In the early 1930s, in the English village of Poole, small machine shops and yards were busy making parts for an outboard engine, the British Seagull, that would win a place in history and in the hearts of those who owned one.
Flywheels, gas tanks, gears, gaskets and prop shafts were then assembled in a harborside building on Poole Quay to make a single-cylinder powerplant that designer John Marston called the Marston Seagull. Soon after, engineers John Way-Hope and Bill Pinniger took over production, changed the name to British Seagull and introduced the brand’s famous advertising slogan: “The Best Outboard Motor in the World,” which was later changed to “for the World.”
The basic engine was a 102-cc, 1-cylinder power plant that would change little over the years, although the reverse gear on the early engines, which Way-Hope called “a rather sissy refinement rendered superfluous by efficient boat handling,” was eliminated. Fishermen and yacht owners loved the British Seagull’s simplicity, ease of repair and low price. The British Admiralty was also an admirer. During World War II, thousands of British Seagulls stormed the D-Day beaches, powering assault craft during the Allied operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied Western Europe. (Left behind along the Normandy shore, it’s said that many Seagulls were later restored and used by French fishermen.)
Post-war models included the 40 Minus, the 40 Plus and Century. Later, the 170 and QB series were launched. Seagull was selling up to 25,000 engines worldwide by the 1960s.
Trouble was on the horizon, though. The Seagull was never meant to run quiet or “clean.” It was a simple, durable outboard that, if properly maintained, the company insisted, was completely reliable. By the 1990s, an environmentally conscious public demanded more from marine propulsion. Overtaken by new technologies, British Seagull closed its doors in 1996.
But fans and engines remain. Sheridan Marine in Oxfordshire still supplies spare parts. “Seagull outboards are tough old birds,” says one owner. “They were a success story for an era, and all this out of a collection of sheds in the marshes on the edge of Poole Harbour.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue.