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Kent Traditional Boat Association

Home Introduction Kentish Boats Activities Way Forward Contact Us


Much has been written about Kent traditional boats in various books.  Many are described in Edgar March’s early book, Inshore Craft of Britain in the Days of Sail and Oar.  Further information is available in The Chatham Directory of Inshore Craft  and Robert Simper’s Beach Boats of Britain.  Derek Coombe’s book - Fishermen from the Kentish Shore - gives a good deal of information on the fishing boats of north and eastern Kent and Traditional Fishing boats of Britain and Ireland by Michael Smylie has further information on these.  In the last century a considerable amount of work was carried out by researchers recording local craft  including the taking of lines and making sail plans.  Much of this information is now in archives such as those at the National Maritime Museum and the Science Museum.  Using these sources and original research, it is intended that the Association would create a comprehensive directory of Kent’s traditional boats and that this would be published on the website.  This would mean that the information would be readily available to anyone who is interested in the subject and that it could be updated as more information becomes available.

It would also be the intention of the Kent Traditional Boat  Association to create a directory of surviving Kent traditional boats.  This would be organised by type and would list each surviving boat with such information as is available including their usual locations.  The names of the owners would also be given when they are agreeable to this.


It is proposed that the Association would organise conferences on the traditional boats of Kent.  These could be focussed on particular areas of research or be general and cover any aspect of the subject.  These would give researchers the opportunity  sharing their research with a wider audience and promote interest in the subject.  Subjects to be covered would not only include the boats themselves, but also their crews, the local communities that depended on them and the local infrastructure that supported them such as boat-builders, sail-makers, chandlers etc.  They could also include more general studies of local maritime history.


It would be the aim of the association to encourage and support the restoration, repair and maintenance of Kent's traditional boats.  It would provide a forum for sharing advice.  

In the longer term, it would be an aim to set up bases in Kent where boats could be stored  repaired. This would allow owners to keep their boats under cover which would avoid the risk of rotting that can occur when they are kept in the open and subject to rainwater.  Also, when dry, paint and glues will adhere to wood better than if it is wet.  In drying out, the boats will tend to open up slightly but it should be possible for provide ponds on the site so that the boats can be kept wet for a week or so before they are launched.  While boat-owners would bring their own tools to the site, it would be possible for the Association to provide some larger power tools such as band-saws, planer thicknessers and pillar drills.  The managers of the sites would ensure that people have the necessary training  and ability before allowing them to use these.  Private owners would rent space in these facilities at an economic rate.   

These bases do not need to be located adjacent to water even though this would be desirable.  Such sites tend to be expensive as there is high demand for waterside sites for house-building.  These days it is possible to transport quite large craft on trailers.  An example of this is the Essex oyster dredger Pioneer which was rebuilt on a farm quite a distance from the nearest navigable water.  The location of the sites chosen for the bases would depend on demand but likely locations would be the Gravesend/Medway area and near Deal or Dover.  These would cover the needs of  a great deal of Kent.  

Boat Repair etc

One possibility would be for the Association to take on the ownership of some traditional boats.  Already there is an offer for it to take over two Gravesend watermen’s skiffs.  These were built for the Gravesend Regatta Committee and were used by them for racing.  It is possible that a further two might also be made available from other sources.  This would result in a fleet of four similar boats which would allow the racing of traditional wooden skiffs to happen at Gravesend again.

Another idea would be the building of replica craft.  There is one surviving Medway Doble in existence and this is now owned by a museum and unlikely ever to go in the water again.  The owners of a heritage site near Rochester have indicated that they would make space available in a farm shed to build such a boat which would add to the visitor offer on their site.  If the project were to be set up properly there could be opportunities for grant-funding.

Boat Ownership

Another interesting project would be the building of a fleet of replicas of Deal Galleys.  Two of these survive but again are in museums and unlikely to be used again.  These boats are long and relatively narrow and similar in some ways to the Cornish pilot gig which has become a well known and successful boat.  It would be good if interest in the Kentish version could be promoted and a racing fleet of these brought into being.  If the Association were to build one replica, it is possible that private owners and other groups might build them as well.  They would be ideally suited to offshore races on the south coast of Kent and would present an exciting spectacle.  They could also take part in the Eddystone Challenge, an exciting biennial 28 mile endurance  race from Plymouth out to the lighthouse and back.  A boat like the Deal Galley would be ideally suited to this.  

The ownership of boats by the Association would enable opportunities for young people, especially those from poorer backgrounds, to become involved in the historic boat movement.

The Association would organise events for traditional boats.  There could include festivals.  These could be quite popular.  While they would focus on historic boats, such events also bring together people with interests in the crafts, relevant music etc.  Sales of materials and equipment for would be included.  Assuming that there is water access, there could be demonstrations of historic boats etc.  Local traditional boat-builders would have an opportunity to show off their products and encourage interest in people owning them.  

It would be the aim of the Association to organise races.  One idea would be to have a rowing race from Queenborough to Chatham to coincide with the Medway Maritime Festival.  Another idea would be an offshore rowing race from Ramsgate to Dover.  While these races would be primarily aimed at local craft, entries would be encouraged from elsewhere to increase the competition and excitement of such races.

There are of course many well-established races for sailing barges, smacks etc. and it not proposed to try to set up more because the calendar is quite full already.  However, the association would support races in Kent organised by others wherever this is appropriate and welcomed.


Visits could be arranged to view traditional boat restoration projects.  This would give people contemplating taking on such projects or those who have already begun to see how others are tackling such work.  If experienced traditional  boat-builders attended as well they could offer useful advice to those who are undertaking the project and also lead discussions about repair and restoration techniques in general.  This could only be of benefit to those who are trying to undertake projects such as these and who have little previous experience which is often the case.