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Mackintosh: The Coat Boat

Many people are familiar with the Mackintosh brand, famous for producing sturdy raincoats, but did you know that this rubber jacket also played a part in creating a rather wacky invention during the 19th century, namely a coat boat?



Introducing the Mackintosh brand

Scottish inventor Charles Macintosh is credited for developing a waterproof raincoat in 1824, made from rubberised fabric. Going by the name of a Mackintosh, this coat was made by placing a solution of rubber in naphtha between a couple of layers of fabric. Although the coats quickly became popular with the masses, they would often smell or melt when it was hot. However, these issues were resolved using a method for vulcanising rubber in 1843.


Mackintosh coat boat

During the early 1840s, the virtues of Mackintosh rubber were recognised by a Royal Navy officer, Peter Halkett. Having an avid interest in Canadian Arctic exploration, Halkett was especially moved by John Franklin's expedition, which sadly ended in disaster. This inspired him to develop a non-wooden boat that would be light enough to carry around through the wilderness but could double up as a seaworthy vessel when crossing water.

Using rubber-impregnated Mackintosh cloth, Halkett devised a collapsible and inflatable cloak boat that was airtight and watertight. In case of any punctures, the coat contained four compartments and a pocket with a paddle blade and bellows. Weighing around 3.4 kg, this lightweight cloak could be worn by a single wearer, with the option of using an in-built walking stick and an umbrella.

The ingenuity of Halkett's design lay in the fact that the cloak could be inflated in approximately four minutes, to create a waterproof vessel that could hold up to eight people. The walking stick would now serve as a paddle, and the umbrella a sail when the wind whipped up. Halkett tested his early prototype on the River Thames in 1844, where he paddled for almost 10 miles without the vessel leaking or collecting any water.

Encouraged by this success, Halkett went on to design another type of coat boat that was bigger and could be used by two people. It folded into a knapsack and served as a waterproof blanket for camping. He also had the intention of creating a lifeboat version that could hold 40 people, although this dream never came to fruition.


Mixed success

Halkett marketed his coat boat idea and it certainly became a hit with some explorers. Indeed, John Rae described it as being incredibly useful for crossing and re-crossing the river at Repulse Bay, during his 1846 expedition.

Despite gaining the seal of approval from explorers, Halkett failed to convince the Royal Navy to use his coat boat designs. His attempts to promote the boats as platforms for duck shooting and lake fishing also flopped.

Although Halkett's coat boats were displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, they never became a commercial success. There are two surviving boats that now belong to a museum.


Rubber boats

Halkett's Mackintosh coat boat wasn't a winning invention, but he was certainly on the right path by choosing rubber as a suitable material for making boats. Other inventors caught on to this idea and further rubber boat creations followed. During the early 1900s, round inflatable boats were made from rubber that could be used like rafts.

Following the disastrous sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912, focus turned to creating more lifeboats, with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company creating inflatable lifeboat rafts by joining rubber to other materials.

Even today, modern rafts and lifeboats are made from rubber components, thanks to the durable, lightweight and inexpensive properties of this material.

Rubber excels as a material for the construction of boats, but it also enjoys great use for many other products, including matting, mouldings, sheeting, gaskets and seals. If you require high-quality rubber items, take a look at what Coruba has to offer.

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