Registration number 87
Status National Historic Fleet


Function Leisure Craft
Subfunction Launch
Location River Thames
Vessel type Umpire's Launch
Current use Private use
Available to hire No
Available for excursions No


Builder Saunders, Sam, Goring-on-Thames
Built in 1898
Rig None
Number of decks 1
Propulsion Steam
Number of engines 1
Primary engine type Steam Twin High Pressure
Boiler type Locomotive
Boilermaker Steamwell Boilers
Boiler year 2018


Breadth: Beam
7.51 feet (2.29m)
2.00 feet (0.61m)
Length: Overall
49.97 feet (15.24m)
Tonnage: Gross


CONSUTA is a fast steam launch with a lightweight hull made by a revolutionary construction technique of four veneers of mahogany planking stitched together with copper wire. This technique was patented by Sam Saunders and called 'Consuta Plywood'. Saunders used this strong waterproof plywood for boat and airplane construction in the early 1900s and it remained in use until the 1950s by which time waterproof glues had become widely available.

The name CONSUTA was derived from the Latin 'consutilis' meaning stitched. The steam engine used in CONSUTA was built by G.F.G. DesVignes and can produce 100 horsepower. CONSUTA achieved 27½ mph and was one of the fastest launches on the Thames at the time. She was successfully used for coaching duties as an umpire launch at various Thames regattas and also for several years was the Umpire Launch for the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. There are several photos also showing royalty of the 1900s carried as passengers.

In 1923 the steam plant was removed by Taylor Bates at Chertsey and replaced with a Wolesley petrol engine. Subsequently she was sold to Phelps at Putney and then Sims at Richmond who had the contract for umpiring the boat race.

In 1949, the BBC used CONSUTA as a TV camera platform providing live television coverage of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. This was the very first outside broadcast to use radio link for the TV pictures. She continued this duty until the late 1960s. By 1971 she was owned by F&B boats at Surbiton and was used for tripping.

In 1973, G.E. Lindsay purchased CONSUTA and decided to restore her using the original steam engine found at Tom Taylor's yard, Staines in 1975. The Consuta Trust was formed in 1998 to complete the restoration work. Since Trust ownership, funds have been raised in various ways including a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The final restoration work was carried out by Henwood and Dean, Kew Bridges Engines and with the help of a great deal of volunteer work hours. CONSUTA was re-commissioned in October 2001 as originally built.

Since her restoration, CONSUTA is publicly displayed at various Thames regattas throughout the summer each year. She has also worked as an umpire launch at rowing regattas, fulfilling the task she was designed for over 100 years ago.


What is the vessel’s ability to demonstrate history in her physical fabric?

CONSUTA’s physical significance can be found in her name which means ‘stitched together’ and derives from the revolutionary technique used in constructing her lightweight hull. In the absence of waterproof glues, four veneers of mahogany planking were hand sewn together with copper wire stitches, laid in approximately 40,000 inch long grooves in the outer lamination. This became known as the ‘Consuta Method’ and was patented by the builder, remaining in wide use until the 1950s and becoming the forerunner of later cold moulded plywood hulls. CONSUTA has no ribs and her small frames are only used to spread the load of the steam machinery, giving her an extremely light, but strong hull. CONSUTA’s original steam engine was built by G.F.G Des Vignes and was capable of producing 100 hp. This was replaced by a petrol engine in 1923, but the original steam plant was reinstated during conservation work in the late 1990s.

What are the vessel’s associational links for which there is no physical evidence?

Contemporary reports compiled from club minutes and letters indicate that the vessel was hired as the Henley Royal Regatta umpire launch for a number of years and seen as very ‘satisfactory’ with ‘far less roll caused by her than any other boat hitherto used’. She carried the Prince of Wales in 1912 and later acted as umpire launch for the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race on the Thames, being used for the first ever live TV broadcast of this iconic event in 1949. Today, CONSUTA continues to be presented at Thames regattas and festivals where she has been used once more as an umpire’s launch.

How does the vessel’s shape or form combine and contribute to her function?

CONSUTA was commissioned to be driven at high speeds of up to 23 knots whilst producing minimal wash. Her lines were drawn to achieve this and she was the first vessel to be built with a tunnel stern, which is still adopted by GRP-constructed umpire launches today. CONSUTA’s ability to travel at speed is integral to her significance. The decision to return her to operational use through conservation has meant some loss of original material, but allows her to demonstrate her original purpose as she is seen steaming along her home river, the Thames. This heritage setting adds to her significance as a surviving representative of the growth in sporting and leisure boating on the Thames at the end of the 19th Century.

Source: Hannah Cunliffe, Policy & Project Manager, National Historic Ships, May 2011.

Key dates

  • 1898

    Built in Goring-on-Thames for Mrs H S Clutton

  • 1898

    Fitted with a steam engine producing 100hp and capable of 23 knots

  • 1898-1911

    Used as an umpiring launch

  • 1907

    Sold to Henry Hewitt

  • 1913

    Played host to the Prince of Wales at Oxford

  • 1923

    Steam plant removed by Taylor Bates at Chertsey and replaced with a Wolesley petrol engine Subsequently sold to Phelps at Putney and then Sims at Richmond

  • 1949

    Used by the BBC as a TV camera platform providing live television coverage of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race

  • 1949-1969

    Continued to provide coverage of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race

  • 1971

    Sold to F&B Boats of Surbiton and used for tripping

  • 1975

    Sold to Graham Lindsay and restoration work started

  • 1990's

    Brian Smith and family stepped in to help with the restoration  Vessel moved to Kintbury then Henley

  • 1997

    Consuta Trust established by the Steam Boat Association of Great Britain


  • April 2017

    £99,500 from HLF to install steam boilder and new superstructure

  • 2000-1

    The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £38,200 for restoration of the vessel and display to the public at water based events


Wheeler, Raymond, From River to Sea, the maritime heritage of Sam Saunders, 1993
Desmond, Kevin, Guinness Book of Motorboating Facts & Feats, 1979
Saunders, Sam, Motorboat & Yachting, July 1984
Saunders Patent Launch Buildings Syndicate Catalogue, Testimonials, 1904
Steamboat Register: An illustrated Register of surviving steam vessels in the British Isles, Steam Boat Association of Great Britain, Edition 6, May 1994
Watercraft no 20 Stitches in Time, 2000
The Consuta System in Aviation, 1919 
Mansfield, Kathy, Classic Boat:Traditional Boat Festival Back in Style, pp16-17, September 2015  
Classic Boat Tailor Made Boats, 1991 
Classic BoatUmpires Launch, August 2002
Classic BoatA stitch in time, August 2002

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Registered, built 1901 by Saunders, Sam, Goring-on-Thames