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Our living history - Explorer

24 November 2020

Since the article we ran earlier in 2020 on maritime museums, readers have been writing in with information about their own local historic ships around the UK – many of which use the expertise of volunteers from the seafaring community for restoration, maintenance and even operation. Here we have the story of the Explorer, sent in by SS Explorer Preservation Society volunteer Allan Dickson

The SS Explorer was the first purpose-built fishery research ship for the then Scottish Home Office and was launched in 1955. The ship was a mix of traditional and new technology. The new was represented by the all-electric pumps and an AC power system for the onboard labs, as well as an aluminium superstructure. But the vessel also had a traditional riveted construction and a steam reciprocating engine. In 1967, the first ever computer to be installed on a fishery research ship was fitted on the SS Explorer.

The ship carried out a wide range of research, encompassing fishing methods and equipment, fish stocks and health, ground-breaking underwater film and photography, climate monitoring, and seabed surveys.

The officers' saloon on the historic ship SS Explorer

The ship was decommissioned in 1984, having become outdated and expensive to run. Unlike other ships, Explorer was not put to use for after decommissioning, and many of the spaces remain as they were in 1984. Original life-jackets, televisions and provisions boxes are still there, as well as supplies of government-stamped toilet rolls. The SS Explorer is registered with National Historic Ships UK.

The SS Explorer Preservation Society offers guided tours with our very knowledgeable volunteer guides. Tours are free, although donations are always welcome, and they require prior arrangement due to the ship being inside the port area. 

The Society is embarking on a multimillion-pound project to restore the vessel to a living museum with working equipment where possible and a shore visitor centre with the aim of promoting our maritime heritage.

The ship will be opening soon to existing volunteers so preservation work can restart. However, it will be 2021 before we will be restarting tours and visits for the public. There will be details on our website nearer the end of this year with an estimate of when we will reopen to the public.

The Society has worked hard during the Covid-19 pandemic to bring more of the ship online. We recently won an award for our online programme of events, being named National Historic Ships UK regional flag ship Scotland East 2020.

On our website we have a guided video tour around the ship, a 360 degree photo gallery, a blog which is updated fortnightly and a quarterly technical bulletin, as well as active Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. We have an engineering challenge workshop at the Summer STEM Academy Scotland ( and for younger children we have some activity worksheets that can be completed at home.


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