Explore > A History of Sea Scouts


There have long been arguments for the official start date of Sea Scouting with it being either 1909 or 1910. The first camp for Sea Scouts was in 1909. A competition was advertised in the “Scout” magazine for 100 boys to win the chance to go to camp on the ship T.S. Mercury. This was to take place between July 24th and August 7th 1909 and was an experimental camp similar to the 1907 camp on Brownsea Island which had heralded the start of Scouting. This certainly heralded the beginning of Sea Scouting but at this point it had not been officially recognised.



TS Mercury Camp

Other research brings up the date of October 1910 and in 1960 this date was taken for the branch to celebrate its Golden Jubilee. Certainly in the Committee minutes for 1910 it mentions Sea Scouts for the first time and in October of that year the committee recognised Sea Scouting as a separate branch of Scouting. It was realised after the competition for a place at the camp aboard “Mercury” had started, that the ship could only accommodate 50 boys so Baden-Powell approached Lord Montagu of Beaulieu for permission to camp in his grounds near where the Mercury was moored.


Permission was given and site called “Buckler’s Hard” could not have been better as it had long been associated with naval history. The lucky 100 boys were divided into two groups with one spending one week on land and then swopping with the boys who had been on the ship for the week. So began the branch of Scouting on the water which attracted boys from inner cities as well as the coast as long as they had access to water be it sea, canal or river.

Sea Scouts on TS Mercury



Henry Warrington Smyth Baden-Powell

Robert Baden-Powell’s brother Henry Warrington Smyth Baden-Powell is recognised as the founder of Sea Scouting. Born in 1847 ten years before Robert he did his sea training aboard H.M.S. Conway, later training at sea in the East Indiaman “Hotspur” and sailing under Captain Toynbee to Calcutta. He later joined P & O but left the sea on his father’s death to help his mother with the responsibility of bringing up five children.



Early Development

In 1911 Robert Baden-Powell published a booklet for organisers and Scoutmasters called “Sea Scouting for Boys” which gave details on what Sea Scouting was and how the training scheme could be carried out. This was followed in 1912 by Sea Scouting and Seamanship for Boys, the manual for Sea Scouts written by Warrington Baden-Powell. The training scheme was worked out between Warrington and Lord Charles Beresford who was the first Chief Sea Scout.


Early Sea Scouting received help from many different sources. The newspaper “Daily Mirror” presented London Sea Scouts with a 52 ton ketch yacht named “Mirror” and hoped that this example would be followed by other benefactors. Tragically after a year of use the boat was run down in the Thames by a steamer.

The first national Sea Scout event was a display on Edgebaston Reservoir staged during the Birmingham Rally of 1913. It was attended by B-P and Lord Beresford. During the display a Sea Scout found an injured man and was able to summon a doctor by standing on his boat and signalling with flags. Such displays became regular events with an elaborate display being staged by the Weymouth Sea Scouts at the World Jamboree in 1929.


Sea Scouting for Boys



First World War

The First World War gave the Sea Scouts a chance to prove the value of their training and over 25,000 of them took part in coast watching. In November 1919 the Sea Scouts were able to obtain Admiralty Recognition this was applied for and an inspection followed before this was granted. The first Sea Scout Groups getting RN capitation for 1921 were 1st Mortlake, Gravesend, 23rd Dover, Liverpool (West Toxteth) and Southport.


Sea Scouts on Coast Watching Duties


During the Second World War the Sea Scouts once again provided valuable service to help with the war effort. They provided telephone operators, signallers and stretcher bearers to the Thames River Emergency Service. The also did coast watching and acted as signallers for the Naval Authorities as well as helping in the Dunkirk evacuation.


In 1943 a leaflet was published which promoted Sea Scouting, the activities that were part of the programme and how to become a member.  In 1944 despite the war a Sea Scout Exhibition was organised from the 10th to the 19th April to take place in the Scottish Drill Hall. This was attended by Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth. There was a pool constructed of brick and concrete so model boats could be displayed.




In 1947 Rear-Admiral Viscount Mountbatten of Burma accepted the position of Commodore for Sea Scouts. Sea Scouts attended the World Jamboree held August 9th to 18th at Moisson in France.  Great Britain was represented by almost 400 Sea Scouts who went as part of their County contingent and camped on the mainland. To maintain the British Flag on Sea Scout Island a special party was sent to camp there under the leadership of Mr Denham Christie, the Headquarters Commissioner for Sea Scouts. Twelve of the party along with Mr Christie sailed to the Jamboree on a 70ft motor cruiser named Loyang. The remaining ten Sea Scouts from the 1st Mortlake Group, skippered by the Group Scoutmaster Mr Towndrow, sailed their own ship the “Minotaur” from their HQ near London.


