The mission of the Smith Island Crab Skiff Association

is to preserve the heritage and history of the Smith Island Crab Skiff


That legacy began about 100 years ago wihen Captain Lawson "Lawsee" Tyler devised an efficient way to reach the grass beds to harvest soft-shell crabs. He designed a motorized, 18-foot-long, 3.5-foot-wide skiff with a foredeck that provided a platform on which a waterman could stand with a pole net and scoop crabs from the shallow waters. Many believe he copied the design of a French sailing bateau. 

Tyler used fore-to-aft planking instead of the traditional cross-planking to construct the long, skinny skiff, thereby reducing the drag through the water; when he added a 4- to 6-horse power, direct drive engine, a skiff, like Sea Flirt, (below) would jump on top of the water like a speedboat.

This photo (Left), taken sometime between 1930 and 1940, features Sea Flirt racing in one of the original crab skiff races. This and other photos from that period are featured in "Workboats of  Smith Island" by Paula Johnson. Another fascinating read is "An Island Out of Time" by Tom Horton; it chronicles modern life on Smith Island.

After the watermen finished their daily work, they raced their speedy skiffs up and down the Chesapeake Bay along the Eastern Shore. The competition was fierce. Bragging rights were not the only prize at stake—the watermen competed for trophies like the pitcher, dated 1927, in the picture to the right. Some say the skiff's size and speed made it ideal for bootlegging runs during the Prohibition. 

No one know exactly how many skiffs Tyler built from 1920 to 1935, but the estimate is 150. The only known remaining skiff is on loan from the Calvert Museum to the Smith Island Museum.

(Above) The silver pitcher, one of the original trophies awarded for winning a crab skiff race, is from 1927. The inscription reads:


Chesapeake Bay Championship

             Workboat Trophy             

Awarded to  

Capain Earl W. Tyler 

Rhodes Point MD  

For Winning First Place in the

    Seventh Annual Chesapeake  

Championship Workboat Race 

Smith Island Crabbing Skiff  

Oxford MD 

June 25, 1927  


The association is born

Richard "Dickey" White revived the crab skiff races in 1998 when he issued a challenge: Oxford vs. Crisfield that would take place during the annual crab derby. The association grew from that race. Its mission is to keep the traditional and practical design alive by building, racing and exhiiting the skiffs at events along the Chesapeake Bay. The club holds at least three events each year with at least two heats at each race, one free-for-all and one handicapped to make for a more competitive race. 

If you are interested in racing but do not have a boat, the association can help. It has several skiff plans from which prospective boat owners/builders can choose. Additionally, several club members are professional boat builders and, occaisonally, club members will sell their skiffs.  


Replica boats and trophies

To see photos of today's racing skiffs and the trophies awarded, click on the above tabs "Boats" and Awards," respectively.

(Right) Oxford resident and artist Howard Lapp drew this picture of Dickie White building Slippery Eel. A club member tracked down the orignial and intends to have prints made. 

©2016 Smith Island Crab Skiff Association

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