It is a given fact that invariably pilotage is compulsory and the majority of accidents occurring during berthing occur with a pilot on the bridge. No berthing guide would be complete without reference to the master-pilot relationship.
Why are Pilots engaged?
- For their expertise in navigating in close proximity to land in narrow channels.
- For their ability to anticipate accurately the effects of currents and tidal influences.
- For their understanding of local traffic.
- For their ability to work effectively with the local VTS.
- For their language ability when dealing with shore services.
- For their expertise in handling tugs and linesmen.
- To support Master and relieve fatigue.
- To provide an extra person or persons on the bridge to assist with navigating the ship.
A Pilot onboard improves both the safety and efficiency of operation.
The duty of the Master and Crew during Pilotage
The master of a ship must amongst other thing ensure the safety of the ship, of all on board and of all who are threatened in any way by the proximity or operations of other ships. In the execution of his duties, he is entitled to the full co-operation and assistance from his officers and other members of his crew. All on board must go about their tasks in accordance with those ordinary practices of seamen that have been tried and tested over a long period of time i.e. the well-understood standards of seamanship that safeguard against accident or error. It is the master’s responsibility to ensure that the crew support the pilot in his duties and the master may delegate the authority for this to the officer of the watch or other appropriate officers.
It is the responsibility of the master, officers and other members of the crew to pass on all relevant information, including defects and peculiarities, to the pilot and to keep a proper lookout. The duty has been interpreted by the courts to include the duty to report all material circumstances and facts which might influence the pilot’s actions, even if the pilot is in a position where he ought to be able to see things clearly for himself.
Where, in the master’s opinion, the situation developing is obviously dangerous, it is his duty to draw the pilot’s attention to the risk and, if necessary in his judgment, take over the conduct of the vessel. The master is not justified in doing nothing.
Tire duty in of the pilot is to direct the navigation of the ship and to conduct it so far as the course of the ship is concerned. He has no other power on board. The common law relationship between master and pilot is such that, when the latter is legally responsible for his own actions and he is restricted to circumstances where there is clear evidence of the pilot’s incurring his own liability, is restricted to circumstances where incurring his own liability, is restricted to circumstances where there is clear evidence of the pilot’s inability or incompetence.
The relationship between master and a compulsory pilot is in many ways unique in that it is usually defined by custom, practice, and statute rather than contract. While the pilot is generally neither an employee of the ship nor a member of her crew, he is ultimately subordinate to the member of her crew, he is ultimately subordinate to the master, although the degree of subordination is less than popularly perceived. The public and the industry benefit equally from this working arrangement and from the degree of overlapping responsibility that compels both pilot and master to be concerned about a vessel’s safety.
An exception is found to the traditional master/ pilot relationship at the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal Commission accepts a greater degree of liability in exchange for greater control of ship’s navigation in that strategic waterway. Inside the locks of the Panama Canal, Commission is liable for payment for injuries to the vessel, cargo, crew, or passengers arising out of a passage through unless the Commission shows that the injury was caused by a negligent act of the vessel. Outside the locks, the Commission passengers when such injuries are proximately caused by the negligence or fault of a Canal Commission employee… provided that in the case of a ship required to have a Panama Canal pilot on duty on duty. Damages are only payable if at the time of injury the navigation was under the control of the Panama Canal pilot.
The Master/Pilot Relationship
…Perhaps attitudes must change. Things have come a long way in this industry, but cooperation is still lackitig between bridge officers, masters and pilots. — A master
Some masters just want to be masters, smirk at advice, and treat you as an intruder. — A Pilot
In compulsory Pilotage waters, pilots provide local knowledge of the navigation conditions prevailing in the area. The pilot is responsible to the master solely for the safe navigation of die vessel. The master retains overall responsibility for the safety of the vessel but relies on the pilot’s local knowledge and ability to handle the vessel in a safe and efficient maimer. Cooperation between pilot and master is essential.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), in a recommendation, describes a navigational watch with a pilot on board as follows:
Despite the duties and obligations of a pilot, his presence on board does not relieve the master or officer in charge of the watch from their duties and obligations for the safety of the ship. The master and the pilot shall exchange information regarding navigation procedures, local conditions and the ship’s characteristics. The master and officer of the watch shall co-operate closely with the pilot and maintain an accurate check of the ship’s position atid movement.
Navigating a vessel safely requires teamwork and interpersonal communications and this is particularly true in compulsory Pilotage waters where a pilot is onboard. There are about three particular elements of the operational relationship between pilots and bridge officers, namely:
- The sharing of information such as passage plan and the vessel’s condition, and the factors affecting communication
- The monitoring of the vessel’s movements by the Master and/or OOW while she is under pilotage
- The conduct of a pilot and the attitudes and behaviour on the bridge relating to teamwork.
Pilots should be informed of each significant factor, which may affect his proposed manoeuvring plan. Vessel manoeuvring characteristics should be shown to the pilot and he should ensure he understands any special condition which may affect him. He should be aware of the OOW presence and the quartermaster changes etc. Similarly, a Pilot must inform Master of his intended manoeuvering plan and update this as necessary with any change in conditions. Local regulations and communication requirements should be relayed to the master and officer of the watch.
The Master’s Responsibility in Pilotage Waters
The master retains overall responsibility for the vessel and her operation, for having a competent watch on duty and seeing that they perform their work efficiently, for being sure a proper lookout is maintained, and for compliance with all regulations and statutes including the Rule of the Road (COLREGS). The master’s authority is never completely in abeyance even while a pilot (compulsory or not) has immediate charge of the ship’s navigation. The master is also responsible for his own professional competency, including having sufficient knowledge and experience to be able to judge the pilot’ s performance and recognize the significant pilot error, and to have studied and the local waters and be able to recognize known and published dangers.
