The Lough Swilly Ferry had a bumper summer season in 2016, with almost 20,000 foot passengers using the service.
The demand for the ferry is so great that the operator now hopes to have a boat capable of carrying 18 cars in place for this summer.
Figures released by Donegal County Council at Tuesday’s meeting of Inishowen Municipal District show 19,996 foot passengers and 5,210 cars availed of the service last year.
The busiest day of the summer period was Bank Holiday Monday, August 1, with 595 foot passengers and 68 cars. Ferry operator Dominic Sweeney said August 1 was “a bit of craic and everyone enjoyed it”.
“We were late starting last year so we were delighted with the numbers. Our aim is to use a bigger boat this year, it is definitely on the cards.
“We’re hoping to start the service a lot earlier this year, but it depends when the boat comes in. We had to cancel 60 sailings in 2015, but the council have assured us that dredging will be carried out at Buncrana and Rathmullan piers for hassle free sailing.
“Hopefully with a bigger boat we’ll have a good summer,” he said.
The Lough Swilly ferry service was originally established in 2004 but ceased operations in 2013.
A tender was put out earlier this year, and The Arranmore Car and Passenger Ferry Service were successful. Cara na nOilean Teo took over operations in summer 2015 and has a contract to run the service until 2019.
Councillor Nicholas Crossan said the Lough Swilly ferry was a “vital” tourist link for the Wild Atlantic Way.
“The Wild Atlantic Way is the biggest tourist attraction we have.
“I think more visitors to Inishowen will use the ferry to cross to Rathmullan instead of driving to Letterkenny first.
“The scenery while you’re crossing is lovely, and I think the figures will be up this year.
“I believe that if we get sunshine this summer, we will be seeing record numbers using the ferry service,” said Cllr Crossan.
The Lough Swilly Ferry is expected to sail for a minimum 13 weeks from mid June to mid September.