Running your own steam launch is a pastime that’s alive and well, as Mike Taylor discovers
The age of steam power in boats is still alive and kicking
It may not be mainstream boating, but interest in steam driven craft remains strong with launches afloat on lakes, rivers and estuaries the length and breadth of the nation. And they’re not all antiques: many have been built new in the last 40 years.
Vessels tend to be simple open boats of timber, GRP and even steel construction with round-bilge and hard-chine hull forms. For convenience and for ease of transporting and launching, few are more than 30ft long. Today’s steam boats often include fashioned timber sections, varnished and polished, with brass fittings to create period charm. Steam launches with elegant counter sterns and brightly coloured canopies draw crowds as they pass along the Thames and other rivers and waterways.
Engines are often machined and assembled by the owner, sometimes built from raw castings using a profusion of suppliers for other necessary parts. Alternatively, a complete engine can be sourced to install in the hull. Boilers, too, can be bought ready assembled. Then comes the plumbing in of steam and feed-water systems as well as fitting out of the craft with steering, propeller shaft and all the necessary deck items.