Visit to PLA VTS and London Coastguard, October 2012

We had a very interesting visit to the Port of London Authority (PLA) Operations at Woolwich yesterday.  Seven of us were met on a bitterly cold morning by Tom Southall, the Deputy Manager of VTS.   The PLA ops and London Coastguard are based in the same building just beside the Thames Barrier (which is independently physically operated and maintained by the Environment Agency.)

Tom was very welcoming and encourages these sort of visits where users of the river get to understand more about the operations and the variety of craft they encounter.  He firstly gave us a presentation explaining everything from where they fit in and relate to different agencies and stakeholders, such as IALA (International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authority), MCA, (Maritime and Coastguard Agency and IMO (International Maritime Organisation), training and background, their geographic reach and what services they provide and information systems they use.

We then got taken upstairs to the Control Room, where we met the two VTS guys on duty ,who explained the various screens and equipment they were using.  It was fascinating to see all the radar and visual images of traffic moving on the Thames, views from their various CCTV cameras on bridges over the river and real time tidal and wind information being monitored.  It was a blustery morning and the anemometer was veering around all over the place.


Next we met Sam who was the Coastguard Officer on duty. This is the only place in the UK where the Coastguard and VTS are co-located in the same building.  Tom reckons this undoubtedly saves many more lives as they can share information instantaneously when incidents occur and Search and Rescue operations are easier to coordinate.  Sam also gave a quick overview of the Coastguard operations and it was reassuring to hear that all information has a back up with dual control from another Coastguard for when Sam goes for lunch. (Usually Thames). They work 12 hours shifts, which must be pretty stressful at times. 

View of the Barrier from the Control Room



The Team with London Coastguard

It was a great morning and everyone enjoyed themselves. The time flew past and it was very generous of Tom to give up so much of his personal time.  We greatly appreciated it.  We are hoping to plan another trip for those who couldn’t make it this weekend and we’ve also invited the VTS and Coastguard guys to come kayaking with us to see the Thames from water level!  Maybe they will take us up on this.



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