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Pilotage: Commitment and professionalism

Marine pilotage manager, David Newbury, plots his own entry into the PLA and the challenges that lie ahead for his team.

“My previous job, working for Peel Ports Medway, made me very aware of the PLA. My duties there included a directorship for Estuary Services Limited, which brought me into regular contact with PLA colleagues for a decade. I had harboured an ambition to join the PLA for a long time - the organisation has a very good reputation in marine circles."

First foot on the PLA ladder

“In May 2017, I was recruited to London River House, at the second attempt. Pilotage is a part of the Chief Harbour Master team at the PLA. I am proud of the team’s commitment and professionalism, particularly during the pandemic."


"Everything about pilotage at the PLA is big! Our compulsory pilotage district covers approximately 95 miles. Currently, we have over 100 pilots. 

"The six-strong management team is based on at London River House in Gravesend. Five co-ordinators are responsible for getting the right pilot, to the right place at the right time. Our operations are reliant on the launches and taxis that get our pilots where they need to be, at all times of day and night. In 2020 we employed three in-house drivers to shuttle pilots to and fro, mainly south of the river. They have proved a very valuable addition to the team."

Covid challenges

“The pandemic has been a challenging time for all of us. First and foremost, we have had to juggle lots of balls to maintain a high service record to our customers. I am pleased to say that we have managed to do this despite many pilots, like lots of other people, having to self isolate, or being caught up in lockdown travel restrictions.

"We have worked round the clock to ensure all possible measures were in place to reduce the risk of pilots contracting the virus whilst at work.

“It’s been distressing to hear of colleagues battling the virus.

“On top of this, 2020 also saw us bid a sad farewell to Bob Eveleigh, who passed away in April 2020. He was liked, trusted and respected by many and is sorely missed.”

On the horizon

“Looking to the future, recruiting to make sure we keep up with growing use of the river for freight is a key priority. This month we welcomed four new trainee pilots. More are planned for the summer.

“We need to make sure we have a good supply of pilots coming up through the ranks. In five years’ time, as older colleagues retire, the new recruits are set to be guiding the biggest vessels in and out of port.”

Training matters

“A key part of that training is undertaken in our ships simulator. This puts new recruits through their paces in a wide variety of virtual conditions, with safety considerations always to the fore. 

“Our pioneering pilot ladder training facility at Denton opened in 2018. It replicates on land the challenges pilos face boarding or landing vessels.”

A time to reflect

“It’s been a trying 12 months for sure. But the whole river community has pulled together and remained strong. In my view, we will emerge in a better position than any of us could thought possible a year ago.”

March 2020