Associated British Ports VLS Pilot, Dave Hunter, celebrates 47 years’ service on the Humber Estuary

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Above: Humber VLS Pilot Dave Hunter with MV Propel Grace


Associated British Ports (ABP), Dave Hunter, celebrates 47 years as a Humber Pilot. One of his final acts of pilotage, ahead of his retirement as a VLS (very large ships) pilot, took place earlier this month, as he brought the MV Propel Grace onto its berth at the Humber International Terminal on the Port of Immingham. 

Dave had originally wanted to become a draughtsman or architect when he was younger. As he was preparing to leave school, he spotted an article in a careers magazine about becoming a River Pilot, which sparked his interest in what would be an incredible career.

Dave said: “The job really jumped out at me. I had never heard of a River Pilot, and it sounded really good, so I made some enquiries. I had never been to sea, neither had my father, but later I discovered that my great, great, great, great grandfather had been a pilot on the Tyne. I was able to start an apprenticeship in 1964 and haven’t looked back since.”

Following time on the water and working through the necessary experience and qualifications, Dave became a Class 1 Humber Pilot in 1980, and 12 years later he qualified as a VLS Pilot.

David said: “I have loved working with the very large ships (40,000 tonnes). Being a Humber Pilot has been a wonderful career. Without doubt the Humber Estuary is one of the hardest to navigate in the UK, but the feeling that you get from completing a job really well is like no other. It is a challenging job, but when everything goes right you feel ten foot high."

Looking back across his 47 years Dave reckons he has completed around 200 vessel movements per year, and he has enjoyed every one of them.

The Humber Estuary is the largest harbour district in the UK and the Humber Pilotage Area stretches from the Spurn Light Float through the Humber Estuary up the River Ouse to Goole and up the river Trent to Gainsborough.

Dave added: “Over the years I have worked with 100’s of apprentices and trainees. There is a lot of support for those working towards becoming a Humber Pilot, it is a great community in which I have made lifelong friends."

Across 2022 there were in excess of 15,000 acts of Pilotage undertaken by ABP’s 100 strong team of Pilots aided by several towage companies working on the Humber. Towage and marine services company, Svitzer, who aided the MV Propel Grace, turned their water jets on to honour Dave’s last VLS movement.

Simon Bird, Director Humber, said: “I would like to personally thank Dave for his incredible service to the Humber. Dave, and Marine Pilots here and around the world, carry out a vital service that supports our everyday lives.

Thanks to the considerable experience and expertise of Marine Pilots, we can all access the commodities to build our homes, keep our lights and heating on, stock our retail sector and bring in medicines for our hospitals and pharmacies. The work Pilots carry out goes mostly unnoticed by members of the public but is key to Keeping Britain Trading.”

ABP is one of the UK’s largest Marine employers, whose professional team ensure the safe passage of vessels through the Humber Estuary. If you are interested in finding out more visit -