Derek Cox Art
Ships began to be registered from 1660 onwards as a result of a series of 'Navigation Acts'. These Acts were intended to make British trading merchants use British built ships using predominantly British masters. Registration was undertaken with the local Collectors of Customs - there were no centralised records. It was not until 1786 when general registration began under the 'Act for the Further Increase and Encouragement of Shipping and Navigation'. This required all British ships of more than 15 tons and with a deck area to register with Customs at their home port (such as Faversham). Registration of shipping was thus based on a network of statutory Ports of Registry around Britain and throughout her then colonies. Later, the extensive 'The Merchant Shipping Act (1854)' consolidated many matters relating to merchant shipping. It transferred overall responsibility to the Board of Trade and introduced the system of Offical Numbers for vessels. In 1857, the first generally available Mercantile Navy List was published covering all commercial ships registered in Britain. British registration is presently run centrally by the Registry of Shipping and Seamen (RSS) in Cardiff, which is part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
For fishing boats, 'The Merchant Act (1894)' required every fishing vessel to be registered and to be lettered and numbered. As Faversham was, and still is, a Port of Register for any vessel, fishing boats can carry the letter F (where 'F' denotes they are registered at the Port of Faversham) and a number - giving, for example 'F57'. Similarly, other local Ports include Folkestone (denoted by 'FE'), Ramsgate (denoted by 'R') and Rochester (denoted by 'RR'). There are 78 such Ports codes covering England and Wales for fishing boats.
Details of vessels registered at the Port of Faversham being compiled
The example above shows the beginning of the list of fishing boats, merchant and commercial vessels known to have registered at the Port of Faversham at some stage in their existence going as far back as the 1570s. Totalling 2,000 or so vessels, it demonstrates the importance of Faversham as a maritime, commercial and manufacturing centre. However, not all of these vessels were operating out of Faversham as the Customs Port of Faversham stretched from Iwade in the west to Reculver in the east, and across to Warden Point on the Isle of Sheppey. And included Milton, Conyer, Teynham, Whitstable and Herne as well as Faversham. So, for example, vessels whose local harbour was Whitstable or Milton (Sittingbourne), registered their vessels at Faversham as this was their nearest official Port.
As an official Port, and importantly, having had a Custom House, vessels have registered at the Port of Faversham for hundreds of years to meet legal requirements. Registration helped establish the ownership and pedigree of a vessel through the issue of an individual Port Number or Official Number (depending upon its type and size). When vessels are modified, sold or other particulars altered, these details are recorded against the vessels registration number.