Robert Allan Ltd. celebrates 80 years of successful ship designs

April 26, 2010

In May 2010, in conjunction with the presence of the International Tug & Salvage Conference in Vancouver, Robert Allan Ltd. will celebrate its 80th continuous year in business as an independent, privately held, consulting Naval Architecture firm. The firm will commemorate this significant milestone in its history with many of its local and international Clients who will be attending this major international conference.

Robert Allan Ltd. is currently Canada’s most senior Naval Architectural firm, and with 65 employees is one of the largest in the country. The company provides ship design and related consulting engineering services to an international client base for a wide range of commercial and government working vessels. It is a recognized world leader in the development of high-performance tugboat designs for tanker escort and LNG terminal support services. It is also the world’s leading designer of major fireboats. Other significant project expertise involves the design of coastal and river tug-barge towing systems, offshore support vessels, crewboats, patrol craft, scientific research vessels, icebreakers, ferries and a wide array of unique specialized craft.

The business was founded in Vancouver by Robert Allan, a university-trained naval architect who had emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1919 to take a position at Wallace Shipyards in North Vancouver. In his tenure there he was credited with the design of the SS Princess Louise, the first BC Coastal Steamship built outside of Scotland. In 1930 he set out as an independent consultant, and produced many enduring designs of the period, including the still notable motor yachts Meander (1936) and Fifer (1939). In 1945, he was joined by his son, Robert F. (Bob) Allan in the business, operating out of the basement of the family home in South Vancouver. The duo was responsible for many designs for coastal fishing vessels, ferries and work boats throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, and emerged as a major design force in the late 50’s and early 60’s when the coastal towing industry went through a major transformation, building many new steel tugs to replace aging wooden vessels, and using barges for the transportation of logs, pulp and paper, chemicals, construction materials, etc. as the BC coast went through a period of almost unprecedented growth. The business was incorporated as Robert Allan Ltd. in 1962 as the growing business had expanded beyond the capacity of the home basement and moved into its first formal offices at Granville and 72nd Avenue.


MY Fifer / MY Meander

MY Fifer / MY Meander


Throughout the 1960’s the business grew significantly and many of the mainline tugs and barges that still work the BC coast were designed by Robert Allan Ltd. in that period. Notable vessels of the period include the (originally named) tugs Haida Brave, Harold A. Jones, Jose Narvaez, and Hecate Crown. The firm is also generally credited with the development of the self-loading/self-dumping log barges and the majority of these were designed in this period.


Haida Brave

Haida Brave

Harold A. Jones

Harold A. Jones

Hecate Crown


In 1973 Robert G. (Rob) Allan, the third generation, joined his father in the firm, at a time when the focus of design activities had largely shifted from the west coast to the Arctic, although there was still plenty of activity in the local tug and barge and fishing industries. The major action for new vessel designs however was on the Mackenzie River and in the newly developing activities of the Beaufort Sea. Robert Allan Ltd. was responsible for the development of many innovative, pioneering designs for these regions, including the original Canmar Suppliers (I-IV), Ikaluk and Miscaroo, Beaufort Sea Explorer, and the Northern Transportation Co. Ltd. (NTCL) mainline river tugs Henry Christoffersen, Matt Berry, et al. The company also branched out of North America, setting up a joint venture operation in Singapore to take advantage of the far more active shipbuilding market in that part of the world. The company was successful in obtaining a number of crewboat, patrol boat, ferry and supply vessel design contracts throughout South-East Asia, a process that in fact set the stage for much larger developments in later years.



Canmar Suppliers

Henry Christoffersen


R.F. “Bob” Allan died rather prematurely in 1982, and Rob Allan was left to take over the business, with support from a strong and capable staff. The company struggled, as did many, through the slow years of the mid-80’s, but also took the opportunity to venture into the emerging technologies of computer-aided design and drafting processes. Those early experiments gave Robert Allan Ltd. a head start over many of its competitors in this field. New design projects continued to come its way, with many major commissions for the Government of Canada, various Provincial governments, and many of its long-time historical Clients, including the notable C.H. Cates and Sons, operating, at the time, all the ship-handling tugs in Vancouver Harbour. Cates embarked in the late 60’s on a program to replace their aging small wooden tugs with a new generation of steel diesel-powered tugs, and they turned to Robert Allan Ltd. to help them with that development. The ideas and concepts of Terry Waghorn, then President of Cates, were discussed and developed with Bob Allan, and then later with Rob Allan as the company eventually moved into the emerging technology of Z-drive tugs. The unique, compact tugs developed here attracted international attention, and ultimately gave Robert Allan Ltd. a springboard into the worldwide market for new tugs.


Charles H. Cates I


In the early 90’s the tug market globally was poised for a major rebuilding and the designs developed by Robert Allan Ltd. struck a chord with tug owners everywhere. The acceptance of the company’s designs was almost overwhelming, and the company expanded rapidly to keep pace with the demand for an ever expanding portfolio of high-performance tug designs. This growth also coincided with the emergence of escort towing technology, and Robert Allan Ltd. committed considerable of its own resources to the testing of new ideas to improve the capability and safety of tugs dedicated to tanker escort work. Today Robert Allan Ltd. is the acknowledged world leader in tug design of all sizes, with the output of this office accounting for an estimated 25%-30% of the world’s new tugs in the past decade. Significant projects in this genre include the creation of a fleet of seven major escort/terminal RAstar Series tugs for Svitzer at Milford Haven, UK, five unique Voith-propelled escort tugs for Ostensjo Rederi AS of Norway for Oil terminals in the Norway and the UK, a fleet of twenty 25 metre and 30 metre RAmparts Series ASD tugs for SMIT-Rebras in Brazil, the development of the award-winning Z-Tech® concept for the Port of Singapore, and many others.




Svitzer Kilroom


Star Commodore

SMIT Rebras Tugs


The company has also emerged in the last decade as the world leader in major fireboat projects, with recent major commissions for Los Angeles, Portland, ME, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Hong Kong, Shenzhen (China), Kuwait, Chicago, and the just to be commissioned 140 feet (42.65 metres), 50,000 gpm (11,355 m³/hr) pair of major fireboats for the Fire Department of New York.


Warner L. Lawrence

Guan Xiao Yi Hao

Three Forty Three


In the midst of this activity, Rob Allan recognized that if the legacy of this family firm was to continue for at least another generation, then the contributions of the many extremely capable Engineers and Naval Architects on staff had to be acknowledged in a new Ownership strategy. Throughout 2008 a plan emerged to sell the shares in the private Company to a group of senior employees, and that plan has now been fully implemented for almost 18 months. While Rob Allan remains fully active in the company, assuming the role of Executive Chairman of the Board, his ultimate “exit strategy” involves the gradual turning over of administrative and management duties to the new team. The new Company Owners are today in charge of all operations, under the direction of Ken Harford, the President, with the support of:

Mike Fitzpatrick
Dr. Oscar Lisagor
Brig Henry
Grant Brandlmayr
Derek Noon
Jim Hyslop
James McCarthy
Xuhui (Bill) Hu
Todd Barber
Darren Hass
– Vice President, Projects
– Vice President, Naval Architecture
– Vice President, Business Administration
– Manager, Naval Architecture
– Manager, Marine Engineering
– Manager, Project Development
– Senior Naval Architect
– Senior Naval Architect
– Naval Architect
– Naval Architect/Engineer

With the energy and commitment of this capable team, supported by a talented staff of another 55 persons, the future of Robert Allan Ltd. seems well secured for many more years of successful, diverse and innovative ship designs.

Please contact us for more information.