Big Brother

Those Members who were able to join the party to visit London VTS at Gravesend were treated to a thoroughly interesting and informative visit. Below is Donald Neale’s report on the visit.


Tuesday 20th December was the day that John Haselgren had arranged for club members to visit the Port of London Authority (PLA) at their headquarters and be introduced to the workings of the Vessel Traffic System (VTS) which handles all water borne traffic in and out of the Thames & Thames estuary.

We travelled in several cars making our way to Ferry Road, Tilbury, where following John’s advice we did indeed find free car parking. We made our way to the passenger ferry which runs from Tilbury to Gravesend and the Princess Pekapoota? Took us across the river and allowed us to make our way to The Three Daws pub. This turned out to be a very good traditional house with a good range of draft beers and a very good menu choice.

Having fully satisfied our needs, we made our way some 400 metres to the PLA HQ which sits on the river bank downriver from the pub. Here we were warmly welcomed, given visitor passes and ushered into a lecture room with tea and coffee on tap. Our host for the afternoon was Kevin Gregory, who is VTS Manager designate. Kevin gave a very clear and full account of the activities of the PLA and made it clear that they were self financing and not a government body. I was interested to hear that they had a staff of over 350, which included some 90 pilots who had a shift pattern of work as a pilot and alternated with the job of VTS Controllers, which means that the man of the radio is truly an experienced and efficient operator. It was clearly stated that they would like to know yachts movements and intentions and that we should monitor their VHF Channels. (Ch. 69 Thames Estuary to Southend; Ch. 68 Southend to Barrier; Ch. 14 Barrier up river) at all times when in their area, thus letting us know of ship movements near us. They were happy to take calls on Ch. 69/68/14. Ch. 16 is used only for emergencies.

Following this talk and question time, we were taken up to the control centre and were shown the amazing sets of computer screens, fully linked to radar, AIS and Camera technology. They track all vessel movements from Harwich in the North to Ramsgate in the South and cover all the channels leading into the Thames and right up river to Tower Bridge and beyond, Their system allows then to interrogate any vessel and immediately shows the size, destination, cargo and full details of size, tonnage etc.. The control centre receives request for Pilots and dispatches them to the different pick up points at sea. The radar system showed clearly all movements and fixed locations, such as the various wind farms and the camera system has the ability to lock on a chosen target and zoom in to give clear details of the vessel. This was amazing technology and we were all quite sure that we saw only the tip of their capability.

When I am sailing, I tend not to bother the Coast Guard with reports of my voyage and destination, thinking that no one bothered about the smaller vessels, but I was amazed to see that they hold records and could show my trip down the Wallet last Saturday. – BIG BROTHER HAS ARRIVED.

This was truly a most worthwhile visit and very instructional to us all. Well done John, the next visit for other club members and yourself is a must.