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A short history of the "puffer".

The earliest “puffers” date from the mid to late 1800s.
At first they were essentially canal vessels and the dimensions of the early Clyde puffers were governed by the size of the locks on 39 miles of the Forth & Clyde Canal through which they worked.  A length of around 66 feet (20.30m) and a beam of 16 to 18 feet (5.54m) seems to have been the norm.



Puffers Portlight, Raylight and Sir James at Crinan.  Courtesy the Crawford Alexander Collection


The outside boats develop

Design of these canal vessels changed as they began to work out into estuarial waters producing “shorehead” types.  By the late 1800s more robust seagoing  “outside” boats were being developed.  They had greater freeboard, but were built to the familiar 66 foot length so that the Forth & Clyde continued to be open to them. A number of “outside” boats were were also built  to around 80 feet overall (26.60m). 

VIC 32 Photo: Peter Wilberforce  (See below for details of this Puffer)

The coming of the VIC

The puffer continued in use until the first World War but numbers gave way to road transport and to the increasing cost of coal and maintenance; the last of the  “true” puffers were built in 1930 - 39.  However, with the advent of World War II vessels of
this type were again needed, this time for fleet work, and the Ministry ordered the construction of Victualling Inshore Craft (VICs), to be built on the lines of Anxac and Lascar (1939 boats).  In all over 100 VICs were built between 1941 and 1946, the great majority to be in steam and a few only  with diesel propulsion.  

VICs built between 1941 and 1944 were, in the main 66.8 feet overall (20.50m approx). With VIC 49, boats at 80.5 overall (29.6m approx) were introduced and many were built at this length by the end of the war.   


The Puffer today

A few Puffers remain as you will see from the list below.  In the main they are the later VICs but the early 1902 boat Basuto is still afloat at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port.  Why the curious name ?  That name came from the sound of the steam exhaust outlet to the funnel in the earliest boats, and has remained with them since, even after the advent of diesel propulsion.  They were
remarkably tough small steam traders and the ability of the "outside" boats to trade into the Western Islands through all weathers is extraordinary. This is Roman unloading ashore on Bute, one of many early photographs from Dan MacDonald's "The Clyde Puffer" (see below)

Contact us

We welcome additions to the page from groups and restoration societies, and we are always pleased to hear news of these vessels.  Additional photographs are very welcome, particularly when they show the sort of detail which modellers need.  Please contact us at


Recommended reading

" The Clyde Puffer"  

Don McDonald looks at the history of the Clyde Puffer, and includes many  period photographs - excellent for model makers looking for authentic detailing. Here is Roman unloading on the shore. (David & Charles 1977, House of Lochar 1996. ISBN 1-899863-12-5) Also available from Amazon.



"The Light in the Glens"

Another excellent book on the Clyde Puffer
, this time by Len Paterson..  Early chapters concentrate on the technical developments which go hand in hand with the development of the Scottish canals, for many of these vessels had to pass through them in normal trading.(1967 Redwood Books, Trowbridge, ISBN 1 899863 14 1) Also available from Amazon


Clyde Puffers & VICs currently afloat
or in restoration

This is preliminary list of vessels afloat or in restoration in the UK, a number of which are available for day sailings or longer holiday charters.  Web site addresses are shown where known.  (VIC stands for Victualling Inshore Craft)










"Basuto"  A true Puffer built in 1902 by W Jacks & Co. of Port Dundas.  63ft (20.10m) and traded by them  on the Forth & Clyde Canal until 1919 before being sold on to various other owners.  She is now  in the lower basin at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.  The pictures here were kindly provided by the Museum.

(This vessel is also on the National Register of Historic Vessels, 




Pibroch Web:
Pibroch575.JPG (43694 bytes)  

Nigel Robson of Edinburgh came across Pibroch on a visit to Western Ireland and kindly sent us these excellent photographs  some years ago.  Sadly she was scrapped in 2010 and the final photographs taken by Ruthan O'Conner, will be found on the web site.    

We believe she was  second Pibroch commissioned by the White Horse Distillery.  (The first , built in 1932 had the funnel forward of the wheelhouse)    

Pibroch675.JPG (66812 bytes) Pibroch475.JPG (39948 bytes) Pibroch2750001.JPG (38954 bytes) Pibroch375.JPG (40173 bytes)


A wonderful photograph of 'Spartan' unloading on the beach on Iona.  Courtesy Crawford Alexander Collection

VIC 18  "Spartan" Scottish Maritime Museum 
Spartan is normally at the Irvine site (Harbourside, Irvine Tel: 01294 278283)  May be away on tour at times.
(This vessel is also on the NRHV list, Ed.)

