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Submarine Navigation Towers

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A series of Navigation Towers was established on the Firth of Clyde, following the arrival of the Polaris fleet in the 1960s.

The navigable channel in the Firth of Clyde is particularly narrow and shallow at some points, often dependent on regular dredging operations to maintain its access. Accurate navigation is essential to maintain safe operation, and while the Global Positioning System (GPS), particularly in its higher accuracy military guise, has simplified this task, operational units were not available until the mid-1990s. Prior to this, conventional navigation and piloting of the highest accuracy were needed, as the submarines of the nuclear fleet were amongst the largest to navigate the Firth of Clyde, and even at high tide had only feet of clearance from the riverbed, and could easily have been grounded or damaged if they strayed from the navigation channel.

To aid the process of navigating accurately along the firth, a series of navigation towers was established along its length. Precisely located, these provided a number of fixed reference points against which the vessel true position could be established by taking readings of its bearing and distance from each tower.

Details of the tower's capabilities are not known, and it not possible to examine or inspect them in retrospect, as it would seem that they were declared redundant and most of them removed once GPS equipment had become established. The towers have been described as being constructed of tubular steel, with flat tops, and painted black and yellow. It is not known if they were active devices, and equipped with any form of transmitting equipment, or purely passive, and fitted with only a radar retroreflector.

We are aware of the location of three of the towers, but there were many more:

  • Off the shore at Ashton, Gourock
  • Immediately west of the Western Ferries terminal at McInroy's Point, by Gourock
  • On the Ascog Patch, a sandbank some way off the small village of Ascog on the Isle of Bute
    Recent observations show that this tower still remains in 2007

We would appreciate any information or photographs of these locations, as there appears to be nothing of significance currently on the internet.

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Points shown are for indication only, as the precise locations are not known.


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