Low Water Levels at Dresden Lead to Cancellations

With water levels currently as low as 26 inches (0.65m) at Dresden there have been cancellations of the paddle steamer sailings during this last week with no sailings in Saxon Switzerland on some days and the Pillnitz Castle cruises from Dresden pulled on others.

The business there is very well run with eight paddle steamers currently in service, making it the largest operational paddle steamer fleet anywhere in the world, with all run in the most efficient manner possible. For example, despite their sizes of between 55 and 69.7m in length (Waverley is 71.2m)  they each have an operating crew of just four: captain, two "Bootsman" and one machinist. That's right, both bridge and engine room have one man operation.

PS Stadt Wehlen's oscillating engine.

PS Dresden's engine.

Starboard bridge wing console on the PS Meissen.

Modern technology is used to facilitate operations. On this console on the starboard bridge wing of PS Meissen is the electric telegraph to the engine room for engine movements, a central electric tiller so that the captain can steer the ship himself without the need for a separate helmsman and, on the right, are the six buttons for three speeds for the bow thrust to port or starboard. These steamers draw only 18 inches (46cm) so if anyone tells you that you can't fit a bow thrust into a very confined space in a paddle steamer bow then point them in the direction of Dresden.

The food is simple. For example you can buy sausages with bread, sausages with a dollop of potato salad, schnitzel with a dollop of potato salad, fried chicken and chips and so on.

The operation is centred in a tourist honeypot with the business model including one and a half hour round trips from Dresden, the three hour round trip to Schloss Pillnitz, sailings linking Dresden with Bad Schandau in the South and Meissen in the north and connections throughout Saxon Switzerland in between plus some evening cruises including sometimes with a jazz band.

In common with many passenger vessel operators today, the numbers which the steamers can carry have been slashed in recent years to improve passenger comfort with the aim that everyone should be able to sit comfortably in a chair at a table. When I was there last week on one day both the both the 9.30 from Dresden to Pillnitz and the 9.45 to Meissen were both billed as sold out although neither of them were anywhere near their official passenger certificate capacity.

If you want to see how you can make money with paddle steamers run to a high standard in an entirely commercial fashion on trips aimed not primarily at enthusiasts but instead targeting a wider range of significant and moneyed market segments, then go to Dresden and see how it is done.

John Megoran


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