Friends of steam tug Cervia launch appeal to carry out restoration on historic vessel

The tug Cervia

A team of volunteers are helping to save the Cervia – the last sea-going steam tug to survive in UK waters – and hope to eventually offer tours of the vessel and create a tug museum onboard.

The Friends of steam tug Cervia group became involved in restoring the craft after former owner The Steam Museum Trust made a declaration of intent to break the vessel down and sell the parts.

The Declaration of Intent to Deconstruct the National Historic Fleet Vessel was made in 2022 but, thankfully, the Cervia was not scrapped. Instead it was taken on by Ramsgate’s harbour authority with the Friends of the steam tug Cervia trustees and volunteers undertaking the task of restoring her.

Photo Friends of steam tug Cervia

The team are now fundraising so they can carry out extensive work on the decking, hull and other parts to make her safe and serviceable.

When she is in ‘ship shape’ condition the Friends hope to hold public tours and create a tug museum onboard.

Volunteers have been maintaining the vessel since 2009 but were not funded by the previous owner to carry out works to keep her watertight.

Photo Karen Cox

Ramsgate RNLI and fire crews were involved in an operation to keep the Cervia afloat in November 2018 after she started taking on water due to a ‘large hole that the crew sandbagged.

Friends chairman Dave Walton said: “The Trust was formed in 2022 when she was threatened with deconstruction. We are supporting the harbour authority and volunteer crew with permission to work on her.

“The previous owner didn’t allow volunteers to do any serious conservation work so it was mostly painting etc but not restoration to replace the decks.

“We have launched the appeal to take that responsibility on. We need to prevent the rainwater entering  her. If we can raise the money we could get that done in the next few months.

“The long-term job is to get her on the slipway and replate her hull.”

Photo Friends of steam tug Cervia

The 350 ton vessel was built in 1946 as a seagoing tug for use as a fleet auxiliary, She is powered by a 1,000 HP triple expansion engine and is a rare survivor from the pinnacle of steam ship development.

Cervia is the last sea-going steam tug to survive in UK waters and she was also the last to work commercially, being in operation until 1983.

Her last job was as port tug to the new cross-channel ferry service at Ramsgate, providing assistance to ferries in adverse weather conditions.

Cervia was eventually ‘mothballed’ alongside the East Pier at Ramsgate Royal Harbour following a final re-fit for a towage contract in Norway, which never materialised.

Photo Friends of steam tug Cervia

The vessel featured in “Rogue Male” starring Peter ‘O’ Toole and, as the “S.S. Greasy”, in the Monty Python film “The Curse Of The Claw” with Michael Palin.

In 1985 Thanet District Council’s Harbour Master and his deputy, who had considerable experience of historic ships, negotiated a loan of the tug and arranged for Cervia to be brought into the shelter of the inner harbour where she was moored in part of John Smeaton’s Historic Dry Dock. Later that month she was placed in the care of Ramsgate Maritime Museum, run by the East Kent Maritime Trust.

The EKMT Trust was granted a Manpower Services Commission project to restore Cervia, managed and funded by a Thanet District Council agency.

Photo Mike Nichols

In 2008 The Ramsgate Maritime Museum was closed. EKMT became defunct and the Cervia and museum was taken over by The Steam Museum Trust, under the trusteeship of Michael List Brain, after a lease was signed with Thanet council in 2012.

The SMT lease was due to run until 2037 but was returned to Thanet council last year.

Now around seven volunteers work on her every Tuesday morning and this currently including emptying water from her.

The Friends have three trustees with a fourth in the process of coming onboard.

Dave said: “We are looking for further trustees and further volunteers. We are actively going to events to fundraise and raise awareness.

“We are working in conjunction with the (maritime) museum in Ramsgate and hope to open her as a static exhibit once the refurbishment work is done.”

Photo Friends of steam tug Cervia

The Friends, who hope to raise £20,000 for the renovation works, will have a stall at the local history day being held at Ramsgate Tunnels on May 11th and  an RNLI event at the harbour on May 18.

There are also events in Gravesend where Cervia used to serve including a memorial service on October 26 to remember five crew who died when she capsized at Tilbury Docks. It is hoped a memorial tablet can be installed by the river.

Find a full history on the Friends of the Steam Tug Cervia website at

To get involved as a volunteer of trustee message the facebook page here or call Dave on 07550 083079.

Find the fundraising page by clicking here


  1. Maybe Riveroak can get it up and running as part of their infrastructure to barge goods up to London….

  2. Ramsgate town council will donate £10000 towards it , they gave Jenny Dawes £10000 and donated to the now defunct arts barge, over £751,000 on the old fire station, so they must be swimming in money

  3. what a waste of time , this rusty old hulk is firmly embeded into the mud below , no doubt it is letting in water throughout , what is the future for this old relic ,if it has one it should be taken to a dry dock and restored , probably running into millions ?

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