Registration number 54
Status National Historic Fleet


Function Service Vessel
Subfunction Tug
Location London
Vessel type Tug
Current use Community Vessel
Available to hire No
Available for excursions No


Builder Harland & Wolff Ltd, Govan
Built in 1927
Hull material Steel
Rig None
Number of decks 1
Number of masts 1
Propulsion Motor
Number of engines 1
Primary engine type Steam compound
Boiler type Scotch Return Tube
Boilermaker D & W Henderson & Co Ltd, Partick
Boiler year 1927
Boiler fuel coal


Breadth: Beam
18.69 feet (5.70m)
8.98 feet (2.74m)
Length: Overall
90.16 feet (27.50m)
Tonnage: Gross


PORTWEY was launched at Harland & Wolff’s yard at Govan, Glasgow, in 1927.  She was built for the Portland & Weymouth Coaling Company, to be based in Weymouth, Dorset and arrived on the south coast on 28 April 1928.  The Dorset Daily Echo said, “The Portwey came to her new home last week and looks bravely spick and span with her smart red funnel and all her deck gear. The new boat is a box of machinery, has her own salvage gear pumps, all built in, and is a very fine craft for her work.”

PORTWEY worked on towage and harbour service duties.  She went to the aid of yachts in heavy seas, extinguished a fire aboard the Danish timber-carrier Bodil, searched for a sunken submarine, and towed many vessels in distress, including the cargo steamer Winslow, and Union Castle’s Winchester Castle.  She provided fresh water to the famous J-class yachts Astra, Velsheda and Shamrock and took supplies to their crews.

War Service In 1942: PORTWEY was called up by the Admiralty and moved to Dartmouth in Devon.  She narrowly missed being hit by German bombs aimed at the harbour.  In 1944 she was allocated to the US forces as they prepared for D Day.  She worked at clearing obstructions from the Channel and supplying fresh water to naval vessels.  She rescued personnel and landing craft when the disastrous Slapton Sands exercise was attacked by enemy torpedo boats.

After the War, PORTWEY was returned to her civilian owners and resumed her duties as a harbour tug as well as ferrying pilots and customs officers out to ships in the Channel.  In 1947 PORTWEY used her powerful pumps to put out a fire at the Queen’s Hotel, Dartmouth, when the local fire brigade’s hoses failed.  In 1952 she was sold to the Falmouth Dock and Engineering Company in Cornwall.  She rescued the captain and first officer of the cargo ship Flying Enterprise, when the ship capsized and sank while under tow by the tug Turmoil.  She worked on the construction of the Lizard lifeboat station, Cornwall, and a ferry slipway at Holyhead, north Wales.

By 1967, coal-fired steam vessels were being replaced by diesel-engined working ships and PORTWEY was laid up to be scrapped.  She had the good fortune to be bought by Richard Dobson, the assistant harbour master at Dartmouth.  Richard and a group of friends returned the PORTWEY to steaming condition.  During the 1960’s and 1970’s PORTWEY was seen at many events on the River Dart and around Torbay.

In 1982 PORTWEY joined the Maritime Trust’s Historic Ship Collection at St Katharine’s Dock near Tower Bridge.  The Friends of Portwey continued with restoration and operation of the tug. In 1988 she won the marine category of the British Coal Steam Heritage award.  The Steam Tug Portwey Trust was formed in 2000 and purchased the tug from the Maritime Trust.


Key dates

  • 1927

    Built by Harland & Wolff, Govan, to the order of the Portland & Weymouth Coaling Company Limited

  • 1940/1945

     Controlled by the US Army during World War Two and based in Dartmouth

  • 1951

    Sold to the Falmouth Dock & Engineering Company

  • 1962

    Bought by a group for restoration

  • 1996

    Received an £82,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund

  • 2000

    The Steam Tug Portwey Trust was created and the vessel moved to West India Dock London

  • 2012

    Took part in the Avenue of Sail as part of the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant celebrations


  • June 2013

    A Sustainability Award of £1000 towards the costs of hull work was made from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships UK

  • 2002/03

    The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £10.200 for restoration work

  • 1996

    £82,000 was awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund for replacement of hull plating.Source: Steam Tug Portwey Trust


Brouwer, Norman J, International Register of Historic Ships, Anthony Nelson, Edition 2, 1993 
Steamboat Register: An illustrated Register of surviving steam vessels in the British Isles, Steam Boat Association of Great Britain, Edition 6, May 1994  
Sea Breezes: The 'Portwey' Preserved, September 1983    
Corin, John, Ships Monthly: Still in Steam - Portwey, pp22-23, July 1979 

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