A Pilot experiences a lucky escape whilst boarding a vessel.
What the Reporter told us:
Whilst boarding a vessel from the pilot launch, an unanticipated swell picked up the ladder which I had just stepped onto. This resulted in me dropping to a position that had me sitting on the rungs of the ladder on the deck of the pilot boat whilst still holding on to the ladder. I continued to hold on, and as the boat dropped away, I quickly resumed climbing the ladder. Fortunately, the event did not result in an injury, and I safely boarded the vessel. At the time, the weather was a southerly wind of 10-18 knots with a low swell. Vessel steering 075°T at 10 knots to create a lee.
I feel that this was a case of being caught by an unexpected sudden change to the boat’s motion, which even caught the boat skipper by surprise. It would suggest a policy of not rushing to transfer to the ladder before getting a good feel for the relative movement of the two vessels. Following the incident, I discussed the incident with my manager to investigate whether we could have done things differently, but nothing stood out to me or my boat crew, other than to take time to assess every task well, before transferring.
CHIRP requested confirmation that the lee was as requested, that the pilot ladder was correctly rigged and that an officer was in attendance. Positive confirmation was received to all of these points. We also asked if there was any knowledge of historically unusual swells, which might prompt a review of the requested lee or gain additional information as to the timing of the swells. The reporter replied that it is in an area where heavy swells are often a way of life. They have a good wave-rider device that gives them information to plan for the transfer well before leaving the harbour.
The CHIRP Maritime Advisory Board commented that this was indeed a lucky escape. Different circumstances could have led to a very serious accident. The report highlights the inherent dangers that a pilot experiences when boarding or disembarking a vessel. In addition to the reporter’s comment relating to assessing every task, it is essential that the vessel’s personnel both on the bridge and at the pilot ladder, along with the crew member of the pilot launch assisting the pilot, and the launch skipper are all fully alert to dangers such as those described in the report. One error of judgement can have serious consequences.