacturer's overhaul/replacement costs gives the engine wear costs.

If the crew were already rostered on, the breakeven patronage to run an additional Jetcat service (marginal cost) based on fuel consumption and engine wear was around 66 passengers per return trip. This is equivalent to 66 travelling one way in peak hour with the Jetcat returning empty or 33 passengers going each way on weekends.

Currently reported Jetcat operations results are as follows:-

  1995-96 2006-07
Jetcat Passenger trips 1,453,000 811,428
Jetcat / ferry replacement
return trips per week (typical)
199/57 106/10
Average Revenue per Passenger $4.43 $7.25
Total Revenue $6,444,000 $5,885,500
Rostered Crew Costs unknown $2,188,000
Fuel Costs unknown $1,666,000
Fare Collection, Oils and Lubricants,
Uniforms, Crew Taxis and Travel,
Insurance and Depreciation Costs
unknown $1,657,000
Routine and Planned Maintenance Costs
(Contracted, In-house Trade Hours and Parts)
unknown $4,295,000
Operations management, Training,
Safety, Security, and Fleet Maintenance
Management and Supervision Costs
unknown $919,000
Total operation Costs $10,123,000 $10,727,000
Operating Loss $3,201,000 $4,841,469
Fare increase to break-even on annual patronage $2.20 $5.97

Sir David Martin passes under the harbour bridge as it heads towards Circular Quay

With the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House in view Sir David Martin heads towards Circular Quay from Sydney Ferries Balmain maintenance yard.

Jetcat Reliability Statistics

Together with revenue and expenditure, Manly Jetcat reliability was one of the most important operational issues.

Being premium public transport at a higher ticket price, the public rightly expect the Jetcat service to be operated reliably in accordance with the published timetable. However due to the parallel Manly Ferry service, there was always the capacity to use the two services to provide backup for each other. However the extra time to travel by ferry results in Jetcat cancellations replaced by ferry services being perceived as less satisfactory than ferry cancellations being replaced by Jetcat services (except where passenger capacity of the replacement Jetcat is insufficient).

With a two-boat timetable and three Jetcats, it might appear there were sufficient boats to ensure a fairly continuous service. However there were not always three boats available. Particularly when one Jetcat is out of service for repairs or in dry-dock for annual hull inspection, cleaning and repainting, there is no back-up boat available. In this case (which often takes 4-6 weeks for an annual docking) if one of the two in service has an operational problem, timetabled services can be cancelled.

As an example of the typical Sydney Ferries Jetcat reliability, the boat availability per month and the number of Jetcat services cancelled per month between November 2006 and April 2007 is shown below:-

Month Jetcats Available Jetcat Trips cancelled
November 2006 2.13 12
December 2006 2.37 44
January 2007 2.82 32
February 2007 2.10 20
March 2007 2.25 3
April 2007 1.89 18

The most obvious and slightly surprising conclusion from the above data is that there appears little correlation between the average number of Jetcats available and the total number of trips cancelled in each month.

The weekday Jetcat timetable required two boats, and the weekend (and public holiday) timetable required one boat. To place the number of cancelled trips in context, one boat missing for one morning peak would result in 10 cancellations and one boat missing for one evening peak would result in 6 cancellations. On average around 966 Jetcat trips were operated per month (the true monthly total depends on actual calendar days and public holidays etc.). With average passenger loadings, the cancellations shown would equate to at least 8,500 Jetcat passenger trips lost over the 6 months.

It has also been reported that Sydney Ferries Jetcat reliability statistics may have been distorted by additional service cancellations, which were not caused by equipment failure or Jetcat repairs. It has been suggested that due to the Jetcat refuelling facility at Manly Wharf not being commissioned, a return run was cancelled on each weekend day to allow the boats to be refuelled at the Balmain dockyard. This was resolved by removing these trips in the December 2007 timetable. Additionally, as previously, noted Jetcat services were routinely cancelled to release crew for the Manly ferries.

Interior view of Sir David Martin in December 2008

The 238 seat main passenger saloon of the Sir David Martin looking aft in December 2008. Unlike the Manly ferries, the Jetcats still retained their comfortable padded seating, but only this Jetcat retained carpet in the passenger area (a maintenance economy issue). Note the Jetcats were designed to facilitate rapid peak-hour unloading with two sets of double doors on each side, and other than the 30 outdoor seats upstairs, no passenger was further than 3 seats from an aisle and 8 rows from the nearest door.

Jetcat Engine Maintenance and Life

It certainly is true that the length of the Manly to Circular Quay run was hard on the Jetcat structure, main engines and other propulsion equipment. Due to the length of the run, the number of boat starts (to operational speed) per hour of operation is high. The speed of the boats and the distance travelled typically result in a maximum of three starts per hour in peak-hour.

