We are continuing to make plans for Portwey’s future. We need to find new custodians for Portwey and a new location.

In brief, the problems we face are these:

  • Our number of regular, active volunteers is falling and it has not proved possible to recruit new people with the right skills, especially those with marine steam engineering experience.

  • It has been difficult to find new trustees to manage the tug. We only have the minimum number of trustees to make decisions and only one of these is under 60.

  • The Canal and River Trust, which now manages the West India Docks, is seeking to negotiate a new lease with us which will impose limitations on what we can do and where we can moor. We would also have to pay high charges to use the lock out onto the Thames.

  • It is now very hard to obtain suitable coal or alternative substitute fuel and have it delivered in viable quantities to central London.

  • New climate change regulations are coming into force from 2025 for River Thames shipping which are likely to make no concessions for historic, coal-fired vessels to operate.

So the trustees of the Steam Tug Portwey Trust have spent the last six months looking at our options to ensure the survival of Portwey to her 100th birthday in 2027 and beyond.

We are grateful to National Historic Ships and the Maritime Heritage Trust for the enormous help they have given us in researching alternative homes for the tug. In particular, we would like to thank Hannah Cunliffe, director of NHS, Peter Green, project manager at NHS, and Henry Cleary of MHT for their input. NHS helped us to prepare a Statement of Significance for Portwey which explains how important a part of the UK’s maritime heritage our unique ship is. You can read it on the National Historic Ships’ website www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk.

Exeter Harbour

We had a very serious look at the Exeter Heritage Harbour in Devon which offered Portwey a new berth in Exeter’s historic dock on the Exe Canal. We would like to thank Jon Bell, Hannah Hurford and the Exeter Heritage Harbour Group for their interest and for coming up to visit Portwey earlier this year. Although Exeter was a very attractive proposition, as a lively and accessible visitor destination, we had to rule it out because of the distance Portwey would have to be towed to get there and the need to create, from scratch, a new group of volunteers with the skills to maintain and operate her.


We also had an offer from Chris Bannister, the owner of the well-known steam tug, Challenge, to take on Portwey, which will involve the creation of a new charitable trust, to be called the Steam Boat Trust, to manage both vessels. It is Chris Bannister’s intention to base both tugs on the River Medway in Kent. Although the Steam Boat Trust will not be a membership organisation as the present Portwey Trust is, the new charity will be looking for volunteers and supporters. Challenge already has an active volunteer group and is steamed regularly

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 (stportwey@hotmail.com) 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