Member Feature | Remote but Connected

Remote but connected

Operating passenger boats in a testing and environmentally fragile environment.

St Agnes Boating is one of the most remotely located British Marine members, operating passenger boats in a testing and environmentally fragile environment. We talked to owner, John Peacock, about how he has embraced technology and sustainability to improve service to his community and the wider passenger boat and small commercial scene.

What to do when the waters you earn your living from become over-fished and you pay your crew more than you can take home yourself after costs? That was the dilemma facing Scilly Island fisherman David Peacock in the early 1990s.

David decided not to wait out the bad years ahead before quotas started to protect and restore the fishery. Instead, he established a passenger boat service on the isle of St Agnes, starting by chartering a small vessel. With the concept proven, a dedicated 13m catamaran with distinctive proa-like upswept bows called Spirit of St Agnes was commissioned and built on the Isle of Wight a year later. A smaller 10m 66-passenger monohull called Enterprise of St Agnes has joined the fleet since.

David’s son, John, joined the business after working for the Royal Navy as a civilian contractor specialising in weapons. They formed a partnership around 2010 and John took over when his father retired nine years later. Passenger Boat Association (PBA) member St Agnes Boating performs a lifeline duty for the small local community and visitors who wish to transit between St Agnes across the deep-water to St Mary’s. The company also offers less frequent services to St. Martin’s, Bryher, Tresco and Samson. Given decades-long traditions of managing passenger boats in these waters that could easily have been the sum of this company’s parts.

Motor installation of the Southerly 47

Using technology to improve efficiency

Not content with the status quo, John turned to technology to improve the efficiency and flexibility of his company’s services and make them more accessible. He explains: “We operate a taxi service all year; when I took over, we were getting up to 30-40 telephone calls daily, all asking what time the ferry was leaving. We needed a better system. We introduced a boating app that informed our customers when the trips were running.

“Then we looked at making our services more accessible. Many of our taxi trips took just one individual or a single party, which was expensive as they had to pay the full fee, so we introduced a boat-sharing function. Ad hoc trips booked as a taxi appear on the app with the ability to book the same journey and share costs. 

“Digitising those aspects of the business cut the telephone calls down to two or three per day. Then I went further into other parts of our operation. As part of our legal responsibilities, we must count and log passenger numbers for every trip. My mother used to do that manually, but she wasn’t always available. We’ve digitised that process now within our app, saving time and improving safety. HM Coastguard has a unique web page for each boat; in the event of an incident, they can log in to see our list of trips and the numbers onboard.”

Safety management on a phone

“Some time afterwards, I received an invitation to present what we had done at the PBA annual conference; it drew interest from many members there. That told me there was a market for what we had produced. As a result, we’ve moved on to develop a safety management system capable of being used on any vessels needing to comply with the Passenger Ships Domestic Safety Management Code, the Workboat Code, vessels operating under MGN 280, fishing vessels and the Intended Pleasure Vessels (IPV) code.

“The result is called Boat Checks, a cloud-based system with a mobile phone app for use on the boat and a desktop admin interface for the Designated Person Ashore (DPA). Crew members working onboard vessels can log tasks for period maintenance reporting, daily prestart checks, periodic crew training, incident, and defect reporting, and viewing all certification and documentation required for crews and vessels. Records of non-compliant issues and resultant actions are displayed live on the DPA’s dashboard and reported on for audits.

“Using Boat Checks, you have a complete picture of what the boat has done and its exact status, such as bunker levels, engine hours, issues, logged weather, last safety drill and so on,” John explains. “Every document you need to operate for the crew and boat is also visible on the system.

“I’ve been working with British Marine members Hobbs of Henley and Searegs Training on this and the PBA’s former secretary, Roger Flitter. They have exacting standards that have been a valuable test of the system.”

At the time of writing, Boat Checks was in beta trials. John developed it using his engineering experience alongside a business partner. The project also had a freelance developer appointed for a year to assist with the coding, partly funded by an EU grant.

“The interesting thing about going digital is the advantages you don’t think about,” John continues. “I’ve been running various versions of Boat Checks since last August on my fleet and have realised there were several defects I would have never known about at the time because the crew recorded them in the paperlog, which stayed on the boat. Digitally-recorded information is readily available and more sustainable – each operator will use at least one sheet of paper for each boat daily.”

Passion for a fragile environment

John’s reference to sustainability leads the discussion towards his other passion – looking after the environment. Living on the Scilly Isles, you cannot escape signs of climate change. Fin whales were spotted for the first time in living memory two years ago, encouraged north by warming waters; endangered bluefin tuna were reported in 2018. Storms rolled in one after the other from November last year in a way the islanders once would not have experienced.

It’s a necessity for St Agnes Boating’s vessels to use buoy moorings away from shore. Hence, they must continue with internal combustion propulsion. Countering that need, for five years now John has made the business carbon neutral by offsetting running hours with carbon credits from an operation that reduces the use of open fires for cooking in Africa. Solar panels maintain battery health when the boats are not operating; John now remote monitors Spirit and Enterprise to reduce the number of launch trips to perform checks. The hope is that hydrogen will provide a longer-term solution to sustainable propulsion.

Supporting environmental organisations

John is increasingly working with several wildlife organisations to assist their studies and remedial efforts in the Scilly Isles. St Agnes Boating serves as the lead contractor for the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, providing the means of access to more than 25 uninhabited islands, all requiring difficult landings on beaches or rock shelves. The company works with Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). John also volunteers for the RSPB as a lead co-ordinator on the Seabird Recovery Project. This is responsible for Manx Shearwaters now successfully rearing chicks on St Agnes every year.

Safety management on a phone

So much for a quiet island life. “For me, it’s not about sitting still,” John states. “We have our base operation of moving people around the islands but have diversified into digitisation and sustainability. Working with the PBA and British Marine technical team, I consulted on the Small Seagoing Passenger Ship Code and the Grandfathering Rights legislation. I’m an engaged member of British Marine and often on the telephone with the Head of Technical Services, Ed Tuite. I also play an active role on the PBA as a committee member and sit as a stakeholder in the Maritime Coastguard Agency’s Domestic Passenger Ship Safety Group. 


“Above all, though, I appreciate the networking opportunities of membership. You benefit from understanding what other operators are doing, as well as being able to contribute to current issues. I feel I’ve got a position where I have a route into the national scene where I understand not only the problems facing members but also what the industry needs.”

Further information

British Marine’s technical team is available to answer members’ questions about technology, standards and regulation. Please email technical(at)

You can learn more about Boat Checks by visiting 

Article first published, BM Magazine, Spring 2023

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