BOOK REVIEW | Workboats for the World: The Robert Allan Story

Once your reviewer gained the strength to lift its 500, bigger than A4, hard-covered pages, he not so much read this book as devoured it. It is a brilliant and priceless maritime history. It will ensure that its readers are entertained for at least a week and informed for decades.

Robert Allan Ltd (RAL) needs no introduction to anyone in the global tug, barge, workboat, OSV, ferry, patrol, or fireboat sectors. For nearly a century it has been one of the world’s leading and best respected firms of naval architects with examples of its work operating successfully almost everywhere there is water. RAL is a by-word for common sense creativity in vessel design and construction.

This hefty tome, however, is not just a massive collection of pretty pictures of attractive boats and ships – which, indeed, it is. It is a first rate history of a highly reputable family business; of naval architecture, more generally; of design, vessel, construction and propulsion system technology. It also provides an invaluable one-volume MBA course in how to manage a global business that built its very long-term success on ethical, imaginative, creative, and very energetic principles.

Finally, it describes the firm’s very imaginative, fair, and effective succession plan that was enacted when the author, its third family principal, retired recently. Robert Allan the third is a very canny long-term thinker.

Needless to say, the book is replete with the abovementioned pretty pictures of the vessels and people it describes so well. They help to ensure its value as a history of naval architecture and shipbuilding. Some of the general arrangement drawings presented are quite beautiful.

This book provides the maritime world with a fine and invaluable history. It is a pity that so few of the real achievers in this fascinating industry have emulated Rob Allan. He and Peter Robson deserve much praise for their efforts.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, this reviewer is not the only fan of this brilliant book. Shortly after its publication, it was announced as the winner of the John Lyman Book Award from the North American Society for Oceanic History.

Authors: Robert G. Allan & Peter A. Robson

Available from Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, BC, Canada


Neil Baird

Co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Baird Maritime and Work Boat World magazine, Neil has travelled the length and breadth of this planet in over 40 years in the business. He knows the global work boat industry better than anyone.