HMC Vigilant and Old Customs House, South Pier, Dover Harbour, Kent, England, UK

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Above bow of the UK Border Agency (customs) cutter is a green copper dome on top of the old Customs Watch House. Building designed by architect Arthur Beresford Pite and built 1909-1911. Patrol Boat data: Call Sign ZITI4, IMO 9276353, MMSI 235521000, Flag United Kingdom. Ex-Customs and Excise, ex-HMCC. Tidal Harbour and Western Docks. View from Dover Lifeboat Station on Crosswall Quay, Dover Marina, 13 March 2013.

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Comments (6)

John Latter on March 24, 2013

The "old and the new" in that the former customs house was built at the beginning of the 20th century, and the vessel at the beginning of the 21st:

The Customs Watch House (1)

A Dover Listed Building:


Rough-tooled snecked ragstone with a base of coursed rough-faced granite blocks and dressed granite details. Cast iron casement windows and slate roof, with copper dome (cupola).


Rectangular plan. Two storeys with four rooms off a corridor on each floor, and second floor belvedere. Central stair, two stacks to the south.


The building is in the Arts and Crafts style. The principal elevation is to the north, overlooking the entrance into the inner harbour. There are gable end parapets to the east and west. The central bay of the north elevation is defined by a broad, central gabled entrance bay with a canted oriel window with three six-paned lights, above which is the royal coat of arms carved in relief from stone blocks. The oriel is surmounted by an octagonal lantern with a domed copper roof. The building retains much of its original fabric, the only notable exception being the weather vane on the domed lantern roof.

The Architect

The Customs building was designed by Arthur Beresford Pite (1861-1934), architect and educator and son of the architect Alfred Robert Pite (1832-1911). Pite's architectural training was undertaken at University College and the Architectural Association in London.

In comparison to other projects Pite undertook in his career, such as Christ Church, Brixton (1907, listed Grade II*), and the massive London, Edinburgh and Glasgow insurance offices on Euston Square (1906-8), the building considered by many to be Pite's masterpiece, the Customs Watch House would have been a rather modest commission. In his design for the Customs Watch House, however, Pite discarded convention to create an eclectic and idiosyncratic building. Dating from the most creative phase of Pite's career it is testament to his diverse and unconventional body of work.

HMC Vigilant (2)

HMC Vigilant was launched by Damen Shipyards in the Netherlands in 2003 and is one of four 42-metre (138 ft) cutters operated by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Two others are HMC Searcher and HMC Valiant. The fourth can be seen at:

HMC Seeker Customs Cutter, Tug Haven, Western Docks, Dover Harbour

The cutters are a sub-class of the Damen Stan 4207 patrol vessel


HMC Vigilant was put into service for the British Government by the then HM Customs and Excise in 2004. In 2008, the fleet of customs cutters was transferred, along with border control duties, from HM Revenue and Customs to the newly formed UK Border Agency. She now operates as part of the UK Border Agency fleet of five cutters.


The Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise Departments merged to form HM Revenue and Customs on 18 April 2005, and from this time customs cutters changed their prefix from "HMRC" (Her Majesty's Revenue Cutter) to "HMCC" (Her Majesty's Customs Cutter). Following transfer to the UK Border Agency this was shortened to the current "HMC" (Her Majesty's Cutter) and a new livery applied to the fleet of cutters.


HMC Vigilant is the third of the Customs and Excise's fleet of 42-metre (138 ft) customs patrol vessels. She was built in 2003 in the Damen Shipyards in the Netherlands, and has a steel hull with an aluminium superstructure. Much effort has been expended in making her quiet to reduce crew fatigue; her engines are raft-mounted, decks throughout the ship are of a floating type, and her compartments are constructed on a box-within-a-box principle.

Her 7-metre (23 ft) Rigid Inflatable Boat can be launched from her stern slipway. She is fitted with a 2,000-litre (440 imperial gallons) per minute fire fighting system for dealing with fires in other ships.


She is fitted with twin Caterpillar 3516B DI-TA Elec engines driving twin 4-bladed controllable-pitch propellers through a pair of 3.5:1 reduction gearboxes. The total installed power of 4,176 kW (5,600 hp) gives her a top speed of 26 knots (48 km/h). A single Promac bow thruster is fitted for slow speed manoeuvring in confined spaces. Electrical power is supplied by a pair of 106kWA generators.

Vessel Data

Launched: 2003

Commissioned: June 2003

Class and type: Damen Stan Patrol 4207

Displacement: 238 GRT

Length: 42.08 m (138.1 ft)

Beam: 7.11 m (23.3 ft)

Draught: 2.52 m (8.3 ft)

Installed power: 4,176 kW (5,600 hp)

Propulsion: Two Caterpillar 3516B DI-TA Elec; Two 3.5:1 reduction gearboxes; Two 4-blade controllable pitch propellers; One Promac bow thruster, Two 106kWA generator sets

Speed: 26 knots (48 km/h)

Range: 1,750 nmi (3,240 km) at 12kn

Endurance: 14 days

Boats and landing craft carried: One 7m RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat, 32 kn); One 3.8m Rescue Boat

Complement: 12

Armament: Nil

End Notes

Dover's original Customs House was on Custom House Quay, to the north-west of Granville Dock (now part of Dover Marina) .

(1) Source: HMC Vigilant

(2) The abridged notes in this section are © Crown Copyright and reproduced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence (PSI licence number C2010002016). Source: English Heritage.

HMC vessels are included under the Navy and Boat tags (related tags: Cruise Ship, Ferries, Lifeboats, Sailing Ships, Ships, Tugs, and Workboats).

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

John Latter on March 25, 2013

When in range of AIS, the vessel's current position is shown at:

HMC Vigilant

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services (VTS) for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships and AIS Base stations. AIS information supplements marine radar, which continues to be the primary method of collision avoidance for water transport.

John Latter on November 16, 2013

Also see a close-up of the Old Customs Watch House on the South Pier of Dover Harbour.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on March 24, 2013
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: Canon EOS 600D
    • Taken on 2013/03/13 08:36:35
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 55.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/9.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO100
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash