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Home > About The Museum > History of the Fishing Industry > Developments in Boat Design

The design of fishing boats is dependent on the tasks they are to perform and the conditions in which they will be used. For example, boats that are operated from beaches are generally lighter and have a more rounded hull than boats used in harbours. Inshore vessels operating among rocks and skerries must be more manoeuvrable than those that are designed to withstand the force of the open sea.

Zulu and Fifie sailing boats

Zulu and Fifie sailing boats

The design of sailing boats continued to be developed and refined throughout the 1800s when the main types were the Scaffie, Fifie and Zulu on the east coast and the Loch Fyne Skiff in the Clyde area. However, the efficiency of these vessels was still dependent on an uncontrollable factor - the power of the wind.

Steam drifter North Briton PD487

Steam drifter North Briton PD487

The mid 19th Century saw a breakthrough when steam-powered marine engines, powered by coal from Scotland’s large reserves in Fife and the Lothians, were developed. From the 1880s, steam-powered trawlers were adopted in Aberdeen where their steady pulling power was a great advantage. The introduction of steel hulled vessels led to even larger boats; many (the so-called standard drifters) built by the Admiralty to replace those lost during the First World War. However, the increased reliability of steam-power (which could get a boat back to port even against the wind) had to be balanced against the space taken up in the hold by coal and the extra purchase and running expenses of the boats.

Motor vessel Venture PD72

Motor vessel Venture PD72

Even as steam power was taking a hold on the Scottish fleet, experiments with diesel and petrol powered engines paved the way for motorised fishing vessels (MFVs). The fuel was cleaner and less bulky so leaving more space below deck for the catch. It was also easier to convert existing sailing hulls to motor than to steam and many fishermen did just that. The number of steam vessels rapidly declined and new designs of boat were developed to take advantage of ever more powerful engines for propulsion and gear handling.

Motor power came to be applied to almost every aspect of fishing until modern vessels with their hydraulic winches, refrigeration units and powerful engines are unrecognisable in comparison with their counterparts of 100 years ago.

The Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust Ltd
St Ayles, Harbourhead, Anstruther, Fife KY10 3AB
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