Norfolk Broads Boat Project

GRP Vessel

Norfolk Broads boat project is a very appealing idea for many would-be boaters. The notion of buying a boat and spending a summertime doing one up is what many calls, ‘a labour of love’. Having restored many boats on the Norfolk Broads now I can conclude that its a labour of love but it is a lot harder work than many realise.
Satisfaction from doing your boat restoration is indeed immeasurable and the levels of pride from such activities is worth pursuing.
Summertime is more practical so too is boating so if you can restore a boat during the winter? you can have the best of both worlds.
Unless you can get a boat inside over the winter then sadly you will be limited to working inside a boat. Paint and resins don’t like the cold and many products simply won’t work below 10 degrees.
A simple heater in a boat will change all that but working outside for cutting wood etc is still just as important.

Wooden boat

‘Annie’ in the above photo is possibly a rescue launch type of vessel with a wooden hull. These types of boats are still to be found on the Norfolk Broads but sightings are rarer these days. This particular boat had not been seen on the waterways since 2001 according to a local website.

A Norfolk Broads boat project that involves wooden boats are vessels that require so much attention and above all else money. If a wooden boat is left on a yard for too long then the wood dries up and the boat effectively loses its waterproofing. To avoid this it is often suggested to fill the bilges with water so the hull planks just don’t get to dry out and contract.

When wooden boats are lifted back into the water, it is best practice to leave the boat overnight in its strops to allow the planks to swell and seal the boat. To just put the boat back in the water is not recommended as the bilge pump will be going constantly till the boat seals properly. The bilge pump is what stands between the boat floating and sinking during this first 24 hours.

Narrow boat on norfolk broads

Narrowboats on the Norfolk Broads are very rare sights indeed. They do exist but are rarer than hen’s teeth in my own experience. More common are the modern reproductions which are aluminium or GRP hulls.

Norfolk Broads narrow boat

Generally, they are small in length and can be trailered away. The larger barges that I have come across are not suitable for the southern Broads as the currents are so strong. Going across Breydon Water would be a little crazy as navigating up the River Bure on an ebb tide would most likely be impossible and I think the consequences could be catastrophic with such a heavy boat. However, I am sure there are some brave souls who would give it a go. Another good point to having a steel boat is that it is going to win in a fight against a hire boat and the hire boats on the Norfolk Broads are what can only be described as a contact sport. Let us just say it is a place where you need to keep your boat fenders on all the time.

Narrow boat
Norfolk Broads Boat Project

‘Damfino’ is an unusual yacht featuring a GRP hull and wooden superstructure. I think this combination is quite appealing as a boat restorer as you have the beauty of wood on the cabin with the security and durability of a fibreglass hull. This combination is common and there are some beautiful examples including Bourne 35s.

This 25-foot yacht was never seen on the Norfolk Broads after 2006 and I hope it survived as it is beautiful in a quirky way.

wooden boat project
Norfolk Broads Boat Project

This boat survived on a boatyard for many years and is currently being restored. It was once a £20,000 boat and I understand it was bought recently for £250.

Although the work is extensive, six months down the line of restoration and this boat will be worth £20,000 once again.

Norfolk Broads boat project

This Sea Ray Sundancer 300 is a 30 foot with a hybrid engine setup. These larger boats are common but it is on the southern Broads that you will find these gin palaces. The bridges are just too low for most to get up to the northern waterways. Around Horning and Wroxham there are many large boats with flying bridges but they have a very limited area that they can actually travel to. Buying a boat that cant go anywhere seems to be quite ridiculous and it would be like buying a car that could not get out of your driveway. However, as a project, it is still a viable proposition as many folks will just have it towed to the coast. Personally, I would suggest staying away from anything of this nature on the Norfolk Broads if you are planning on using it and if it has a petrol engine then you will have great difficulty selling it here.

Sailboat projects

Sailboats are plentiful on the Norfolk Broads but they are extremely difficult to sell. They are difficult because most boaters have no interest in having to lower and raise masts. Although if you wanted a cheap sailboat? then buying one from these rivers is likely to land you a very cheap boat project. Boats such as Westerleys and Seamasters go for nearly half rice locally. It is almost worthwhile buying one here and then trailering it to the coast.

If you do want to go for a sailboat on the Norfolk Broads? then it is almost essential that you buy one that can have its mast lowered with an a-frame or gin pole. Failing to adhere to that will land you a boat that is useless outside of bridges.

Norfolk Broads sailboat

Notice the boat above Pippin has a tabernacle for lowering the mast.

