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Life-threatening emergencies on the river:
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Vessel Sten Moster at Tilbury Ness. Photo by PLA Pilot Alex Scarrott


Our Pilots guide ships in the Port of London, keeping trade flowing 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

About our Pilotage Service

The port has four main approach channels and the Pilots must be expert on all of these areas. 

When boarding vessels heading in to or out of the port they take with them the very latest information on local conditions, weather, vessel traffic operations and movements, reporting requirements and potential hazards. 

With their detailed knowledge of the river and its depths and tidal currents, Pilots therefore play a vital role in the day-to-day operations of the Port of London. They also have a huge input into planning for the demands of the future.

Ship water clouds

All PLA Pilots hold an STCW Master's Unrestricted Certificate.

In a carefully integrated operation, they work closely with the Duty Port Controller in the PLA's Port Control Centre (PCC). All Duty Port Controllers are fully qualified Pilots who combine duties in Port Control with their normal pilotage duties.

Today's trends suggest that the size of ships being handled will continue to increase. PLA Pilots are now successfully berthing “MegaMax – 24” - the world’s largest container ships.

Specialist River Pilots work in the stretch of the Thames between Gravesend and London Bridge. Some of these are Bridge Pilots who work from London Bridge to Putney Bridge where expertise on the shallower water and low air draughts is vital, particularly for awkward one-off project type cargoes.

These manoeuvres have been studied, developed and practised using the PLA's Ship Bridge and Tug Simulator. As well as being used for routine and refresher training of Pilots, thus removing the need for them to travel elsewhere for such training, the simulator is vital to the PLA's plans for the future. 

The ability to exactly replicate the varying tide, wind and visibility conditions of the River Thames means that it can be used to prove the viability of proposed new berths and to train Pilots on new facilities in the Port.

The simulator is also available (by arrangement) for third-party use.

Boarding and landing of Pilots takes place from Sheerness, Ramsgate, Harwich and Gravesend. 

The pilot cutters at Sheerness and Ramsgate are purpose-built craft operated by Estuary Services Ltd (ESL) which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the PLA. Boarding and landing services at Harwich are provided by the Harwich Haven Authority and for operations at Gravesend the PLA uses its own Pilot cutter.

All PLA Pilots are equipped with appropriate PPE including personal locator beacons so, if the worst happened and a Pilot fell into the water while attempting to board or leave a ship, the beacon's signal would be activated and the Pilot will be quickly located and rescued by the pilot cutter or other rescue craft.

PLA Pilot cutter Guide

How to order a Pilot

The services of a PLA Pilot can be requested by the master of any vessel irrespective of whether pilotage is compulsory for the vessel concerned.

Full details of compulsory pilotage regulations, together with full details of how to order a pilot and a list of contact addresses, can be found in the PLA's Pilotage Directions.

An officer in Port Control can discuss the options as to which Pilot Station to use, agree a boarding time and will be able to liaise with a senior PLA Pilot should there be a problem with draught and available depth.

For full details of the procedure for ordering a Pilot, and the requisite notice, please refer to current Pilotage Directions.

Ordering a Pilot - Online (for ships agents and regular users)

PISCES is an Internet application which enables Ship Operators, Agents and port visitors to submit notification of a ship's expected movements, or order a pilot. Acknowledgement, or feedback about any other information that is required, will be sent by PLA in return. The updated information will be visible both as an update to the sender's web page, and from an email.

To sign up for a PISCES account, please email giving a generic company email address (to which email receipts will be copied), and separate email addresses and passwords for each intended user in the company.

To log in to PISCES after an account has been set up, please click here.

Ordering a Pilot - Using a local agent

Many ships use the services of a local agent to order a Pilot. These local companies have a good knowledge of the requirements and a list of local agents can be found here. Most have an online account for ordering pilots.

You can contact us using any of the following methods:-

  • By telephone +44 (0)1474 560311
  • By VHF radio
    • Channel 9, call North-east Spit pilots if approaching from the south, inward bound.
    • Channel 9, call Sunk pilots if approaching from the north, inward bound.
    • Channel 9, call Gravesend pilots if outward bound.
Pilot Safety

Download the full size card detailing statutory requirements for pilot ladders: IMO Boarding Arrangements for Pilots.

Boarding of additional persons by pilot boat is by prior arrangement with, and at the discretion of the PLA or its provider, Estuary Services Ltd, and will be subject to the completion of a safety briefing beforehand. Operators contemplating this are referred to Marine Guidance Note (MGN) 432.

Pilotage Exemption Certificates (PECs)

A system of Pilotage Exemption Certificates (PEC) is operated by the PLA for ships' Deck Officers who are regular callers at the Port. The process of issuing these Certificates involves intensive assessment of each case.

Read more
Model of boat and arrows on a map laid on a table

Pilotage Service Contacts

Management Team
  • Marine Pilotage Manager - Dave Newbury +44(0)1474 562 282
  • Deputy Marine Pilotage Manager - Kevin Beacon +44(0)1474 562 242
Pilotage Operations (24 hours)
  • Shipcon (vessel notification and pilot orders) +44(0)1474 562 219 or Email us
  • Pilotage Co-ordinator (Pilot despatch) +44(0)1474 562 342
  • Operations Fax +44(0)1474 352 996
Pilotage Exemption Certificates
Pilotage Administration (Office Hours)
  • General enquiries - Group line +44(0)1474 562 362
  • Pilotage Support Administrator - Tracy Hammond +44(0)1474 562 275
ships, sun, photo by pilot david barnett

Thames Vision 2050

As a Trust Port, we hold the river in trust, working to hand it on in a better condition to future generations.

We will nurture the country’s largest and most competitive port, closest to the UK’s biggest market, producing Net Zero emissions.

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