Generally the hulls and superstructure of the Jetcats have been able to withstand this duty. The major issue has been the increased wear on the main engines due to the large number of starts, combined with short running time and the consequent reduction in expected engine life. There have been suggestions in some circles that the high speed Jetcats (and the Hydrofoils before them) are not suitable for the Manly to Circular Quay run, due to excessive engine wear making it impossible to maintain a reliable service and leading to overly costly engine repairs.

However the real issue appeared to be a need for more strategic and pro-active management of Jetcat maintenance. There needed to be acceptance that the high-speed run was hard on the engines, and consequently an effective maintenance regime should be organised to address this issue, to ensure high reliability and maintenance cost efficiency. The key point is unlike larger/slower ferries, the main diesel engines in the Jetcats should be viewed and managed as consumable items.

Incat-Crowther, the designers of the Jetcats, claim the "unimpeded engine removal hatches" on the Jetcats allowed overnight engine changes. So the original Jetcat designers clearly anticipated the engine wear issue, and by implication how it was to be managed - that is they expected complete spare overhauled main engines be held by Sydney Ferries so as to be immediately available for exchange.

Under the present timetable, with the present Deutz TBD620V16 diesel engines, the Jetcat main engines appear to need full overhauls or replacement around every 4-5 years. Due to the operational demands of the Manly run, it should probably be assumed that only 12,000 hours of reliable operation can be obtained from each of the two main diesel engines on each Jetcat before a rebuild (or replacement) is required. Thus each hour of Jetcat operation costs around $90 (full overhaul) to $180 (new engines) per boat in engine wear. For comparison the fuel bill per boat is typically $330 per hour (average 1.1 return trips per hour). At current patronage, seat utilisation, fare levels and ticketing mix, engine wear would be about 9% (overhauls) to 18% (new engines) of the total revenue.

Maximising Availability and Reliability

There are various approaches that can be used to maximise boat availability. If money was plentiful, ordering a fourth Jetcat may have appeared the obvious solution. However in the present age the State Government Treasury tightly limits government capital expenditure to minimise borrowing (for ideological reasons). Even if funds were made available to buy a fourth Jetcat, the cost would be higher due the fact that the Jetcats were custom designed and built for the Manly run and are not a standard production design (as the earlier Hydrofoils were). Secondly the borrowing to buy the boat would incur an annual interest cost, and the whole boat would incur annual maintenance and depreciation costs (the latter is typically the purchase cost divided by the expected life of the boat in years).

The practical solution is to buy just a complete set of the boats' principle equipment, and any extra items that are routinely expected to fail in service. The concept is not new - the NSW railways were using this approach 80 years ago. From the above it appears the designers of the Jetcats expected this approach to be used for these boats. The complete set of equipment is kept in store in a fully overhauled state ready to go. For the Jetcats this would include two complete spare diesel engines, water jet units, diesel alternator sets, hydraulic units, various pumps and motors, all the electrical control panels, and in addition probably extra engine fuel pumps, turbocharger units, sets of engine fuel injectors and so on.

The first objective for maintaining spare equipment is to have spare parts immediately on hand to increase boat availability and effect repairs quickly by removing and replacing an entire defective unit, rather than diagnosing, dismantling and repairing a unit in the boat, which results in the boat being out of service for as long as this takes, including any wait for parts not held in stock.

The second objective for maintaining spare equipment is to have a full set of overhauled equipment available as each boat reaches its major overhaul dry docking, so that the time taken for the docking is reduced to an absolute minimum, being only the time required to overhaul the hull and simultaneously "change out" all the boat's principle equipment with freshly overhauled equipment. This equipment is then fully overhauled (or replaced, as required) and again held in store as standby equipment, also ready for the next overhaul docking etc.. The cost of a set of principle equipment for the Jetcats would be around $3 million to buy today, which would cost around $300,000 annually at commercial interest rates (though government borrowing cost is about half this). In comparison the revenue loss from cancelling a heavily loaded peak-hour Jetcat is around $1800 per trip (without considering the public relations impact).

It has been reported there were delays in fixing Jetcat faults due to delays incurred in awaiting specialist external contractors (rather than having necessary skilled staff in-house) and delays resulting from having to order in parts due to a fairly minimal inventory of major spares being kept. If correct, both these issues would have delayed Jetcats being returned to service and been factors in the number of service cancellations and reliability statistics.


Sydney Ferries claimed the main problems of the Manly Jetcat service were the operational losses caused by operation costs exceeding revenue and the poor reliability of the vessels.

