National Historic Ships – or formally the Advisory Committee on National Historic Ships – was established in 2006 as a non-departmental public body reporting to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport with a specific remit to advise the Secretary of State and other public funding bodies on ship preservation and funding priorities. It is the successor to the National Historic Ships Committee, which emerged from a seminar held in 1991 to discuss the problems facing the preservation of historic ships and vessels in the UK and the evident neglect of this important part of our heritage. Strong support was expressed for the creation of a co-ordinating body which could provide an overview of all aspects of historic ship preservation and the Committee was formally launched on 15 July 1992 by Lord Lewin, then Chairman of Trustees of the National Maritime Museum.
The Advisory Committee on National Historic Ships' primary responsibility is to advise the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on national ship preservation and funding priorities, to advise the Heritage Lottery Fund on preservation priorities and individual applications it receives to fund historic ships, and to advise other public funding bodies. It also oversees the maintenance and enhancement of the National Register of Historic Vessels and the development and monitoring of an ‘At Risk’ register, to provide an authoritative database of the historic fleet.
National Historic Ships also seeks to provide leadership and strategic vision across the national historic ships community and the wider maritime sector by acting as a focus for advice on aspects of the preservation of historic vessels, by:
- encouraging an awareness and understanding of the through-life costs of restoring and maintaining historic vessels;
- raising awareness among trusts and owners about good practice and fund-raising opportunities;
- providing guidance to trusts and owners about business planning and interpretation to make ships become more self-sustaining and attractive to new audiences;
- developing and promoting professional standards of good practice for the conservation and restoration of historic vessels;
- promoting the availability and standard of ship and boat conservation skills and training, and the sharing of experience and expertise across the sector; overseeing the compilation of a register of firms/individuals capable of offering potential conservation skills, and promoting opportunities for people to develop and maintain traditional ship building and ship repairing skills;
- promoting and making available to the public research into ship preservation and conservation techniques;
- advising on documentation and recording techniques in cases where vessels are beyond physical and economic preservation;
- promoting the case for historic ships to a wider audience and monitoring practice in other countries.
The Chair of National Historic Ships was appointed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and serves ad hominem and in an honorary capacity.
In addition to the Chair, up to 11 members form the committee. These members are selected by interview for their knowledge, experience and standing in the field of historic ship preservation and to provide both regional and specialist representation. Three places are reserved for representatives of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each member serves for a four year term. The posts are honorary and only travelling expenses are reimbursed.
The Committee is supported by a director, the manager of the National Register of Historic Vessels and a case officer.
The Committee has a small annual grant with which to pursue its objectives.
Two sub-committees have been established – Finances and General Purposes and Registration, with a further Challenge Fund working group.