VIC 24 "Advance" Web:

Built 1942 Richard Dunston of Thorne.
VIC 42 was built to 66.85 feet (20.39m) overall like many other VICs from this yard and remained in Naval service until 1943 when she was sold out. We understand this vessel still exists, and is shown on the NRHV list to be in now in Plymouth after many years in Holland .
See also:


VIC 27

Built 1934, Pimbolt.  Variously "Auld Reekie", now  "Maggie"  
Built by Pimbolts of Northwich in 1934 this vessel is under restoration at Crinan Boatyard (2017).  The History of Vic 27 may be found on the web site and a copy of her log book may is hel at the National Archive, Kew and may be seen here: /

Also turn to the Merchant Navy Nostalgia site where you will find a full history of this vessel together with  a number of early photographs in an article by Jim Pottinger -



VIC 32.  Web:

Built 1943 Dunston's Shipyard, Thorne  66'4 (20.4m) overall.

VIC 32 Photo: Peter Wilberforce

VIC 32 is thought to have worked as a supply vessel in Scapa Flow during the second world war - perhaps carrying aviation spirit.   Now she is nicely restored and regularly available in steam for holidays.  She is run by the Puffer Preservation Trust who have recently had her re-boilered. but of course maintenance is always on-going and needs public support.  The Trust has an active web site that gives more details including specifications of the boat, and a series of black and white photographs from her working days which will be invaluable to model makers. 


VIC 56 Web:

Built 1945, 85'0 (26.15m) by J Pollock & Son & Co, Faversham. 

She is currently moored at Chatham Historic Dockyard.
VIC 56 is in excellent working order as a coal fired steamboat and maintained by a small group of volunteers.  There are public open days  a few times ayear. .  Notes about open days, and a full history may be found on the web site  

VIC 72 "
Eilean Eisdeal (Vital Spark)  

Diesel powered, she was built in 1944 by S & D Brown,  Brams Dry Dock,  in Hull.  In 1994 she traded for the Easdale Shipping Company who renamed her Eilean Eisdeal.  Now at Inverary Maritime Museum she was renamed in 2006 Vital Spark of Glasgow.  
There are useful  photographs of VIC 72 on the Museum site, current and in her working days.  Scheduled trips.  
(This vessel is also on the NRHV list.)

VIC 96  Web:

vic56.jpg (18633 bytes) Built 1945 by Pollock & Son & Co Ltd. Faversham. 
She was originally commissioned by the War Office in 1945.  Like other VICs, she carried supplies to the moored RN fleets in ports such as Sheerness and Chatham during WWII.  She is still under steam, powered by her original Crabtree coal fired engine.  This vessel was at the Maryport Steamship Museum, Maryport, Cumbria, but left there on 5th July 2009 to voyage home to Chatham where she now is to be found in No1 Basin where model makers will find her, (although she is currently out of the water (2012) at Acorn Wharf.)  Contact the trust about visits.

 VIC 96 is now in the hands of a restoration group. - The VIC 96 Trust   for more information.   

Our photograph is a detail from the photo previously on the Maryport Steamship Museum website, with kind permission.  Click on the photograph for a slightly larger view.



VIC 99

This photograph of VIC 99 was sent to us in Nov 2008 .  It was was taken  by Robert Anderson about eighteen years ago which would make it around 1990.  It's interesting to compare the view with that of the VIC at the head of the page which has similar bulwarks and wheel house, and that of VIC 32.  

Photo:  Robert Anderson circa 1990

Models and Model Kits


Dileas  (The Gaelic word for Faithful)

This charming Puffer Dileas, built by Eddie Webb of Knitghtcote MBC, features working lights, cabin illumination a smoke generator, Western Islands charts on the miniature chart table, and a deck hand forward carrying an illuminated lantern!  

Dileas steaming out with a load for Mull
  Here she is again, in port at Knightcote   


Some suppliers of Puffer Kits

"Trilight" Clyde Puffer. 1/72 Deans Marine. 

"Incholm" Clyde Puffer. Kingston Mouldings. 

" North Light"  Clyde Puffer. 1/32 Caldercraft/Jotika


"Anzac" Clyde puffer or generic. Waverley Models

Plans, Drawings, Articles and Advice  for Model Makers



Clyde Maritime

A beautifully researched site with a full index of the VICs and another of the original Puffers.  Many photographs of puffers - many since scrapped - and lots of good material for detailing


National Register for Historic Vessels (NRHV)

Lists and illustrates a number of  Clyde Puffers including VIC 24, Vic 32 and provides suitable links where these are known. 
(This site has an excellent research facility and we recommend it for any vessel, Ed.)

TradBoat © Charles Smith Publication
Last updated
10 Jan 2023