The demise of the boats at Deal
By David Chamberlain
At the beginning of the 1960s, a Deal boatman’s licence could be obtained from Deal pier master, Captain Harris. Although there were new builds, many of the pleasure boats were old and some had been converted from sail to motor. The skills of Deal boatmen were renowned and the only accidents that happened, in the many boats that plied for hire, were the occasional soaking to their clientele. However, in August 1966, the pleasure boat Dalwin was sunk off Cornwall with the loss of 31 lives, and this would affect the way these boats were licensed from then on.
The shock waves of this disaster carried throughout Britain and the Government requested that local seaside councils take another look at their responsibilities to the general public and the licensing of boatmen and their vessels. Deal Council insisted that all boatmen took a test and received a Board of Trade certificate. These verbal tests were carried out at the old Quarter Deck building with a B.O.T examiner in charge. This licence was duly issued allowing the skipper to take afloat 250 passengers … but only three miles out to sea.
The Council also expected all boats that wished to take fare paying passengers should be seaworthy and issued a yellow plastic plaque which was screwed to the bow of the craft for the public to view. When the Board of Trade was dissolved, and new boatmen required a licence, the Council asked that the Deal & Walmer Inshore Fishermans Association provide a test for the prospective applicants. This was carried out with the help of three full time boatmen, an observer and an officer from the Council’s foreshore department. Everybody was happy and the reputation of boatmen and safety of passengers was one hundred percent. However, the three mile licence was a bone of contention. This argument was brought up at a council meeting in the Town Hall and the boatmen managed to temporary convince the council that they had a ten mile from land dispensation.
Eventually the Government tightened the screws and insisted that the boats carried a vast amount of safety equipment onboard and a professional survey be carried out on the vessels plying for hire. The boatmen were to have a licence issued from a national governing body which would be relevant to all English ports. The argument of the Deal boatmen was that, as they operated from the beach, their crafts were smaller than those from harbours and did not have the room to stow the extra equipment and life rafts. Their needs did not come into the equation and many were priced out of making it a viable business proposition.
The many angling boats, that were once a familiar sight along the beach, started to disappear, and at this time of writing there is only one plying for hire. Safety is not only paramount but, in this day and age, it is imperative. However, those halcyon days that brought many happy memories to thousands of boat anglers who had fished from Deal’s piscatorial paradise … are just memories.