Located at Irvine Harbour, the Scottish Maritime Museum opened in 1983 and includes an important collection of vessels, exhibitions on nautical history and Clyde shipbuilding, together with ship restoration facilities. Irvine provides an appropriate location having been the major trading port for Glasgow until the 18th Century and thereafter serving the Ayrshire coalfields.
On show is an extensive collection of vessels moored at pontoons in the harbour and at the museum's own wharf. These include the puffer Spartan, star of BBC Television's adaptation of the Tales of Para Handy by Neil Munro (Hugh Foulis) (1864 - 1930), Garnock, the last Irvine tug, and the S.Y. Carola, the oldest seagoing steam yacht in Great Britain. The Carola was built on the Clyde in 1898, returned to Scotland in 1994 and remains fully operational. Also on view is the S.V. Carrick, built in 1864, the world's oldest 'colonial' clipper ship. She forms a major restoration project, slowly being returned to her former condition as an emigration ship.
Other attractions include a shipyard worker's home, restored to its early 20th century appearance. A research department holds an important collection of records, plans and photographs. The museum also provides a base for the Scottish Maritime Heritage Association, dedicated to the restoration of old vessels and machinery.
The Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank is an outstation of the museum, located in Dumbarton. Built in 1882, the tank was used to assess the effectiveness of new concepts in marine engineering using scale models.
The museum also maintains a permanent exhibition site, Clydebuilt, at Braehead shopping centre near Renfrew, which portrays the history of the Clydeside shipbuilding industry and its importance to the development of Glasgow. Despite financial difficulties, the museum continues to attract new exhibits.