From Boats of the Norfolk Broads
I can't confirm the information in the table is correct, because it is wholly based on the information I've collected 'boat watching'. However, it does give a rough guide to the ages of boats, although there are many exceptions, hence the dates in the table should not be taken as definitive.
Originally I assume no boats had registration numbers, and in many cases unpowered craft (e.g. yachts) still don't - the Hunter's fleet is a prime example. However, registration numbers seem to have appeared on craft during the 1930s. These consisted of a letter followed by upto 3 numbers. First 'B' was used for craft from the Bure and its tributaries (Northern Broads), 'Y' for craft from the Yare and its tributaries and 'W' for craft from the Waveney. This system was replaced by a more date-based system in the 1950s. This continued into the late 1980s when the letters were exhausted. Initially some of the older letters were reused (B,N,S,T) making dating more difficult, although a fibreglass 'B' reg boat is not going to be 1930s vintage! In the early 1990s, the order was then reversed, to give 3 numbers followed by a letter. Finally, in 2017 the numbers were changed to 4 digits followed by a letter.
- In some cases the same number has been reused from boats which had been destroyed, e.g. B69 for the 1930s King of Light and the c1990 Swiftway.
- Since 1999, dinghies and small unpowered yachts have started to include registration numbers, but these are in a separate sequence from the majority of craft.
- Several boatyards have ignored the dating sequence, e.g. Trumans of Oulton Broad used the 'W' prefix for almost all their new craft irrespective of their actual building date. Also a number of 'official boats' from Broads Authority and the Police have used numbers out of sequence.
- Where boats have been imported from other waterways, the registration number denotes the date they appeared on the Broads not their actual age. This is particularly true of a fleet of craft which came or returned from the Thames and French waterways, many operated by Connoisseur Cruisers, Horning Pleasurecraft or Richardsons of Stalham in the 1990s and more recently by le Boat, Richardsons and Barnes-Brinkcraft around 2010-11.