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Newhaven’s Forth Pilots

Pilots came from a very close-knit group of Newhaven families, whose names were continually associated with pilotage until the end of the twentieth century, many extending into sixth generation:

These same early Pilots were responsible for providing their own Pilot Cutters, and crews, originating from the locally built fishing boats, which on many occasions sailed far out beyond the Forth shores seeking work, these sailing cutters were built to the designs of the Pilots themselves and were regarded as the fastest and most sea-worthy available.

Following sailing boats there were several individual steam driven boats built, similar in size to the Royal Navy fast picket launches, although the Pilots preferred to rely on the sturdy sailing cutters, right up until the introduction of the petrol/paraffin engines at the beginning of the 1900's.

In pre-electronic days of communication ships would literally turn up out of the blue, the old sailing cutters would then race to be first to 'speak with Master' (first come - first served) strike a bargain then board the vessel to conduct it safely to whichever port it was bound. In later years steam tugs would also be on station to acquire a towage job in the case of sailing ships.

Pilot boat 'Cockenzie Lass' with three pilots on board 1915

hree harbour pilots, in uniform with caps, seated on pilot boat. There are rocks and a pier in background.

In Newhaven, as in most major ports, there was an unspoken hierarchy amongst local fishermen. Here, those who were certified as pilots were at the top. The Newhaven men earned their reputation for their knowledge of the Firth of Forth by guiding many ships safely into Leith.

In this photograph we see three pilots on board the pilot boat 'Cockenzie Lass'. The boat is tied up just outside North Berwick Harbour. They are all Newhaven men whose families fished from Newhaven village for many years.

Picture courtesy of Edinburgh City Libraries and Museums —