Poole Pilot Boats



“It is a requirable also in a good Pilot that in sailing in or out of any river or haven he be sufficiently acquainted along the reach from buoy to buoy or beacon to beacon; and that he be a diligent observer of all capes, points, steeples and all other like marks; and how the mouth of the haven reacheth into the sea and what depth it hath as well as within as without”

Boteliers Dialogues, 1685

  • Vanguard
  • Barracuda
  • Vandyke

Poole Pilotage: a Timeline



An Act to make new provision in respect of pilotage, A.D. 1987.

With these words Parliament was bringing to an end a centuries old tradition. The Corporation of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond – “Trinity House” to all sailors – will be relinquishing its control of the country’s pilotage service. From then on it will be the responsibility of Harbour Authorities to maintain the remarkable standards of professional skills and dedication which have safeguarded the entering and leaving of British ports for all types of ships of all nations.

1509 – 1987


The origins of Trinity House are traceable long back in history, though Henry Vlll gave them first responsibility for navigation and pilotage.   It is a British Institution which defies logic and yet works well.   In 1803 Parliament gave it responsibility to bring together all the services into an organisation able to control the transition from sail to steam, control the work of pilots serving coastal vessels or great liners and whose personnel, as part of their everyday work, exercise remarkable skills of shiphandling.

1509 – 1987


Sub-commissioners were appointed for each port to draw up regulations for their own port – at Poole they at Scaplens Court (pictured left) in January 1803.   The regulations made then retain the basic system of operation modified as necessary to suit local conditions. Pilots are licensed to charge by a scale of dues for services within the area from Christchurch ‘head to Peverill Point.   The Pilots are self-employed and independent. They make their own employment rules but must be within the many regulations for prevention of collision at sea, the law of the land, local harbour bye laws and Trinity House regulations.

If a vessel requires a pilot one must be available, at any time, on any day. The pilots must therefore organise themselves on a round the clock basis. Time on and off, holidays, sickness must all be accommodated. There are no temporary pilots to cover, they must all be licensed. To reach the ships pilots must have boats, similarly available at all times  The Pilots therefore have responsibility for the boats and crews.

1509 – 1987


The number of pilots followed the fortunes of the harbour trade, the maximum was 16 and minimum 9, but these numbers are confused by the fishermen pilots and those holding licenses but not practising.   So with the boats, the maximum was 4, operating in pairs so one of a pair was always available during refit periods – but this caused dissent as it meant changing teams owing to differing boat sizes.

The Pilot service at Poole was almost a family occupation with sons and nephews learning as apprentices in the cutters. Family names recur, Stone, Wills, Brown. The main requirement was intricate knowledge of the harbour, ship handling being less specialised than it is now, the pilots using their fishing boat skills.

1869 – 2018

All change…!

Some important changes in the pilot service since then:-

1)      Technological changes that have made accurate ETA’s of ships possible, enable larger vessels to enter and leave the port in all but impossible conditions, made a great contribution to safety and require quite a different skill level to that of sailing ships.

2)      Social changes that make the pilots and coxswains a team within a ‘professional’ service with a status in the community which would have been envied by the generation of earlier pilots.

3)      Changes in duties – the harbour authorities and the pilots have to develop a new working partnership.



Cutter No.1.   The programme included assembling in the lounge of the Shipwrights’ Arms, (a Public House now demolished but situated on the south side of the little channel, there are still some public steps there known as Shipwrights steps).   The naming ceremony took place on the quay and was performed by Mrs. T.W. Sherrin.   Mrs. Sherrin had the misfortune to miss the boat with the bottle of champagne which promptly sank.   Afterwards the assembled company were amused – and somewhat mortified – to see two divers appear with the missing bottle and toast the health of thse present!

Subsequently many adjustments and alterations had to be made to the engine with little result and it was felt the time had come to replace the engine with a new one.   Not good news as this was only in May 1971, less than a year after commissioning.   However it was not until 1974 that the work was eventually costed and agreed.




The Tom Sherrin Restoration Project is managed by the Poole Unit of the Maritime Volunteer Service.

Ⓒ MVS Poole 2018. Registered Charity Number: 1048454 / SCO39269