Ferry or hydrofoil: what's the difference?

Solving one of the top sea mysteries

When booking a sea trip in Italy, you may come across 2 options: ferries and hydrofoils. Although most of us know what to expect when hearing the word “ferry”, hydrofoils sound a bit like a mythical sea creature, even if many ferry companies have them in their fleet.

In this article, you will learn about the main differences between a ferry and a hydrofoil, so that you choose the one that suits you best for your next trip!

Ferries and hydrofoils at the port of Naples

Ferries and hydrofoils docked at the port of Naples

Hydrofoils and ferries: differences

The main differences between ferries and hydrofoils are related to their structure, services and on-board facilities. Ferries (both conventional and high-speed) are usually larger than hydrofoils and make longer trips. On the other hand, hydrofoils are quite popular for quick crossings or as tourist boat alternatives.

See more details about ferries and hydrofoils in Italy below.

What’s a hydrofoil?

Hydrofoils are smaller vessels with no cabins or car decks. They have a distinctive look, with a winglike structure similar to the one of airplanes.

At low speeds, a hydrofoil operates like a conventional ferry, but when the speed increases, something changes. The vessel emerges and continues its navigation supported only by its wings, as if it “flies” over the sea surface!

Compared to the hull of a ferry that sails submerged, this system gives hydrofoils greater speed and reduces travel times.

Some companies that operate with hydrofoils allow passengers to travel with their pets, provided their furry friends are on a leash and muzzle. Passengers with small pets usually need to keep them inside their cages or carriers.

As for luggage limits, on hydrofoils you can normally bring only 1 piece of baggage of a specific size. We recommend that you always check with the operator about vessel specifics before booking your tickets.

Note: As hydrofoils are usually faster, hydrofoil tickets may not be as cheap as ferry tickets. However, this also depends on the route and other services provided on board.

Main characteristics of a ferry

Regarding capacity and size, ferries can be larger or smaller. Normally, large ferries operate on longer routes, while smaller vessels make quick crossings.

The larger the ferry, the more vehicles and passengers it can accommodate. That being said, not all ferries have a car deck, but most do. Similarly, larger ferries tend to come with cabins of different sizes and amenities.

Also, ferries can be conventional or high-speed. Apart from the difference in speed (duh), high-speed ferries in Italy usually operate on different crossings and sail on different itineraries than conventional vessels.

Usually, on most ferries you are allowed to travel with your pet. Your little friend will be able to walk with you on the deck, provided you don’t forget a leash and a muzzle. Common areas are normally off-limits, but some companies offer special pet-friendly cabins.

Ferryhopper suggests that you check vessel facilities and contact the ferry companies for further information. This also applies to baggage policy, which differs across companies.

A hydrofoil sailing near the Italian coast

A hydrofoil picking up speed near the Italian coast

Popular routes in Italy served by hydrofoils and ferries

If you are dreaming of a trip to Southern Italy and want to discover the beauties of Campania and the Gulf of Naples, bear in mind that most crossings are operated both by ferries and hydrofoils.

You can choose either a ferry or a hydrofoil when traveling on these 5 routes:

1. Ferries and hydrofoils from Naples to Ischia

The Naples - Ischia route is active all year round with more than 30 connections per day. Ferries operating on this route take about 1.5 hours to reach the island, while hydrofoils from Naples to Ischia make the trip in a little less than 1 hour.

Ferries depart from the Calata Porta di Massa pier, while hydrofoils to Ischia from Naples depart from Molo Beverello. The two piers are connected by a free shuttle that runs until midnight.

Tip: Take a look at the return route from Ischia to Naples, see hydrofoil timetables and ferry schedules, and choose the best option for you.

2. Ferries and hydrofoils from Naples to Capri

The route from Naples to the island of Capri is available 16 times daily. The average duration of the crossing ranges from 45 minutes by hydrofoil to 1.5 hours by ferry.

Hydrofoils to Capri depart from Molo Beverello, while ferries depart from Calata Porta di Massa (reachable from Beverello by bus). 

During the summer, there are also hydrofoils to Capri from the Mergellina pier, which is located 300m from the Mergellina railway station.

Tip: Here is some useful info about the Capri - Naples ferry route to plan your trip.

3. Ferries and hydrofoils from Naples to Procida

The route from Naples to the island of Procida is served with 20 daily connections available all year round. The ferry trip takes 1.5 hours to get to Procida, while hydrofoils reach the island in about 30 minutes.

Both ferries and hydrofoils from Naples to Procida depart from Molo Beverello and Calata Porta di Massa. The piers are about 2 km from Naples train station and you can get there on foot, by taxi, bus or metro.

4. Ferries and hydrofoils from Sorrento to Capri

The Sorrento - Capri route is serviced with more than 20 daily connections available all year round. So, you can easily get a boat from Sorrento to Capri even off-season. The route is operated by hydrofoils and high-speed ferries that usually reach the island in less than 30 minutes.

Both ferries and hydrofoils to Capri depart from the port of Marina Piccola, which is located a few steps from the historic center of Sorrento.

5. Ferries and hydrofoils from Ischia to Capri

The route from Ischia to Capri is available twice a day. It's operated by hydrofoils and high-speed ferries that reach the island in approximately 1 hour.

You can travel to Capri by ferry and hydrofoil that depart from the 3 main ports of Ischia (Ischia Porto, Casamicciola and Forio), as well as from the small tourist port of Lacco Ameno.

See all Italy ferry schedules for 2022

Sunset view on the ferry deck in Southern Italy

Enjoying a beautiful Italian sunset on the ferry deck

Where can I book my ferry/hydrofoil tickets online?

On Ferryhopper, you can book cheap ferry and hydrofoil tickets for Italy and beyond. Compare vessels, prices and schedules, and book your tickets online with just a few clicks!

If you have any questions regarding hydrofoil and ferry connections, you can always contact our Customer Support Team. We will be more than happy to help you choose the best way to reach your next vacation destination!

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