Bespoke wheelchair transfer for Stewart Island Ferry

Date: 23 December 2021

RealNZ has commissioned a new wheelchair transfer system enabling passengers to remain in the comfort of their wheelchair as they are safely transferred from shore to vessel and vice versa.

The transfer system was completed, certified, and tested, last month, and the Stewart Island ferry teams were trained to safely use the equipment last week.   

Alisha Mill was just the second person to travel in it from Bluff to Oban – and as the wheelchair platform landed on the ferry, she quickly gave it the thumbs up.  

“I thought it was an enjoyable experience compared to the last time I went over to the island. The crew members were reassuring and communicated well with me throughout the experience which made me feel I was in safe hands,” says Alisha. 

Just under a metre wide (800mm) and 2100mm long, the wheelchair transfer system has restraints, handrails and wheel stops built into the design and holds weight of up to 500kg. The vessel’s cranes have also been upgraded, with additional safety features to ensure they remain fully functional in the unlikely event of the vessel losing power or a fault developing with the crane’s hydraulics.

“There’s nothing like it in New Zealand, we have had to design the transfer system from scratch using a combination of standards and codes of practise to ensure it is fully compliant and suitable from an end user perspective.   Transferring a person in their wheelchair using a crane, is not an activity that is covered by any specific standard or regulation and therefore the solution has had to be an amalgam,” says RealNZ Head of Asset Management Chris Fleck. 

The wheelchair transfer system must be booked in advance to ensure it is available at the port.  


Alisha’s family were keen to help spread the word about the new inclusion.  “I would highly recommend fellow wheelchair users to use this service to see Rakiura. This has made it easier to go on the Ferry to be able to see my sister who works on the island,” says Alisha.  


Crossing the Foveaux Strait for the Mill family reunion - proving more of a novelty this Christmas - than a challenge.