Pilots corner – a lucky escape, consequences, and design issues

Three reports illustrating different aspects of an ongoing problem.

Outline (1):

A report received detailing a lucky escape

What the reporter told us:

While boarding the vessel at the pilot exchange station, one of the side ropes snapped. No other pilot ladders were available.

                                                        Parted ladder.

Further dialogue:

Luckily, the pilot had only climbed two steps when the side rope parted, and he was able to jump back onto the pilot boat without sustaining any injury.

The vessel did not have a suitable replacement ladder.

After discussing the issue with the disembarking pilot, it was agreed that the vessel would proceed into the locks with the sea pilot onboard and the exchange pilot would join in the locks by gangway. It was also reported that the vessel had only recently been taken into the fleet by the vessel managers.

The local agent arranged for a new pilot ladder to be delivered to the vessel before sailing.

CHIRP contacted the DPA who advised the following:

  • The company already had maintenance routines dealing with pilot ladders, but immediately following this accident the procedures had been modified and increased to include monthly testing where the weight of several crew was added to the ladder in a safe way, while the ladder was suspended down the wheelhouse front.
  • A new pilot ladder was already on order for the vessel but unfortunately missed the ship by a couple of days when it sailed from its home port on the most recent voyage. The new ladder is waiting at the home port for the vessel to return.
  • In addition, the information about the incident was made available to all company vessels and crew. The company was not satisfied with using manila ropes in pilot ladders due to the quality of rope available and weaknesses being difficult to spot. They had started a replacement programme using better quality rope.

CHIRP comment:

CHIRP asked about the alternative rope to be used in place of manila and requested details of the product and manufacturers but there was no further correspondence from the DPA.

The company’s engagement with CHIRP was encouraging and their response was comprehensive but perhaps they need to look more closely at the procedure adopted when a new vessel is taken into their fleet to ensure that the existing equipment on board is fit for purpose.

The reporter was indeed lucky, but so was the sea pilot who had boarded the ship earlier in the night using the same pilot ladder.


Outline (2):

There are consequences for non-compliance……

What the reporter told us:

There were several ships in the anchorage awaiting berths. The first vessel to berth was instructed to prepare its engine and rig a pilot ladder. As the pilot boat approached it was clear that the pilot ladder steps were not level and for that reason it was rejected. Upon request, the vessel rigged an alternative ladder but when the pilot boat was alongside the whippings on each step were found to be very loose – it was possible to turn each step nearly vertical by hand. The pilot refused to board and pilotage was refused until a new pilot ladder was procured and delivered to the vessel at anchor. The next vessel in the anchorage was asked to prepare its engine etc. and the pilot boarded this vessel instead.

                    First ladder rejected due to uneven steps

                  Second ladder rejected due to very loose whippings

Further dialogue:

CHIRP contacted the reporter to enquire about the outcome of this report and learned that the ship’s agent was able to source a new pilot ladder and deliver it on board the next day. Unfortunately, as the port only had a single suitable berth on which the vessel could load its cargo, the ship lost 3 days waiting for the alternate vessel to complete loading and vacate the berth.

CHIRP comment:

We do not know what charter rate the vessel was on but are quite certain that three days of lost hire is greater than the cost of a new pilot ladder.


Outline (3):

Non-compliant by design. The following report was received from the area manager of a national pilotage authority.

What the reporter told us:

I have read your publication on pilot ladder failings and am seeking your advice. We have several vessels in our area that are constructed in a way unsuitable for boarding by pilot ladder. Most of them have a railing (rubbing strake) without a gap to allow safe access for the pilot boat. The rubbing strake will also press down and damage the pilot boat in the case of rough seas. In some cases, the railing (rubbing strake) is so wide that the pilot ladder swings freely underneath it when rigged above the railing.

SOLAS stipulates that the pilot ladder must lay against the ships side, but we have had a hard time finding rules for railings (rubbing strakes) without gaps. Do you have any useful information on this matter?



Examples of ship side features that render the vessels non-compliant by design

 Further dialogue:

CHIRP highlighted the relevant sections of both SOLAS Chapter V Regulation 23 (section 3) and IMO Res 1045(27) to the reporter. Unfortunately, as with so many SOLAS and IMO regulations both include the ubiquitous get-out clause to the effect that the rule does not apply if it is deemed to be impractical by the ‘administration’ or providing an alternative arrangement is deemed acceptable to the ‘administration’.

CHIRP comment:

To repeat a previous mantra “if a pilot boarding arrangement is not compliant it is not safe” and anything that is not safe is dangerous, pilots have the right to refuse to use a dangerous PBA. The inevitable delays and costs incurred as a result of such refusals would very quickly focus the attention of the operators and owners of these vessels to solve the problem.

The SOLAS and IMO rules and regulations are about safety. The safety of ships and the safety of the seafarers who use, live and work on them. Naval architects and flag administrations should address and resolve these identified problems at the design and building stage of a vessel and not abuse clauses in the regulation that are intended for exceptional circumstances.

The pictures above both show what appear to be ferries with relatively low pilot access doors. It may  be possible to modify a pilot boat with one or two raised platforms that would present the pilot at the level of the access door or certainly above the obstructing rubbing strake. The advantage of this would be that the pilot authority would be taking control of the issue rather than trying to influence multiple vessel operators to modify their ships. At the end of the day it is the safety of the pilots that is the main concern.




Report Ends…………………………………