One of the UK’s oldest charities, the Corporation of Trinity House was granted a Royal Charter by Henry VIII in 1513. The organisation has been concerned with the safety of shipping and the well-being of seafarers throughout its history. Today, it acts as a charitable organisation dedicated to the safety, welfare and training of mariners.
Trinity House began as a charitable guild and was based at a great hall close to the Naval Dockyard on the River Thames. In 1604, the guild was given rights related to compulsory pilotage of shipping by James I. It was also conferred the right to licence pilots on the River Thames. In later years, the organisation served as the Pilotage Authority for London and more than 40 districts across the UK. With the 1987 Pilotage Act, responsibilities for direct pilotage were transferred to local port and harbour authorities. Today, the organisation includes approximately 300 members including leaders in the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and the shipping industry.
Trinity House serves as the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. As such, it provides over 600 aids to navigation including lighthouses and a satellite navigation service that assist with the safe passage of vessels through some of the world’s busiest sea-lanes. It also inspects and audits more than 10,000 aids to navigation provided by local port and harbour authorities in the UK, as well as similar aids on offshore structures. The first lighthouse built by the charity was in 1609 at Lowestoft. Many lighthouses in the UK remained private until 1836, when all private lighthouses in England, Wales and the Channel Islands became managed by the charity. It also marks and disperses wrecks when they pose a danger to navigation.
As a charity, Trinity House offers a range of services for mariners and their dependents. When it was granted its first Royal Charter, the charity guild maintained almshouses for aged mariners and their dependents at Deptford. More recently, the organisation operates 20 retirement homes in Kent. It also offers its Merchant Navy Scholarship Scheme, which provides financial support for youth interested in pursuing careers as officers in the Merchant Navy. The organisation also acts as a Deep Sea Pilotage Authority and licences Deep Sea Pilots. In this role, it provides expert navigators for ships that trade in the waters of Northern Europe. Although not mandatory, deep-sea pilots are particularly helpful for ships with masters who are not familiar with waters they are travelling across.