Member Profile: John Spencer, GPS Marine Contractors

This month John explains the background of GPS Marine Contractors, tells us more about himself and highlights some of the challenges that GPS are focused to overcome.


Who are GPS Marine Contractors and what is your role in the company?

GPS Marine Contractors is the operator of the most tugs and the largest fleet of barges (in terms of tonnage) on the Thames. GPS Marine carries approx. 750,000 to !m tonnes of cargo on the Thames annually under long term contracts. GPS Marine also contracts to provide marine logistics and barge transport services in support of major contracts, these can more than double the annual tonnages carried on the Thames. GPS Marine also carries our dredging and marine civil engineering contracts and provides support to dredging and marine civils contracts throughout the UK and the coastal states of mainland Europe.

My role in the company is the strategic development of the business. On the Thames this is by promoting and developing the benefits to be gained from modal shift to water transport, such as reduced emissions, improved air quality reduced traffic congestion, reduced road wear and fewer construction related road traffic accidents. Further afield my aim is to enable to business to meet the challenges created by Brexit and the green revolution in shipping. I am also tasked with developing our marine civils operations such that it can undertake larger contracts and work further afield. In addition I am responsible for the full implementation of documented and audited safety management systems throughout the entire business.

What are the ambitions for GPS?

GPS Marine Contractors aims to provide water fed construction materials transport hubs in West, Central and East London and in Essex / Kent. GPS Marine also aims to develop outside the Thames by adding value to its current offering. To do this the business will invest to ensure that it is more than a workboat hire organisation such that it can provide packages of craft and contract in its own right predominantly using its own equipment to reduce associated risk.

What markets and where do you currently operate?

GPS Marine operates in freight transport by barge, marine civils, dredging and bunkering on the Thames. We also deliver bunkers on the Thames and operate in the European charter market for tugs, multicats, hopper and pontoon barges.

What did your career look like before today?

I started as a marine engineer, working on marine civils plant, tugs and coasters. I then went to see in our own coastal fleet and as tug master on the Thames before coming ashore and starting to get involved in management. My whole life has been centred around small ships, tugs and craft engaged in dredging and marine civils.

What does a day in your life look like?

These days I spend my life behind a desk. I am no longer involved in day to day operations, crewing or the technical management of the fleet. Safety and the commercial aspects of running and developing the business are at the centre of just about every day. What hasn’t changed over the years is that mine is still the “phone of last resort”. Somebody has to do it and I can’t let that role go – my phone is on and next to me 24/7/365.

What are the current challenges you face at GPS?

Our biggest challenges today are:

  1. To ensure that a positive safety culture exists throughout our business
  2. To persuade local government that transporting goods by water is a sustainable, modern and environmentally sound proposition
  3. To locate and open wharves for freight
  4. To improve the environmental impact of our activities
  5. To manage the effects of Brexit [and COVID-19] in the best way we can

What is your motivator at work?

My motivator is just to try to be the best at what we do. That isn’t just about making the most money, it’s about doing what we do right. Keeping the kit right, providing good jobs, making the employees part of the enterprise. It’s about looking to make the most of the opportunities and the challenges that lie ahead, every day, week, month and year.

Member Profile: John Spencer, GPS Marine Contractors