This paper outlines the EU regulatory framework and analyses current practice in four European countries in respect of public procurement and tendering of ferry services. Tender management for major ferry services resides with national government agencies, while tenders for smaller volume regional and/or inter-isles services are generally managed by local authorities and/or regional transport authorities. Operator selection criteria increasingly emphasises service quality aspects, and environmental impacts, as well as price (i.e. amount of subsidy required). There is a continued trend towards privately-owned operators providing and investing in essential ferry services, with an increasing role played by larger international integrated transport organisations. For transport authorities, ferry service procurement involves a continuous evolutionary process of specifying, offering, selecting, monitoring and reviewing services supplied. Based on the information collected and analysed, the authors have developed a ‘tender route map’ which explains the different stages and key issues concerning public procurement of ferry services.