Registration of Fishing Boats

A Fleet of Fishing Vessels at Anchor, 1894, a Dutch painting by Hendrik Willem Mesdag.

The requirement to maintain records for fishing vessels and crew was created under the Merchant Shipping (Fishing Boats) Act 1883. The Act required the skipper to enter into a crew agreement with every member of the crew and extended the competency examination system for masters and mates. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 reinforced this legislation and required all British sea fishing boats, irrespective of size, to be registered. Boats were to be lettered and numbered and to have official papers. Certificate details and the vessel’s letter and number were entered into registers by the customs officers at each port. Returns were sent annually to the registrar general.

The usual registration letters for Eyemouth and St Abbs are BK, for local boats registered in Berwick upon Tweed, and LH (Leith) for boats registered in Edinburgh. The registration numbers are painted on the hulls, and also printed on the sails of the vessels.

The archival Registers of British Shipping include the registration number, name of vessel, date of registration, official number, tonnage, and a description of the kind of fishing in which the vessel was normally employed.


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