There have long been sailing vessels offering to carry passengers across short stretches of open water, such as the English Channel or the Irish Sea. As hulls and rigs improved, these sailing packets, as they were known, came to operate regular services. At least, they were as regular as wind and tide allowed. The uncertainty, discomfort and hazards meant people only used sailing packets when they really had to.
Steam transforms services
Paddle steamer `Golden Eagle`
The coming of steam transformed these cross channel services, almost overnight. They could now be run to a timetable. Even more importantly, they could offer a predictable length of voyage, almost irrespective of wind and weather. (Early steamers were not that powerful, and their masters were reluctant to set out in bad weather.) Steamers were less likely to be wrecked than a sailing ship. As a result, in the 1820s and 1830s, many steam services were inaugurated. Passengers were delighted that they knew when the steam packet would sail and (usually) when it would arrive, and that their time at sea would be as short as possible.