The Bristol Pilots - A Brief History


The Bristol Channel pilots are the masters of a stretch of water bounded from Lundy to Caldey Island in the west, to the upper Severn estuary and river Avon to Bristol.

The pilots of the past were born in Pill and generally followed a family path into the service. In early days, each pilot, his cutter, westernman and boy worked to his own account 'seeking' trade by being the first boat to meet inward bound vessels . A price was agreed, the pilot transferred to the vessel and the inward passage begun.

The cutter, in the hands of the westernman and boy would follow.

Into the Avon they would come and await at Hung road for the hobblers to arrange passage into Bristol. Pill served its waiting seafarers well, a run ashore, an ale house or two and maybe news from home.

In the early 20th century the pilots of Pill finally turned to steam and amalgamated into a company of equals still working independently, but pooling earnings and expenses as the Bristol Channel Pilots.

The Sailing Cutters of the Bristol Channel

For more information on the The Sailing Cutters of the Bristol Channel Click Here.


How We Work Today

Today, we work in very similar way, now as a limited liability partnership. New pilots are chosen on merit and are trained in the geographical intricacies of the Severn, Avon and the Bristol Channel. Their skills are honed over 10 years before they become an 'unrestricted pilot ' able to handle all size and manner of ships. The ship handling skills are primarily developed by training given by existing pilots and in this way, we follow in our historical forefathers footsteps and maintain a link with the past. Training has changed, simulator work, manned models, courses and lots of forms to fill in but the result is the same. A  highly skilled mariner, knowledgeable and calm, a master and seaman into whose hands the visiting ships captain can confidently give over the 'conduct of navigation' into this weather beaten and tremendously tidal channel.

The pilots of Bristol have for centuries worked these waters and will continue to do so.


The 1997 Bristol Channel Pilots
500th Anniversary Celebration

On the 1st August 1997 a celebration reception and dinner was held aboard Brunel’s ss Great Britain in the Albion dockyard which in the centre of Bristol’s floating harbour.

Bristol Channel pilots, both active and retired from the ports of Gloucester (Sharpness), Newport, Cardiff and Barry as well as the hosts from Bristol were invited to the 500th anniversary celebration.

It was a night of good humour, good food and much ‘swinging of the lamp’ as pilots from all the ports of the channel reminisced and recounted their stories.

Bristol Pilots 500th Anniversary Celebration Image 1

Bristol Pilots 500th Anniversary Celebration Invite


Bristol Pilots 500th Anniversary Celebration Photo

This section of the website will continue to evolve as we bring together as much of our recorded history as we can into a resource available for all to use.

Retired pilots, local historians and groups, as well as the records of the museum and central library will serve as a source of this information.

Please check back regularly to see updated information.

The Bristol Pilot's Presentation

To request a Bristol Pilot to present a talk at your event then please complete the request form. The talk is focused around the Bristol Pilot's history and piloting ships up and down the Bristol Channel today.


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