Liverpool Pilot Service: Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (MDHB) Pilotage Department



The approach to the Port of Liverpool, through the sand banks, shifting sands and the powerful tides of the Irish Sea, Liverpool Bay and the Mersey Estuary has always been a hazardous undertaking. The first official chart of the Mersey was produced in 1689 and further versions followed. Although charts made navigation easier, it was still precarious and local fishermen were required to act as guides for incoming vessels, operating an unofficial pilot service for vessels facing hostile weather conditions and tides. The first official Liverpool Pilot Service was established by the Liverpool Pilotage Act of 1766 and resulted in the compulsory presence of a pilot aboard all vessels in the Mersey. The Act regulated the operation of the service and established a Pilotage Committee to oversee the working of the service including the issue of licences. The 19th century witnessed the significant development of Liverpool as a port of international standing, and consequently to be a pilot was a well established and sought after career. Responsibility for supervising and administering the service was transferred to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board’s (MDHB) Pilotage Committee in 1858. In 1883 the sailing pilot schooners, which had before been privately owned, were transferred to the Board’s ownership. The collection and distribution of pilotage rates was taken over by the MDHB in 1885. The pilots themselves remained self-employed until 1988. For further details see the attached catalogue or contact The Archives Centre for a copy of the catalogue.