Making plans for Portwey’s future

Portwey has been in the care of the Steam Tug Portwey Trust since 2000.  We are a registered charity relying solely on grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, donations and legacies from our generous members and supporters and many, many hours of volunteer labour to maintain and operate the tug.  The Trust is managed by a team of five voluntary trustees most of whom double up with at least two jobs on the managing committee

We have been in London since 1982 and in the West India Docks since 1995.  For most of that time, Portwey has been in steam, making regular trips on the Thames, following Barge Matches, taking part in the late Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant in 2012 and the Tall Ships Festival in 2014, and attending the annual Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine’s up to 2022.

Portwey now faces a range of challenges which make it necessary to find her a new home and a new band of custodians before her 100th birthday in 2027.  The first of these is a secure berth.  The Canal and River Trust took over the management of the West India Docks from British Waterways some years ago and is under pressure to make commercial profits.  The area of “waterspace” in the Docks is diminishing rapidly as more land is reclaimed for development.  Portwey is now hemmed in by new apartments and office towers and areas of dockside for maintenance works and storage are now limited.  A suitable future berth is not guaranteed.

View from Portwey’s aft deck in January 2024

Then there is the question of fuel.  The coal mine in Wales from which we obtained our best coal has now closed and we are faced with the choice of imported coal of variable quality or trying out synthetic alternatives which can now cost nearly £500 a tonne taking into account the difficulties of delivery to central London in bags rather than bulk.  In addition to that, new climate change regulations for shipping on the Thames, coming into effect from 2025 onwards, do not contain any exemptions for heritage, coal-burning vessels.

We are also facing an acute lack of volunteers to manage, maintain and crew the tug. Since the Covid pandemic, many of our volunteers have given up, either through age or infirmity, or, for our younger volunteers, the demands of work and study. Central London is not an ideal location to find people with practical and engineering skills in the 21st century. Despite our best efforts to find new volunteers, our numbers have dwindled below viability. Only one of our trustees is under 60 and our oldest regular volunteer is 86!

With the help of National Historic Ships, we are now actively looking for a new home for Portwey. At present, there are two likely locations which we are exploring. One is the new Exeter heritage harbour in Devon and the other is on the Medway, in Kent, near the historic paddle steamer, Medway Queen. Both locations have their advantages and disadvantages and the trustees are currently considering these. We have a duty to continue the original purpose of our charity which is to “encourage a greater knowledge, respect and care of the nation’s maritime heritage [in particular] the history and operation of maritime tugs” and to “ensure the preservation, restoration, maintenance and operation” of the Portwey or similar vessels. Wherever Portwey goes, her new custodians must continue this legacy. Portwey is unique and irreplaceable and part of the National Historic Fleet.

Portwey and Massey Shaw in January 2024. The green tarpaulin shows the location of the current work on the rubbing strake.


The Last Coal Fired Twin Engine Steam Tug?

PORTWEY is one of only two twin screw, coal fired steam tugs now active in the United Kingdom. She is one of the vessels included in the core collection of historic ships at National Historic Ships UK.

Built by Harland and Wolff on the Clyde in 1927, she was first owned by the Portland and Weymouth Coaling Company (hence the name) and worked along the south coast of England, being based at Portland.

The crew normally meet every Wednesday afternoon and evening .... why not come along?

PORTWEY being saluted at HMS PRESIDENT on her 90th Birthday

During the second World War the tug was controlled by the U.S. Army and was based at Dartmouth, part of her duties being to tow in damaged craft, on one occasion narrowly missing being hit by a bomb. In 1951 PORTWEY was sold to the Falmouth Dock and Engineering Company where she spent the rest of her working life, helping, during this time, with the construction of the Lizard and Anglesey Lifeboat Stations.

In 1967, destined for the scrap yard at the end of her working life, PORTWEY was bought by Richard Dobson, who, with a group of dedicated friends, restored the tug to her former glory and maintained her for the next 15 years. In 1982 they were no longer able to continue this work and the tug steamed to London and was donated to the Maritime Trust. The Steam Tug Portwey Association took PORTWEY on Demise Charter from the Trust and continued the restoration, preservation and operation, steaming in the Thames and Medway during the year.

In June 2000 the Steam Tug PORTWEY Trust was created and the Trust purchased the tug from the Maritime Trust. The Trust is a Limited Company with Charitable Status. PORTWEY's current permanent berth is in the South Quay of the West India Docks, London, and is easily accessible from South Quay Station on the Docklands Light Railway. Visitors and volunteers are very welcome - please contact the Secretary by letter or email ( to make arrangements.

Portwey Needs Your Help!

The volunteers normally meet every Wednesday from approximately 2pm until 9pm at South Quay (Find Us).

We are looking for volunteers that can spend a few hours assisting us maintain and run Portwey, either with your time or by making donations to assist keeping this vessel working.

Why not join up and help keep Portwey steaming on...

Join Us


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For further information please contact:
The Steam Tug Portwey Trust, 4 Almond Avenue, Wickford, Essex, SS12 0BN