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Kent Traditional Boat Association

Home Introduction Kentish Boats Activities Way Forward Contact Us

Kentish Boats

Kent has a wide variety of traditional working boats that were developed over the centuries.  Although many of these have now vanished from  its shores, there are survivors.  Even where there are no survivors, there may be drawings of some of these types.  In the 1930s many of Britain’s small coastal craft were recorded and these records provide valuable sources  of information on now vanished types.  This would make it possible to create replicas of these in the future.  The list  below of Kentish boats gives a selection of  some of the boats of the Kentish coasts and rivers although this is in no way exhaustive.


The above list of boat types is far from comprehensive and will be developed by the Kent Traditional Boat Association as more information becomes available.  The examples date from the nineteenth nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  There will be many boats in use before then where there are no remaining examples.  In some cases drawings may exist to show what they were like. There may even be some lines and drawings that show their construction but this is unlikely.    Sailing barges, fishing smacks and bawleys are not included in this list because these types are well-covered by existing organisations.

Being close to London there many small leisure craft were built.  Many of these were to standard national class designs but other designs originated in Kent.  An interesting example was the Marcelle that was built by a 14 year old schoolboy.  He took the lines off a boat on the beach at Whistable and built a replica over a period of two years in his parents’ garden.  Marcelle was completed in 1947 and has recently been restored.

Leisure Craft

The Lady Irene was built in 1906 as a trip boat to take holiday-makers on short trips out to sea.  She was similar to but smaller than the Deal luggers.  She is clinker-built and has  and had a lute stern.   She was gaff-rigged with a loose-footed mainsail.  She was later fitted with an engine.

Deal Trip Boat

The principal fishing boat at Deal and the coast along from it was the Deal Lugger.  These were usually about 40 ft long although the largest was 46ft.  These were sturdily built boats of clinker construction.  They had transom sterns but there was at least one example with a counter stern.  They had a cabin forward and were called ‘forepeakers’ because of this.  The rig two or three-masted with dipping lugs .  Some, were used for fishing but most were used for salvaging and servicing sailing ships in the Downs.  They were large enough to carry a ship’s anchor.  They fell out of use with the disappearance of sailing ships form the Downs at the end of the nineteenth century.

Deal Luggers

These were open boats between 22 and 30ft long and 6ft to 7ft beam.  They were clinker built with planks up to ¾ inches thick.  They carried about ¾ ton of beach ballast.  Although they could be rowed, they were more usually sailed because of their weight.  They were rigged with large square-headed lugsails.  They were used for hovelling which could include taking passengers and helping vessels in trouble on the Goodwin Sands.  It is not known whether any of these boats still survive.  

Deal Galley Punts

The Deal galley was a long open boat similar in some ways to the Cornish Gig.  They would be between 27 and 32 ft in length with fine lines and have four or six oars.  They could also be fitted with a mast and dipping lug.  They were clinker built with  elm planking on ash frames.  They were generally used to take pilots out to and off the ships lying in the downs.  Often the galleys would hook onto a ship and be towed along without the ship stopping.  Two Deal galleys survive.  One is owned by the Dover Museum.  The other, the Saxon King is now displayed in the Deal Maritime Museum.

Deal Galleys

Thanet had its own type of beach boat, the Thanet Wherry.  The hull would be of clinker construction and would be about 18ft long and would have a small transom. The wherries would be fitted with a dipping lug when working longer distances.  As well as being used for fishing, the boats were used to take passengers or were hired out to holiday-makers.  A Margate wherry, the Haughty Belle has been preserved by the National Maritime Museum.  A Ramsgate wherry, the carvel-built Queen Mab of 1883 is preserved  in the Ramsgate Maritime Museum.

Thanet Wherries

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, fishermen from Sherringham in Norfolk came to Whitstable to fish for whelks bringing with them their own boats.  These were double-ended open boats  typically 18ft long.  Later boats were constructed in Whitstable.  The local boats were large and more heavily built.  The boats were worked by oar.  They were also fitted with dipping lugsails.  Later boats were fitted with motors and these were still being built as late as 1950.  The last to be built, the Floreat is now owned by Whitstable Museum.

Whitstable Whelk Boats

The Medway Doble was a small  fishing boat used within the lower reaches of the River Medway.  They were heavily built of clinker construction usually of oak although some were planked in elm.  Generally   It was generally about 18ft long and 6ft in beam.  They were fitted with a fish well.  They were fitted with either lug or sprit sails. However, they were often used under oar especially when operating above Rochester Bridge.  Some were later fitted with engines.  One of these boats, the May of 1902, survives and is now owned by Medway Council.  It is unlikely that it will be sailed again.  

Medway Dobles

The boatbuilder William Warner, having served his time at a boat-builders in Greenwich ,came to Gravesend in the 1860s.  He modified the traditional skiffs used by the watermen in London  to make them more suitable for the rougher waters in the lower Thames by  adding two extra planks to increase the freeboard and making the lines finer. These boats were very successful and he and his son after him continued to build them up until 1940.  In 1953, the Gravesend Regatta committee had four new skiffs based on these built to take part in races.  A further one was built shortly after.  Three more were built by Eric Mastin to slightly different designs.

Gravesend Waterman’s Skiffs