Poole canoes – the motorised flat-bottomed skiffs of Poole Harbour

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Poole canoes, photographed by John Lockwood

Home Built Boat Rally UK (HBBR) member John Lockwood has sent me these photos of a British Isles flattie I hadn’t known about until recently: the oddly-named Poole canoe.

The British Isles aren’t generally thought of as the home of flat-bottomed boats, and I can’t tell you how often I have told me that a flat-bottomed boat can’t work. And yet, there are quite a few around our inland waters and even on our coasts, including the turf boats and flatners of Somerset, the punts of the Rivers Thames and Cam, various gun punts, the Fleet trow and the Wexford cot. And, of course, going up-scale a range of lighters and coastal barge types including the celebrated Thames barge have flat bottoms.

So I was pleased a few weeks ago to learn of the Poole canoe a few weeks ago, and I’m now grateful to John for capturing these slender flattie skiffs with his camera before the original wooden boats disappear. I have the impression that they range up to around 22ft by 4ft or a little over. Thanks for the informative shots John!

A message from ‘Tranona’ on the PBO forum suggests that the boats built in the area for use in Poole Harbour were built by eye – and that British Seagull proprieter Mr Weyhope spent years experimenting to get the best speed out of the boats driven by a Seagull 102 model, which I’d guess was a 2hp type. Looking at the boats in these pictures, they mostly have the small amount of rocker I would expect for a low powered boat, though one or two seem to have rather flatter runs, which would suggest they were intended for a bigger power plant.

In this connection, some weeks ago I put up a post linking to an online ad in which someone was selling an old Seagull outboard still in its original packaging, and accompanied by a set of drawings for building a flat-bottomed skiff, which I suppose is likely to be one of Mr Weyhope’s designs. I’ve posted a tiny thumbnail of the drawings at the bottom of this post, and although it only affords a little information there seems little doubt that the ‘20ft trunnel boat‘ it presents is a Poole canoe, or something very like it.

I must say that I’m particularly interested in these boats at the moment, as they are so similar to a design project I’ve been working on for a friend for some time, and I can’t help feeling that they’re a kind of endorsement of the basic idea.

My project is a little different – my ‘client’ wanted a flat-bottomed design he could build in his garage and that would work with a 4-5hp motor rather than Mr Weyhope’s 2hp model – but the drawings I made before I’d even heard of the Poole canoe seem very like the South Coast boats. See my initial drawings here.

I plan to complete them as soon as I can decide whether the end of the prop should be inside or outside the transom when raised – I notice that the long wells seen in most of these photos imply that the prop is inside the well when the motor is raised – and yet I wouldn’t want to find a flailing prop in my well after hitting an underwater obstruction. Does anyone have any insights on this question?

By the way, I gather GRP Poole canoes are still made for fishermen by Salterns and that the yard has developed a higher powered 22ft model designed for sun bathing, fishing and exploring Poole Harbour, and powered by a 30hp electric start outboard. It even comes with a sun deck, picnic table, cool box, navigation lights, fishing rod holders, a tray in the stern for ring netting and flush decks. All of that seems a long way from the boats in the photos!

Thanks for the shots John!

21 thoughts on “Poole canoes – the motorised flat-bottomed skiffs of Poole Harbour”

  1. Nice post Gavin, you can see why it would be a good boat for Poole harbour. I'm wondering if English Flatties were not more common on other sheltered waters for example the east coast rivers?


  2. Very interesting article. As for the prop inside versus outside the transom, I personally favor the inside design. Should the prop foul on fish line, pot warp, seaweed, etc, one doesn't have to hang over the stern to disentangle it.

    As for having the prop swing upward upon impact, a lid or trap door over the well will prevent this. If not a full lid then a cross brace across the well that will hinge out of the way for raising and supporting the outboard, but will prevent the prop from flying up during impact.


  3. The rising outboard question. I have to agree that a thrashing prop inside a narrow tunnel does not appeal and I can see that hitting an obstruction and knocking up while on the turn could produce interesting results in instantaneous corrective design. Two thoughts:

    1. Make the tunnel wide enough not to be fouled by the prop even with the engine rotated – this might be narrower than you think.

    2. The Drascombe range have a raked stern with a slot and the prop eventually elevates to a point coveniently close to the transom, where it can be got at. The extreme version of this is the Sussex beach boats where the transom curls over into a (fish handling?) tray that also acts to provide lift from breakers when beaching and with a hatch of its own would make dealing with a fouled prop a doddle. I'm sure you've seen them.

    Cee Dubbaya


    Have commented earlier privately about the independent convergence of these designs also in America; The operating environment and hydrodynamics appear to guide the design evolution.

    Interesting to see the net/fish trays in the Poole configuration.

    Probably and important consideration here in South Eastern Tasmanian Estuaries.

    For beach cruising/camping with lightweight composite design, bouancy tanks either side of the tunnel and in the bow could be prudent, perhaps also with more rake in the stern.

    With attention to hydro dynamics of the bottom section forward and with provision for moving load to a slightly bow down trim, it might also handle sail well.

    Very interested to follow the contemporary evolution of this design.

    (Lets get 4wd's off the beaches!!!)

    cheers Duncan

  5. Hello, very interested in this topic, i have grown up around poole canoes as my dad has always had one and occasionaly built one and i have had a couple since i was old enough. Any how im particuly interested if any one knows how to find the plan or any information for mr way-hope of seagull engines poole canoe. because i actually have the poole canoe that was originally built for testing seagull engines. Any how if you have any information then please let me no. Thanks Ryan

  6. PE1132 is featured at head of this thread. I saw her on Sun 21 Aug 2011 in a open yeard a few yards east of the Old Lifeboat Station in Poole. Very sorry condition, including plywood frames delaminating, side seams open and even more bramble growth. Notice attached said "Remover or else …" issued by Poole Fisherman's Association.

  7. The boat is a Trunnel boat and I have the design available, free to anyone, on my website, as a PDF file! See this page :-

    There is interest in making this a stitch and glue boat, but that will depend on cost… the plan being free at the moment means anyone can build one if they wish for a very minimum sum.

    The Seagull 102 was a nominal 4 hp, but the 102 plus with larger ratio gearbox 5hp. The boat would be suitable for any 102, Century or Silver century 4hp motors.

    Hope this helps,


  8. I have a 17 foot genuine wooden Poole Harbour canoe for sale. Some work needed but easily made seaworthy again. Anyone interested?

    1. Have you still got your Poole canoe and where are you based. Can you email some photos? and give a little more info please.

  9. My father had two poole canoes built in the 1960’s both from the seagull plans, they were both scaled down in size, one at 14ft the other 17ft, he used them for setting gill nets in the river test and southampton water, he came across the design after living in poole for a couple of years in the 1950’s, both i think were made from columbian pine, He always regretted not having the larger one built to the full 20ft, the 17ft canoe was still around in about 1990, many thanks, phil.

  10. The harbour canoe you have pictured here (as in the one on the trailer without the weeds growing out of it) was my step grandfather’s it used to be registered as PE 57 and its name was demo. And I have many of fond memories of this little canoe

  11. They were flat bottom for the reason of they could be pushed across the mud flats in Poole harbour as the tides in the harbour would leave most boats stranded as far as speed goes provided the weed was kept to minimum with anti foul they were really fast

  12. Poole Canoes were not always powered. I bought one in the early 60’s that was double ended and had a step for a mast. An acquaintance was collecting their details for The National Maritime Museum around that time. He told me that he believed it to be was by far the oldest that he had measured. Someone else that I used to know, who came from a Poole family of fishermen, I saw using a matchbox to set the rocker of the bottom of a canoe that he was building.

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