Working on water – Student takes on Thames maritime work experience

A student from Graveney School in Tooting has gone afloat for work experience with the Port of London Authority (PLA) to get a taste for the maritime industry and to learn how the UK’s busiest waterway is kept running safely.

Having seen the PLA patrolling the river while rowing in Putney with the Explorer Sea Scouts, Eleanor Pettem decided to get in contact with the navigational and safety authority to see if she could get some hands-on work experience.

“I spent my first couple days on the water with the Harbour Service team who were incredibly knowable about what was going-on in and along the riverside across Kent, Essex and London,” said Eleanor.

The PLA Harbour Service manages traffic during river events and bridge works, inspects riverside facilities to ensure ships will be able to berth safely, and supports recreational users making the most of the river in safety.

Joining the hydrographic department midweek, Eleanor boarded Maplin, the PLA’s new survey boat. She explained:

“The team showed me all their survey equipment which uses radar that reflects sound off the river bed to identify the depth, which is something I learned about in my geology class. They are able to produce colourful 3D models of anything that is found in the river like ship wrecks.”

Data collected by the hydrographic team is fed into maritime charts that allow the world’s largest ships to navigate up the Thames without running aground.

Eleanor finished off the week in Port Control, which is like air traffic control of the river, they monitor ships across a 600 square mile area, making sure ships are travelling safely 24/7, 365 days a year.

“I was surprised how fast paced it is in Port Control. The have a huge amount of responsibility ensuring the safety of ships throughout the enormous area covered by the port and its 70 terminals,” said Eleanor.

The team based in Port Control helps plan the arrival and departure of ships, arrange for pilots to bring ships in and out of the port, and monitors vessel transit to make sure ships are travelling in the correct channels throughout their journey.

After a full-on week work in three departments at the PLA, Eleanor closed:

“A maritime job wasn’t really on my radar before, but I’ll definitely be looking into studying to make a career out of it.”