A ferry is a boat that is designed to move people from one point to another. In cities located on large bodies of water, or areas with a large number of rivers and canals, ferries form an important part of the transportation system. In addition to being used by people and their cars, they are also utilized by shipping trucks and trains, and used to load and transport materials in bulk. A number of different designs accommodate different uses.
The term has been in use since at least the 1400s, and is related to an older Germanic word. Before bridges became widespread, a ferry would have been the only way to cross most bodies of water. Typically, the operator lived by the water, so that travelers could have rapid access to the services of the ferry. They ranged in size from small rowboats to much larger boats that could potentially hold horses and supplies as well as people.
In general, a modern ferry runs on a regular schedule, allowing people to plan trips around it. In population dense areas, the service may be very frequent, to accommodate large numbers of people. The most basic type of ferry just holds people, usually providing minimal amenities because the trip is short. When the boat arrives at the other end, the people can disburse onto other forms of public transit such as buses or trains. In many parts of the world, people use ferries to avoid commute traffic.
Other ferries also hold personal vehicles. Many of these ply locations such as the English Channel, carrying people back and forth between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. In some cases, people stay in their cars on the ferry, while on longer trips, people find seating in the boat. It can also be used to load entire freight trains or shipping trucks, allowing companies to quickly move goods along major waterways.
Many different designs are used for ferries, depending on how they will be utilized. For longer trips, the design may include a cafe and other amenities to keep travelers entertained. Freight ferries tend to be rather utilitarian in design and appearance, while some passenger ships are sleek and decorative. Many passenger ferries take the form of high speed catamarans that can quickly get people where they need to go. In many cases, a ferry is built with a double ended design, meaning that either end can face forward while sailing, which saves time at docking and departure since the boat does not have to be repositioned.