The difficulties with the Manly high speed service started with the introduction of two larger Hydrofoils in the mid 1980s that were not as appropriate to the Manly run as the earlier smaller Hydrofoils. On somewhat erroneous logic, the mistake of not getting the right new Hydrofoil design, combined with poor management of accident damage to one of the same new Hydrofoils, lead to the long standing Manly Hydrofoil service being replaced by custom designed catamarans propelled by water jets (“Jetcats”) from 1990.

The Jetcat service has been operated on five principle timetables over the last 18 years; the Hydrofoil timetable (1990), the Hydrofoil timetable with night ferry replacement (1992), weekday peak hour, reduced weekend and night ferry replacement (1998), weekday peak hour and light weekend service (2001) and weekday peak hour, evening and light weekend service (2003).

The progressive reduction of Jetcat services operated per week (199 in 1990 to 106 in 2008) has lead to a decline in Jetcat patronage over 20 years. In 2007 Jetcat patronage was estimated to be 59% of the Hydrofoil patronage of 1987. The Jetcat seat utilisation is around 25% across all services in 2007. The afternoon weekday peak hour patronage back to Manly is significantly less than the morning patronage from Manly, due to lower frequency of afternoon services following the 1998 timetable change. In 2008 five weekday Jetcat services were approaching or at boat capacity every day (268 passengers).

In 2008 around 1500 local residents regularly used the Jetcat service every weekday.

Before 2008 there were previous considerations to rationalise the Manly Ferry and Jetcat service (1996) or replace the Jetcats (2000).

The Manly Jetcat/Ferry fare differential was progressively lost over 20 years with the Jetcat fare declining from 187% (1988) to 128% (2008) of the ferry fare. This was caused by the ferry fare increasing by 50% (10trip) to 100% (single) in real terms, allowing for inflation and the introduction of the GST. In real terms the single Manly Ferry fare in 2008 is higher than the inflation corrected 1988 Hydrofoil fare.

The Jetcat fare was not sufficiently increased over the same interval to retain the differential in real terms, leading to loss of Jetcat revenue and increasing Jetcat service losses.

The Jetcats were designed to allow quick engine changes but Sydney Ferries did not hold any spare engines to allow this facility to be used. There were insufficient stocks of major Jetcat equipment items held, which reduced boat availability and reliability.

Sydney Ferries management simply did not properly organise the maintenance of the Jetcats, nor make available sufficient resources in the form of spare equipment, such as main engines as outlined above, to ensure the maximum availability, and service reliability of the Manly Jetcat service.

In addition it appears that the overhaul interval required for the Jetcat main engines, as determined by the Manly operation, was being exceeded and may have resulted in two costly new engine replacements being required in 2008.

A factor motivating the 2008 Jetcat withdrawal plan appears to have been the avoidance of a capital re-equipment cost to overhaul four main engines (estimated at $500,000 per engine).


If there had been an option of continuing the Jetcat service under Sydney Ferries (SF) it would have been recommended:-

  • a separate specialist high speed operation management team be created within Sydney Ferries with complete authority to oversee and direct the Jetcat operations (only);
  • that all four un-overhauled main Jetcat engines be overhauled as soon as possible to prevent loss of these engines (estimated cost $2,000,000);
  • that a set of principle equipment be ordered for the Jetcats to increase boat reliability and availability (estimated cost $3,000,000);
  • that a comprehensive review of maintenance management by SF be carried out, particularly examining cost and time delay implications of using contractors in lieu of increasing skill levels and employing more appropriate specialist trade staff within SF's Balmain workshop;
  • that a detailed examination and review of all Jetcat and SF overhead costs be carried out, with benchmarking to equivalent international high speed operations, with an unrestricted review of fares charged then undertaken to reasonably maximise cost recovery; and
  • on re-establishment of high service reliability levels, the Jetcat timetable be progressively restored to be similar to the two-boat Hydrofoil timetable of 1989 to maximise Jetcat patronage.

Due to capital raising and lower capital cost (interest rate) issues, it is considered in the best interests of the Manly residents and the travelling public that the Manly Ferry service, including any high speed service, be owned, maintained and operated by the State Government. However the management of Sydney Ferries should be significantly improved to raise service standards, improve staff morale and efficiency and ensure the management focus of Sydney Ferries becomes more outward looking to maximise passenger benefit and satisfaction.

In addition, the standard of operation reporting in the Sydney Ferries Annual Report needs to be significantly improved to display more useful analytical information, including patronage statistics, ticket revenue, and a break down of operating costs, including dry dockings, for each Sydney Ferries service/route operated. The number of staff in each section of the organisation should also be detailed. These improvements should enable better supervision of Sydney Ferries by Parliament, Local Councils and the general public.

MM 2009