A modern VTS system for the Port of London



Barry Goldman, VTS Manager, Port of London Authority, London, UK


The Port of London is one of the UK’s busiest ports. It comprises over 70 different independently owned and operated terminals and port facilities, which handle a wide range of cargoes. Each year, over 50 million tonnes of cargo is handled at Port of London terminals. London is also an increasingly popular destination for international cruise ships.

The movement of about 100 commercial ships takes place each day. This amounts to more than 30,000 vessel movements a year. In addition, there are numerous smaller vessels – for example, vessels on intra port trade and private recreational and leisure craft. The Port of London Authority (PLA) is responsible for navigational safety in this busy port area.

The PLA area of responsibility is the tidal Thames – stretching from the outer estuary into central London and upstream as far as Teddington in west London. This is a distance of about 150  kilometres. The PLA provides navigational, pilotage and other services for ships using the Port of London. This includes the maintenance of navigational channels, moorings, lights and buoys, and the provision of hydrographic, tidal and other information.

The PLA VTS system

The ability to monitor and track vessel traffic accurately and reliably is now a fundamental component of navigational safety. The PLA therefore operates a very modern Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) system. Central to this is a network of 14 radars to oversee the river and estuary. This gives seamless coverage from Greenwich in the west, all the way out into the Thames estuary as far as Clacton and the Sunk to the north, and North Foreland in the east. The VTS operation covers an area of 400 square miles, making it the largest in the UK by area. It is also the country’s most complex.

The information from these radars is correlated with a mass of other information from agents, pilots and from the ships within a highly sophisticated computer network. This provides a realtime picture and a comprehensive record of all movements at Port of London Authority’s two VTS stations. These are situated at the Port Control Centre in Gravesend and the Thames Barrier Navigation Centre at Woolwich. These two centres are working 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

Port Control Centre upgrade

A £1 m major upgrade of the Port Control Centre at Gravesend was completed in November 2004. The upgraded centre was formally opened by Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody MP, Chairman of the House of Commons Transport Committee. The upgrade involved all key elements of VTS: Communications, Traffic Image and the Port Management Information System. These enhancements should enable the known and anticipated challenges faced by the Port of London in the next decade to be met.
Key features of the upgrade included:
• A comprehensive update of computer software and equipment including the full integration of AIS and digital charting
• An improved layout and more ergonomic workstations for operators
• New VHF radio arrangements
• Greater use of CCTV monitoring

An eye on the future

The upgrade has been undertaken with an eye on the future. The new facility improves operating efficiency and meets the latest requirements, including new legislation and reporting requirements. The entire layout of the Port Control Centre was completely changed and modernised in the upgrade. This included a modern new layout, the planning of which carefully considered the practical ergonomics of how to arrange the working area. The goal was to achieve a highly coordinated work space. As part of this, the old console-based layout was replaced by flat desks. The result has been a very good working environment and close integration of VTS and port coordination functions. Another aspect of the redesign has been improved presentation of key information on new overhead displays.

A central theme in the redesign has been to achieve as much ‘future proofing’ as possible. The more open design means individual pieces of equipment can be updated as required. Builtin flexibility and integrated functions allow staff to log into different work stations.


To read the full article download PDF

Cookie Policy. This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.