Hydrofoil ferry on the Aeolian Islands – a brief history and travel tips

Hydrofoil ferries have been an integral part of the Aeolian Islands’ transportation system for 13 years – starting 2010 with Liberty Lines winning the tender to connect Milazzo and Messina with the Aeolian Islands faster than before.

Hydrofoil types

These unique vessels use hydrofoil technology to lift the hull above the water’s surface, reducing drag and increasing speed (fully submerged type). The hydrofoils on the aeolian islands are able to go with up to 74km/h with their fastest ship. All hydrofoils are only able to transport passengers (no cars). The hydrofoils to and from the aeolian islands are operated by Liberty Lines (who where established in 1993 under the name of Ustica Lines). With over 30 fast vessels today (between Hydrofoils, Catamarans and Monohulls) and also the largest hydrofoil in the world (Gianni M., can transport up to 350 passengers) Liberty Lines now offers the fastest connection between Sicily and surrounding islands.

Here’s a look at the history of hydrofoil ferries that connect the Aeolian Islands:

  1. Hydrofoil technology was developed in the early 20th century and was first used for military applications. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that hydrofoil ferries were developed for commercial use.
  2. The first hydrofoil ferry to operate in the Mediterranean started in 1993. The first hydrofoil was soon followed by other hydrofoil ferries, which revolutionized transportation on the Mediterranean Sea.
  3. Today, hydrofoil ferries are an important part of the Aeolian Islands’ transportation system. These vessels offer a fast and convenient way to travel between the islands, reducing travel times and increasing accessibility. This is both important for locals so traveling to work, school and doctors are easily in reach as well as for tourism.
  4. Hydrofoil ferries used on the Aeolian Islands are operated by several companies, including SNAV and Liberty Lines. They are specially designed for use in the Mediterranean Sea, with features such as reinforced hulls and powerful engines.
  5. Hydrofoil ferries have been featured in several movies and TV shows, including the James Bond film “Thunderball”. These vessels have a unique and futuristic look that makes them popular in the entertainment industry.

How hydrofoils changed the Aeolian islands

The introduction of hydrofoil ferries has had a significant impact on life and tourism on the Aeolian Islands. These vessels have made travel between the islands faster and more convenient, allowing visitors to easily explore an islands in a single day. This has increased the islands’ accessibility and attractiveness as a tourist destination, bringing economic benefits to the local communities. Hydrofoil ferries have also improved the quality of life for residents of the islands by providing reliable and efficient transportation options.

If you compare travel times of normal ferries to the hydrofoils its very clear why hydrofoils had such a huge impact on tourism on the aeolian islands:

Ferry (Siremar)Hydrofoil (Liberty Lines)
Milazzo – Salina3:50 h1:35 h
Lipari – Salina1:25 h0:25 h
Milazzo – Stromboli5:05 h1:10 h
Lipari – Alicudi3:35 h2:50 h
Napoli – Salina12:40 h(SNAV) 5:35 h

So you can easily see why its now possible to do a simple day trip to any of the islands from Sicily or also do day trips from any of the islands to the neighbouring islands. Today its also the most conveniant way of travel with multiple connections per day compare to normal ferries.

What should I know before traveling via hydrofoil?

Hydrofoils in general are not very different to normal ferries – the main difference is that they only transport passengers (and their luggage), no cars or scooter would fit. In general they look more like an airplane, with rows of seating, airconditioning and the like.

My recommended way to get to e.g. Salina fast and easy with a hydrofoil is:

  1. Book a ticket for a hydrofoil in advance on the website of Liberty Lines (22-26€) either from Messina or from Milazzo to Santa Marina Salina (~1,5 hours).
  2. Book a ticket for larger luggage (check their website for sizing, hand luggage is normally free) if needed.
  3. Be there on time (the ships don’t wait for you). In Milazzo port there is a small cafe where you can grab some food, coffee and ice cream. Especially in summer it might be worth beeing there a bit earlier to get a seat where you want.
  4. Recommended seating: lower deck on front part of the ship by the windows. Not all tourists find the lower deck and you have a great view on how the ship glides on the water once the hydrofoil starts.
  5. Enjoy the ride!

Please note that especially in the summer months ferries and hydrofoils might be fully booked on arrival, so make sure you book your ticket in advance on the website of Liberty Lines. Also check my tips on other how to get to Salina including some alternatives.

Will I get seasick when using a hydrofoil?

In general hydrofoils are much more stable than ferries as they are traveling so much faster. The normal sway you might experience on a larger ferry or cruiseship because of wind and swell is not noteable on an hydrofoil. So its less likely to get seasick if you are normally affected by that. The only time where its less fun is when its very windy – in combination with waves the hydrofoils are more likely to dip in and out of the water. If you had issues with that in the past – bring medication!

Summary about the Aolian islands hydrofoil ferries

With their advanced technology and sleek design, hydrofoil ferries have become an iconic symbol of the Aeolian Islands and a testament to the islands’ innovative spirit. It’s for sure a unique experience to travel with one and going highspeed on the water.

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