The Automatic Tide Signalling Apparatus, more commonly known as the Pilot House, is a category B listed building situated in Irvine Harbour. The harbour is tidal and the bar has only seven feet of water, rising to nine and a half feet at spring tides. 

This constrained development of the harbour, with ships sometimes being unable to enter or exit as captains were unable to determine the depth of water in the harbour. A Government report in 1753 noted that the harbour was choked up with sand banks and that vessels were sometimes unable to depart for several months. As a result of this Irvine began to lose trade to two nearby rival ports, Troon and Ardrossan. 

At the start of the twentieth century, Martin Boyd was Harbourmaster at Irvine and he set about designing a system to combat these problems. On the 7th of May 1903, Martin designed and patented the ‘Automatic Tide Signalling Aparatus’ which, as can be read in his patent application, was an “apparatus for automatically signalling the depth of water at harbours, docks, piers, navigable channels or the like”. The system worked with a float, connected by wires, to a marker station which displayed light signals at night and marker signals by day, to inform ships of the tide depth. 

The Pilot House was the structure which held this apparatus and it was completed in 1906 with an opening on the 23rd May. Attended by the Provost, councillors, members and officials of the Irvine Harbour Trust, prominent citizens and members of the general public, there were speeches and the official party left the harbour in a paddle steamer destined for Largs. After being ‘suitably refreshed’ in Largs the party returned to the harbour at 22.00 hrs and by 22:15 hrs were said to be ‘completely satisfied with the system’. 

The system was used until the 1970’s and the building fell into disrepair. In 2013 an initiative was started by Coastwatch Scotland and in November 2016 the first stage of the restoration work was completed. 

Martin Boyd was born in 1846 and lived at 56 Harbour Street in Irvine. He was reimbursed to the sum of £60 by the Harbour Authorities to reimburse him for construction costs. Martin died in 1918. 

Further Reading

Irvine Harbour, Pilot House at Canmore

The Pilot House at Irvine Harbourside