About Us

About Us - History of the DLSRT


In 1940 nearly 1000 small boats, later called Little Ships, went to the aid of the British Army and her allies trapped by the Germans at Dunkirk in France. Many were lost on that 10 day operation, others came home and after the war most of them returned to their original role of pleasure boating.

Many were built of wood. Lack of care and maintenance resulted in a steady loss to our heritage of the, by now famous, Little Ships - it was easier and cheaper to take a chain saw to their hulls and burn them rather than restore them to their earlier condition.

The Present

In 1993 a number of forward-thinking owners realised that this loss should at least be reduced if not stopped. They formed the Dunkirk Little Ships Restoration Trust as a charity with the aim of preserving our heritage and expanding the boat-building and restoration skills necessary for the future. It is also a desire that each rescued Little Ship will be brought to full operational condition. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is the President of the Trust and recently the trust was honoured by His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent accepting the role of Patron.

The objective of saving Little Ships and then passing them on to dedicated new owners for restoration has resulted in fifteen being saved. Currently the Trust has three of those Little Ships in its possession, each undergoing restoration.

Many years have been spent searching for a suitable location for restoration and education. First at Tilbury (where we were made welcome by Sun Tugs and the Port of Tilbury) and next at Marchwood near Southampton. Presently the Trust has built a workshop with good access near the cruise ship terminal berth 50 in Southampton.

Vessels that the DLSRT have saved and are now in new ownership.


Challenge (a 1931 110ft steam tug)

Challenge is presently at Shoreham before moving in the future to our Southampton base. She is built of steel and is the last surviving steam tug which was present at Dunkirk. She is also the subject of an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for mechanical restoration and future educational use. It is expected that after this phase of restoration she will be seen in ports around the country.

The Future

Now that the Trust has a workshop it will make the task of education and restoration much easier and rewarding.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Trust and any person is welcome to come and discuss the contribution they can make physically or financially towards preserving our Heritage for the future.

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Dorian (a 45ft. 1915 Naval Pinnace)

Dorian was ashore and in danger of being broken up. Now she is already in the workshop and has a dedicated team who, after stripping her back to a bare hull, have begun the steady task of bringing her to full seaworthiness. The target for completion is 2015 which is her 100th birthday.


Caresana (a 1933 41ft converted ex RNLI Lifeboat)

Caresana was deteriorating fast ashore before being saved. Now afloat on the River Thames at Shepperton she is having her superstructure restored and made watertight before refurbishing her engines and internal fittings.