PASSENGERS on some cross-Solent ferry services will have to stay in their vehicles during the voyage instead of using the lounges.

Wightlink and Red Funnel have announced a raft of changes which come into force today<THURS> in a bid to protect staff and customers during the pandemic.

Wightlink said it was working hard to provide a "lifeline" connection to the Isle of Wight.

In a statement the company said: "We are also doing our best to protect customers while they travel with us and our colleagues onboard our ships and at our ports.

"Although our passenger lounges are generally large and spacious with room for everyone who wants to travel, some customers have asked if they can remain in their vehicles during their crossings. This is not usually allowed because of safety regulations.

"Wightlink has been working actively with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to find a solution.

"From Thursday some sailings on the Portsmouth–Fishbourne routes will operate on a ‘remain in vehicle’ basis for all drivers and their passengers. No foot passengers will be carried on these services."

But the relaxation the rules applies only to the St Clare ferry.

The statement says: "Passenger lounges will be closed and shops and cafés will not be open. There will also be no access to onboard toilets from the vehicle deck so customers should use the facilities provided at Portsmouth and Fishbourne terminals before departure.

"All other services (both Portsmouth-Fishbourne and Lymington-Yarmouth) will operate in the usual way. Customers wanting to change their bookings can do free of charge online."

Red Funnel has introduced similar changes.

A company spokesman said: "The main passenger accommodation areas will be closed and passengers must remain in their vehicles.

"This 'all or nothing' solution requiring all passengers to remain in vehicles is rooted in ensuring that robust safety, fire control and evacuation procedures can be maintained.

'A number of additional passenger safety and operational controls are also required to allow this exceptional and unprecedented exemption, and instructions will be clearly communicated to passengers prior to boarding.

"Vehicle space will be restricted on these crossings to due to requirements for larger gaps between vehicles as a means of ensuring adequate pathways should there be a need to evacuate.

"We anticipate being able to extend this exceptional service in coming days and will update our website accordingly."