Lyttelton steam vessel in a race against time to keep afloat

It's a race against time for a group of passionate sailors who are hoping to restore New Zealand's oldest steam boat.

The Tug Lyttelton Preservation Society is hoping to raise at least $30,000 to keep the 110-year-old vessel on the water and taking passengers around Lyttelton Harbour.

Described as a floating museum, the Lyttelton, built as a tug boat, has missed the past two sailing seasons due to maintenance issues.

"We need money to get us back up and going again," the Preservation Society's Jeremy van der Bel says. "With two years of not sailing our bank balance has taken a massive hit, as we haven't been out there earning money."

The tug has been sailing around the harbour for more than 110 years and is one of the few coal-powered vessels left in the country.

"There's nothing like this anymore; all the modern ships now are electronic and you steer with a little joystick, and you haven't got anything like the big wheel that we have here," the Lyttelton's skipper, Geoff Swallow, says.

The tug is currently dry-docked, waiting for a maritime warrant of fitness.

Built before the Titanic, she's managed to keep much of her original interior. She was destined for the scrap heap in the 1970s, before the society bought her for $1.

"With the earthquakes there isn't many links to our past left, and this is one of those tangible links where you can come down, look, touch, smell what it was like back in the old days," Mr van der Bel says.