Sea pilots have assisted the Masters of vessels entering and leaving the harbour of Swansea since the development of maritime trade in the early sixteenth century, and initially the task of pilotage would have been undertaken by fishermen and other local seamen with an intimate knowledge of local tides, shipping hazards and weather conditions. Acts of pilotage within the Bristol Channel, including Swansea, were controlled by the Port of Bristol until the passing of the Swansea Harbour Act of 1791 which, amongst other things, introduced the compulsory licensing of pilots by the Swansea Harbour Trust.
In 1793 there were 11 licensed pilots recorded at Swansea, and by 1803 the number had increased to a fixed maximum of 24. The appointment and regulation of Swansea’s sea pilots remained with the Harbour Trust until the Swansea Pilotage Authority was established as a separate entity after the takeover of the port by the Great Western Railway in 1923. The Swansea Pilotage Authority was abolished, as were all other UK pilotage authorities, under the Pilotage Act of 1987, and in 1988 its duties and responsibilities were taken over by Associated British Ports.
A description and illustration of early 19th century pilot cutters is shown below:
By 1892 there were nine licensed pilot cutters at Swansea - the ‘Vivian’, the ‘Vigilant’, the ‘Rival’, the ‘Benson’, the ‘Glance’, the ‘Mary’, the ‘Grenfell’, the ‘Camelia’, and the ‘C. Bath’. The port yearbook for 1892 states that “Pilots are always to be obtained off the Mixon or within Mumbles Head, and no vessel must attempt to run for Swansea without one. They cruise in vessels of both schooner and cutter rig, with the letter S and a number on their sails.” A description of these cutters illustrated by a photograph of the ‘Vivian’, together with a photograph and model of the ‘Grenfell’, is shown below:
Below the Pilot cutter 'Grenfell', bearing the licence number S9 on the bow and the aft sail, being towed out of Swansea Harbour, c.1904
Below is a model of the pilot cutter 'Grenfell', together with a plaque stating that she was built at Swansea by Philip Bevan in 1865. The sail plan is given as 1880. (Thanks: Swansea Yacht & Sub Aqua Club)
The pilot cutter ‘Roger Beck’ was commissioned 1924 to replace the aging ‘Beaufort’, and was named after the last person to hold the position of Chairman of the Swansea Harbour Trust before the takeoverof Swansea Docks by the Great Western Railway.
The latest latest pilot launch is the Beaufort
The two photos below, taken in the South Dock Swansea, are of the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter Cariad.