The existence of the strait had already been suggested by the master of the Sydney Cove when he reached Sydney having been wrecked on Preservation Island. He reported that the strong south westerly swell and the tides and currents suggested that the island was in a channel linking the Pacific and southern Indian Ocean. The Governor of New South Wales, John Hunter thus wrote to Joseph Banks in August 1797 that it seemed certain the strait existed.
Like the rest of the waters surrounding Tasmania, and particularly because of its limited depth, it is notoriously rough, with many ships lost there during the 19th century. A lighthouse was erected on Deal Island in 1848 to assist ships in the eastern part of the Straits, but there were no guides to the western entrance until the Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse was completed in 1859, followed by another at Cape Wickham at the northern end of King Island in 1861.
Despite the strait's difficult waters it provided a safer and less boisterous passage for ships on the route from Europe or India to Sydney in the early 19th century. The strait also saved 700 miles distance on the voyage.
There are over 50 islands in Bass Strait. Major islands include:
South eastern section:
North eastern section:
The domestic sea route is serviced by two Spirit of Tasmania passenger vehicle ferries, based in Devonport, Tasmania. The ships travel daily in opposite directions between Devonport and Station Pier in Melbourne, as overnight trips with additional daytime trips during the peak summer season.
Australian Olympic Bronze Medallist Michael Blackburn sailed a Laser Sailboat all the way across the Bass Strait. This crossing is also made semi-regularly by experienced sea kayakers, usually by island hopping on the Eastern side.
See Transportation in Tasmania for more details.
The first submarine communications cable across Bass Strait was laid in 1859. Starting at Cape Otway, Victoria, it went via King Island and Three Hummock Island, made contact with the Tasmanian mainland at Stanley Head, and then continued on to George Town. However it started failing within a few weeks of completion, and by 1861 it failed completely.
Other submarine cables include:
|Date||Northern end||Southern end|| Companies|
(Manufacturer / Operator)
|1859-1861||Cape Otway||Stanley Head|| Henley's Telegraph Works |
Tas & Vic Govts
|System 140 nm|
|1869-?||?||?|| Henley's Telegraph Works |
|System 176 nm|
|1885-?||?||?|| Telcon |
|1909-1943||?||?|| Siemens Bros |
| System 285 nm.|
Was reused at Torres Strait
|1936||Apollo Bay||Stanley|| Siemens Bros |
|First telephone cable, failed after only six months|
|1995-||Sandy Point||Boat Harbour|| ASN|
|First fibre optic cable|
|2003-||Inverloch||Stanley|| ASN Calais|
|2005-||Loy Yang||Bell Bay||Basslink||First electrical distribution cable|