National Maritime Museum Cornwall

The National Maritime Museum Cornwall is located in a harbourside building at Falmouth in Cornwall, England. The building was designed by architect M. J. Long,[1] following an architectural design competition managed by RIBA Competitions.

The museum grew out of the FIMI (Falmouth International Maritime Initiative) partnership which was created in 1992 and was the result of collaboration between the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and the former Cornwall Maritime Museum in Falmouth. It opened in February 2003. It is an independent charitable trust[2] and, unlike other national museums, receives no direct government support.

Its mission is to promote an understanding of boats and their place in people's lives, and of the maritime heritage of Cornwall.[3] It does this by presenting the story of the sea, boats and the maritime history of Cornwall.


The Museum manages the National Small Boat Collection,[4] which came from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, in addition to its own collection of Cornish and other boats. Famous boats on show in its collection include:

  • Waterlily, a Thames steam boat built by Thornycrofts in 1866
  • Fricka, a gentleman's day sailor built by William Fife
  • Champions like the Ventnor planing hydrofoil; the Flying Dutchman Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Superdocious for short) in which Rodney Pattisson won a gold medal at the Mexico Olympics; Rita, the Finn in which Ben Ainslie won Olympic gold medals in 2004, 2008, and 2012; and "Defender II"
  • Thunder and Lightning the International 14 which was the first boat to use a trapeze competitively
  • Early examples of popular sailing dinghies like Mirror No.1, Firefly No.1 and Dart No. 1
  • Curlew, the Falmouth Quay Punt in which Tim and Pauline Carr sailed to the Antarctic
  • Wanderer-W48, a Wayfarer (dinghy), in which Frank Dye sailed to Iceland and to Norway from Scotland (surviving four capsizes and a broken mast during a Force 9 storm) [Ref-7].

The museum is the country's premier museum for boats and maintains the National Small Boat Register (NSBR) of small boats (under 33-foot) and invites owners of historic craft to register them.[5]

Cornwall's maritime history

Three galleries are devoted to the maritime history of Cornwall. These cover topics such as Cornish fishing, trading, boatbuilding, wrecks and emigration.

The Falmouth gallery also tells the story of:

  • The Packet ships which operated out of Falmouth and which took the mails to the growing empire from 1668 until 1851
  • The life of Falmouth in the late 19th century when "to Falmouth for Orders" was a familiar instruction to ships' captains and the harbour was filled with vessels returning to Europe from around the world; and
  • The 20th century when Falmouth was a jumping off point for D-Day and the first and last port of call for sailors like Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo around the world, and Ellen MacArthur who broke the solo round the world sailing record having left from, and returned to the museum

Main galleries

  • The Main Hall – containing the Survival Zone
  • The Hold – with changing bi-annual exhibitions
  • Look-out – with views over Falmouth harbour
  • The Quarterdeck – used for temporary exhibitions
  • Nav Station – Navigation and weather
  • Boat building and its history
  • Tidal Zone – with underwater views of Falmouth harbour
  • Waterfront – the small indoor lake, with fans creating a gust for radio-controlled model yachts
  • Pontoon – with a changing display of boats on the water
  • Maritime Cornwall
  • Falmouth Gallery
  • Cornwall and the Sea
  • Cornish Quayside


The museum has a programme of annual exhibitions including titles such as:

  • 2004 The Will to Win – an exhibition of Olympic and competitive boats
  • 2005 Team Philips and Surf's Up – exhibitions about the round the world project and the history of surfing in the UK
  • 2006 Endurance and Survival
  • 2007 Mad Dogs, and Englishmen? – eccentric boats
  • 2008 Under the Sea – diving and man's attempt to work under water
  • 2009 Titanic, Honour and Glory
  • 2010 Lighthouses – Life on the Rocks
  • 2012 Search and Rescue – the work of the Rescue Services
  • 2015 Viking Voyagers
  • 2017 Tattoo Tales and Bligh-Myth, Man and Mutiny
  • 2018 Titanic Stories

There is also a programme of temporary exhibitions, talks and activities.[3]

Other facilities

The museum has a waterside café overlooking the harbour, a shop, space for temporary exhibitions, and the Sunley Lecture Theatre.

Bartlett Library

The Bartlett Library is the centre of the museum's research and provides answers on maritime matters for specialists and amateurs alike. As well as holding many of the original port records for Falmouth, it has over 16,000 books and a very large number of magazines, cuttings and illustrations.[6]


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