Norfolk Broads Boat Project

Personally I think a bilge keelboat is a lot safer to use where the water depth is so shallow such as it is on the Norfolk Broads. There are always pros and cons as many will state that single keels are better for tacking which you can guarantee will be what you are doing when sailing on Barton Broad. That is where Nelson learned to sail so history dictates.

Dawncraft Dandy Norfolk Broads

This boat project is a Dawncraft Dandy 19 dating from 1970. They were designed by Ralph Wilson.

I would describe these as being totally underrated as the boats have a staggering amount of cabin space for a boat of only 19 feet. This coupled with the fact that this boat will comfortably go under any bridge on the Norfolk Broads. This makes it a good project with excellent selling potential.

Norfolk Broads Boat Project

Wooden boats of this type are a dying breed on the Norfolk Broads. This was possibly once a hire boat.

Despite its grand age if these boats are left to deteriorate then it will only be pulled out of sure destruction by falling into the ownership of a dedicated boat restorer. They do command a high price when restored and do ultimately sell well. Unless you have a big cheque book and a skill level to match I would stay away from such a boat project. They are often abandoned like this for a reason. They are expensive.

Bruce Roberts Boat

This is a Bruce Roberts steel boat which has never got off the ground. It has sat on a boatyard for years and will require a complete refit. Its suitability for the local rivers is questionable too especially on the River Ant due to its shallowness.

Norfolk Broads Boat Project

This boat manufacturer is unknown but most likely an old hire boat from the Norfolk Broads.

The gunwale is quite unusual and resembles a mark 2 Freeman although I would suspect the similarities stop there.

Quite often these boats only have half-inch plywood as a transom and when you consider the vulnerability of this it tends to make the boat less appealing in a territory where bumps from other boats are commonplace.

Sailboat project

This sailboat was an ex-hire boat from decades passed. After many years rotting away on a boatyard it went through restoration lasting some 5 years. The boat has been completed and was returned to the rivers in autumn 2019.

It is a perfect example of dedication and commitment and the proof that all the hard work was worth it.

Norfolk Broads boat project

This boat was built in the 1950s by Martham Boat Building & Development Co. It was 28ft 5ins x 9ft 4ins with a folding canopy, centre cockpit with an inboard engine. This is a traditional Broads wooden boat. To this day it survives but only as a major Norfolk Broads boat project sitting neglected on a boatyard.

It would be a highly valuable boat if it was restored. It is believed to have been out of the water for over 10 years.

Perhaps one day it will be saved?

Norfolk Broads Boat Project

Unknown wooden boat design but almost certainly locally built.

Norfolk Broads Boat Project

The green boat above dates back to 1966 and is believed to be an old Richardsons boat. Richardsons are a very large hire boat company in Norfolk. It is believed to be a Swiftway design and approximately 34 feet in length.

Norfolk Broads Wooden Boat

This is another old wooden cruiser that almost certainly was ultimately broken up for destruction. This is an imminent outcome for many of these boats nowadays and the likelihood of them being saved is very slim. The only real chance of them being restored is by the original boat builders if they are still in existence. The only other option is for someone with deep pockets. These are major projects.

Broom Saturn Speedboat

This Norfolk Broads boat project was a locally made Broom Saturn speedboat dating from the 1970s. The boat was completely stripped and left abandoned full of water and mosquitoes. All laid upon a broken and rusty trailer. I liked the retro lines of this boat the first time I saw it and decided to buy it and restore the boat. The boat is now on the Norfolk Broads and I use it daily. The total expense of restoration was around £1500 if I include the trailer. It was so expensive because it was just a shell without any seats. I suspect it was stripped for restoration and then abandoned when the novelty wore off or circumstances made it no longer credible as a project.

Norfolk Broads Boat

The manufacturer of this boat is unknown but it may have been Herbert Woods.

Recently a restored version of this boat sold for over £20,000.


This Norfolk Broads boat project gives a great perspective on the level of skill required to put one of these wooden projects back together again. I raise my hat to anybody who takes on a project of this description and brings it to final successful completion. Not only are you restoring a work of art but also keeping alive a history of boat building that is disappearing rapidly.

2 thoughts on “Norfolk Broads Boat Project

  • November 25, 2019 at 17:07

    Hi, I sent a message earlier today as I’m really keen to track down the location of the S504 boat shown here and built in the 1950s by Martham Boat Building & Development Co. This is for a project I am working on but I need this information tomorrow if at all possible.

    Please can you email me ASAP?



    • November 25, 2019 at 18:27

      There is a possibility that this boat may still exist on Wayford boatyard, NR12 9LL. There is certainly one very similar if this is not the same boat. In addition, there was a very similar boat at Ludham boatyard, whether it is still there I do not know although I would recommend calling them.

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