The National Museum of Australia hopes to have its historic paddle steamer churning through the waters of Lake Burley Griffin again by as early as next week.
The 1878 paddle steamer Enterprise has been waylaid at the jetty of the museum for the past 10 months, unable to operate because of bushfire smoke and then the coronavirus.
New maritime laws have also strengthened safety rules and forced the museum to seek, for the first time, a manager to oversee the maritime operations of the vessel and help update the training of volunteers who would continue to crew it.
The museum's head of collection care and management, Linda Byrne, said the dedicated volunteers were mostly elderly, and the interior of the vessel was cramped and not made for 21st century social distancing, which had forced a stop to the regular cruises around the lake.
The paddle steamer, run by a wood-fired boiler, is originally from Echuca, on the Murray River, and is one of oldest working paddle steamers in the world.
Senior large technology conservator Nathan Pharaoh said the vessel had been part of the museum collection since 1984, restored in Echuca before being moved to its new home on the lake in 1988.
"Throughout its life, it was used to pull barges up and down the Murray, mainly for wool trade," he said.
"It was also used as a hawker, which is basically a shop. It's been a fishing vessel, it's been a private residence, it's been a showboat. It's mainly been continuously operating since 1878."
Ms Byrne said modern-day maritime legislation had been updated and the museum was trying to navigate its way through it, with the help of the new manager, securing an exemption to get that done.
"Vessels of this age don't really fit neatly into that [legislation]," she said.
Cruises for the public were not practical because only nine people could be on the paddle steamer at a time, six of whom had to be crew.
Ms Byrne said the museum was implementing COVID-safe practices so the public could enjoy static displays of the paddle steamer, which could dock at different locations around the lake, especially during large events.
It was also keen to attract more volunteers to ensure the paddle steamer could be used into the future.
She hoped the paddle steamer could be again a fixture on the lake as early as next week.