The hazards of Pilot boarding (1)

Throughout 2016, the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA) held a safety campaign focused upon the standard of pilot ladders and associated equipment. CHIRP supported this campaign and received many reports on the subject, several of which are highlighted below. This article should be read in conjunction with “The hazards of Pilot boarding (2)”, and “The hazards of Pilot boarding (3)”



The first report describes issues concerning pilot access near the non-parallel ends of a ship, and use of a retractable platform.


What the reporter told us

This vessel, like her sister ships, has a pilot boarding point located too far aft. Access is by means of a side door with a platform and pilot ladder. The position of the access point becomes dangerous at shallow drafts because it is directly over a non-parallel hull area on the aft quarter (see photograph below). This is particularly dangerous because it affects the safe performance of the pilot boat, especially in a swell, bad weather, or when the vessel is turning. Furthermore, the platform used in the arrangement also makes it dangerous at deeper drafts because its height is less than 5 metres above the water line. The danger is greater when the ladder is rigged FORWARD of the platform.

The pilot transfer operation should be carefully planned depending on the vessel’s draft, and the vessel should not alter course whilst the pilot transfer is in progress and until the pilot boat is clear of the vessel’s side. At deeper drafts, it may be necessary to remove the platform so as not to obstruct the pilot boat.


What the Third Party told us

Our investigations yielded the following results:

  • in way of the pilot door the vertical part of the hull starts at a draught of 9,60 metres;
  • 10 metres further aft the vertical part of the hull starts at a draught of 12,40 metres;
  • the position of the pilot ladder and with it the position of the foldable embarkation platform is dictated by the structural conditions of the vessel; there is a lashing bridge right ahead and a lifeboat right astern of the reel with the ladder, so it cannot be relocated;
  • obviously, the location of the pilot door itself is also dictated by structural factors and cannot be changed;
  • there is no other location where a pilot ladder could be rigged that would meet the requirements of SOLAS V/23 and IMO Resolution 1045(27);

 Based on the above facts it is obvious that a certain risk cannot be excluded, and the pilot boat might get into trouble with the non-parallel part of the hull especially at shallow draughts and/or in adverse weather conditions. Likewise, it is obvious that little can be done in regard to the location of the pilot ladder and/or the pilot door without major structural alterations to the ship, the cost of which is prohibitive.

We have therefore concentrated on improving the existing arrangement to ensure maximum safety for pilots and pilot boats and have issued instructions concerning the embarkation/disembarkation of pilots.

These are, in particular:

  • the embarkation platform is foldable and is in fact used or not used in close collaboration between the vessel and pilot boat depending on the individual situation; the vessels use a table that shows the clearance of the pilot door and platform from the water line in relation to the vessel’s draught, which allows the Master to inform the pilot boat precisely about the clearance available and eliminates “guestimates”;
  • in cases where the embarkation platform is folded away and not used, an additional removable handhold stanchion was fabricated and is used to allow the pilot a safe transfer from the ladder into the ship (see photograph below);
  • vessels were instructed to carefully plan the pilot transfer in close collaboration with the pilot boat and not to alter course during pilot transfer or while the pilot boat is alongside the vessel;

 We are confident that these measures will further enhance the safety of all parties involved.


CHIRP Comment

The Maritime Advisory Board commented upon the quality of the report and the response from the managers, which point to an active learning environment regarding these new builds. The Board agreed that structural modifications were unrealistic (although it was noted that some existing vessels were not constructed in line with the original pilot boarding regulations which included the “mid half length” parallel body requirement), and specifically noted that regarding modifications some quality control would be necessary for the additional handhold stanchion. This should involve the modification being inspected and certified by Class to ensure that it is safe to use.

Not explicitly mentioned by the reporter, but inferred, is that an approach from astern by a pilot boat may give the Coxswain some problems when trying to come alongside a flare, rather than the flat side of the vessel. Additionally, again inferred, the line of sight to the platform is reduced if the platform is placed abaft the ladder and this may cause the pilot boat superstructure and mast to come too close to the platform for comfort. The Coxswain may be unable to see exactly how much available room he has when manoeuvring the pilot boat.

For the future, the Board noted that a particular challenge will be ensuring that, at the design stage of a vessel, all the latest IMO regulations encompassed within SOLAS Chapter V regulation 23 are incorporated. This takes on a greater importance as most companies, when purchasing a new build, accept the shipyard standard and are becoming less involved in the design and construction. It should be noted that since July 2012, pilot ladders are an integral part of the Life Saving Appliances certification within a Safety Equipment Certificate.


Retractable platform access – looking aft


Proposed modification and fabrication by the third party


For this, and the other pilot access and boarding reports below, reference can be made to the following documentation:

Safety at Sea – Safety Focus: Pilot ladder neglect

IMPA Safety Campaign 2016

The Nautical Institute Seaways October 2016 – Securing pilot ladders

IMPA Guidance for Naval Architects & Shipyards – Provision of Pilot Boarding Arrangements 2012

IMPA – Boarding Arrangements Poster

Shipping Industry Guidance on Pilot Boarding Arrangements 2012

SOLAS Chapter V – Regulation 23

IMO Assembly Resolution 1045(27)

UKMPA The Embarkation and Disembarkation of Pilots – Code of Safe Practice 2013 (currently under revision).