Through the years the Sea Scouts organised expeditions and boating events. In 1952 The Sea Scout Committee organised a canoe race from Alington Lock to Tonbridge on the River Medway and Ineston Sea Scouts decided to go to the South Bank Exhibition in London by boat. They hired a narrow boat with boatman and fuel and to meet some of the cost of the trip ran the boat as a Sea Scout show boat, stopping to give displays on the way where the audience could drop some money into a collection box. They travelled over 450 miles and through 500 locks during the round trip.


Polar Exhibition held during the Festival of Britain


In 1956 The Association acquired the Longridge site at Marlow, Buckinghamshire, on the River Thames for seamanship training base. Some boats and training equipment were transferred from R.R.S. Discovery.

In the same year there were 99 Admiralty Qualified Units and a record number of 116 Groups took part in the National Scout Canoe Cruise down the River Wye between Glasbury and Monmouth. The cruise was an annual event started by Percy Blandford in 1947. These cruises along with regatta’s and competitions for trophies have continued over the years.


National Scout Cruise on the River Severn


Sea Scout Ships

In 1968 the Training Ship Mercury finally closed. It had been used by Sea Scouts for training since the early days and is now being restored at Chatham Dockyard.

Another ship that became a training ship and hostel for Sea Scouts was the “Discovery” This was the ship that had taken Scott to the pole and in 1936 it was offered to the Boy Scouts. Baden-Powell immediately looked at raising the funds to purchase the vessel and in January 1937 an announcement was made in “The Scouter” of this important gift which had been purchased by funds provided by Lady Houston. The ship was transferred back to Royal Navy ownership in 1954 as The Association could no longer afford the upkeep. In 1979 it came under the ownership of the Maritime Trust and is now in Dundee .


Sea Scouts on RRS Discovery



Dockland Scout Project

In 1979 when “Discovery” was handed over to the Maritime Trust and relocated to Dundee , the Dockland Scout Project was formed as a base for London Sea Scout Training. It began in part of a wooden pavilion and a derelict warehouse where the Canary Wharf estate currently stands and only had a small fleet of Home Counties gigs and coypu dinghies.

The Project started to run weekend courses and provide boating for London Scouts. In 1981 the Project acquired the ex-pilot cutter now called “Lord Amory” which was renovated and refitted to provide a base for water activity weekends. With the help of the Port of London Authority, and latterly the London Docklands Development Corporation, the Project have been able to set itself up as one of the best voluntary run water activities centres in the country.


In 1991 the Docklands Scout Project formally became a Scout District within Greater London Central Scout County and in 1994 with the aid of the London Docklands Development Corporation; the boathouse complex was opened by the Chief Scout Garth Morris. In the late 1990''s our landlords became British Waterways who have continued to support the Project fully and have ensured we remain one of the best voluntary run water activity centres in the country.


The Project has an adult service team known as the "Crew” who are all members of the Scout Association. Our youth and future exists in the form of "Quartermasters" who are aged between 14 and 18. They come from all of the branches of Scouting, land, sea and air, as well as Guides, Sea Cadets, Air Cadets and Sea Rangers or from outside of Scouting, they are a specialist Explorer Scout Unit.



Sea Scouting Today

In 1992 a booklet called "The Sea Scout Journal" was published privately by Sea Scouters and relied on articles from Sea Scout Groups to fill the pages. It also advertised the various Sea Scout activities that were taking place around the country.


In October 1997 there were 9,000 Sea Scouts in the United Kingdom. Sea Scout Groups can still apply for RN recognition. This entails an annual inspection on all aspects of the programme, the achievement of required nautical skills standards and a review of naval traditions. Groups who qualify can wear the RN Recognition badge, attend RN activities, have access to MOD sites and have access to the RN fund for Sea Scout Groups.


Sea Scouting has spread to most European countries and across the globe. At a recent European Sea Scout Seminar there were over 25 countries represented, all having a commitment to the balanced programme but with added emphasis on nautical skills training. In particular there are a large number of active groups in Scandinavia , Holland & Belgium with growth being seen in the Mediterranean countries.


Today Sea Scouts follow the core balanced programme for their section but then add a nautical twist to the programme and activities. Many Troops and Explorer Units meet more than once a week in the summer period and the additional meetings are used to develop nautical skills and seamanship training. It is not training for the Navy or the Merchant Navy careers, although Sea Scout training can be very useful for young people who are so interested.


Sea Scouts start with the Scout section as part of a Sea Scout Group, or as a Sea Scout Patrol in a "standard" Group. Explorer Sea Scouts can be found in Units directly linked through partnership agreements to Sea Scout Groups, water activity centres or as part of other District based units. Cub Scouts and Beaver Scouts in a Sea Scout Group follow the same programme as all other Cubs/Beavers albeit with the likelihood of some water based activities being provided by the Scout section.

100 years after Baden-Powell’s first camp for Sea Scout’s on the Training Ship “Mercury” Sea scouting continues to flourish and Groups still enjoy water based activities.


21st Century Sea Scouts


©2010 The Scout Association Archive. Allrights reserved.
Registered Charity numbers 306101 (England and Wales) and SC038437 (Scotland) Incorporated by Royal Charter.