The master has a duty to advise or relieve a pilot in cases of:
- Gross incompetence to perform the task at hand
- When the vessel is standing in danger that is not obvious to the pilot
- When the pilot’s actions are in error due to a lack of appreciation of particular circumstances, including the limitations of the particular ship being handled
In carrying out these responsibility the master may either advise or relieve the pilot, at the master’s discretion, in practice, there is a real burden upon the master to justify relieving the pilot should some casualty result so the action of relieving must not be arbitrary, there are several ways to do a job and, while admittedly some are more expeditious than others, the master must not relieve the pilot simply should only be relieved when the master feels, based upon professional experience and training, that the vessel, crew, or cargo is being placed in real and imminent danger because of that pilot’s present course of action.
On the other hand, the master is negligent if action is not taken when required. The master first objects to an action then recommend an alternative and only in the rare case when the pilot refuses to accept a recommendation does the master relieve a pilot in a timely manner – while it is still possible to avoid an accident.
The decision about when to become involved is more difficult than the absolute problem of whether it is necessary to do so. There is a natural reluctance to act because of the ramifications in case of a casualty, yet the question of the timing is most critical. Relief usually occurs when it is too late – when the situation has deteriorated so far that even the most competent ship handler could not connect matters and the master’s efforts then only complicate an already bad situation. There is no equipment that a ship be in extremis before the pilot is relieved, only that the master foresees danger should a present course of action continue.
It is imperative that the master is sufficiently skilled in ship handling to recognize the problem early and have sufficient confidence in those skills to take prompt and decisive action if it is necessary to relieve a pilot.
Release from liability forms
Occasionally a master is presented with a form to be signed releasing the pilot from liability. These forms may be based on local practice or special circumstances such as a tugboat strike. The validity of these forms in a particular case is questionable and depends on local laws and regulations of which the master cannot reasonably be expected to have knowledge.
In as much as the master may be under pressure not to delay the vessel, and may not be able to consult with anyone about the advisability of signature that the release is “Signed under protest so that the vessel may proceed.” An entry to that effect should be made in the ship’s log. Forward a copy of the release to the owners so they can advise you about signing such documents in the future.
In any case, the form will have no immediate practical effect since the master has ultimate responsibility for the ship in any case, and the document in no way alters the master’s conduct during the docking or other working at hand.
Elements of an effective Master – Pilot Relationship
Most marine organizations around the world recognize the importance of communications among members of the bridge team, including those times when a pilot is on board.
The importance of establishing positive communication when a pilot comes on board is recognized by most pilots, masters and OOW. It is a practice on ships to have a well-established routine to welcome the pilot on board. A ship officer is assigned to meet the pilot at the gangway and escort him to the navigation bridge where he is introduced to the master. It can be dangerous to the safety of the ship for a master to consider the arrival of a pilot onboard as a relief, a way to discharge some of his responsibilities or a chance to get some rest.
Manoeuvring Characteristics of the Vessel
Most of the time, the pilot has to question the master or OOW to obtain essential information regarding the speed and manoeuvrability of the vessel. However, some pilots are reportedly reluctant in them willing to offer information to shipmasters; some masters and OOW claim that the pilot, once on the bridge, seldom has time to refer to charts and provide details to the OOW, as he is occupied in conducting the vessel.
Some masters have stressed that it is typical of pilots anywhere in the world to provide little information to the bridge officers and to act as if taking over the vessel.
Masters should insist that the pilots brief them about the Pilotage waters. The attitude should not be that unless there has been a change in the aids to the navigation system or special berthing manoeuvres have to be attempted, there is no need for the master to be briefed on the details of the transit.
In addition, the master should be informed, by the pilot, of the Harbour Master’s docking instructions. This perception that the masters and OOW know well the local conditions and routines can lead both pilots and ship officers to take a lot for granted. Both groups can assume that they share a common mental model of the area and the plan, without having to review it together. This situation can lead to the bridge personnel and the pilot surprising each other. In a dynamic situation, this can easily get out of hand. One person assuming that other shares the same assessment of a situation can take action, which the other does not expect. This places both of them in a difficult situation. Misunderstandings can build on each other, destroying mutual support or teamwork, and even leading to conflict. Prior discussion and agreement on the plan and mutual acceptance of duties and responsibilities, however, will usually foster teamwork.
Manoeuvering and Passage Plan
In confined compulsory Pilotage waters, a pilot’s passage plan containing all key navigational elements such as course alteration points, wheel-over positions, and points wheel over positions and points where the accuracy of position fixing is critical, etc. could reduce the risk of such errors.
There can be a discrepancy in a pilot’s view, who can claim that they do a good job of establishing effective relationships by sharing information on local conditions and plans. The masters and bridge officers, however, may not endorse the pilots’ assessment of their own efforts because there can be a tendency, on part of die pilot, to provide complete information when it is needed or requested. Masters should be aware of such an assumption because both parties can assume that the other party knows the necessary information; otherwise, they expect that the other party will take the initiative to ask for the information. The implication is that much of the time, pilots believe that it is not needed or requested. In fact, some pilots complain that, as soon as they take the con, masters often take advantage of their presence to leave the bridge to get some sleep. It needs to be reiterated that at no time should a Master have such an attitude in the presence of a pilot.
Masters are often unaware of the local conditions and pilots are often unaware of the manoeuvring characteristics of the vessel. Therefore, hand-over briefings are essential so that both the master, having responsibility for the safety of the vessel, and the pilot, having responsibility for the conduct of the vessel, will be aware of all relevant factors which might affect the safe navigation of the vessel. An exchange of all relevant information and the intended transfer of the conduct of the vessel should also be established and agreed upon as soon as possible. Hand-over briefings are an essential component of teamwork and cooperation.
It is the responsibility of the Master to ensure that all communications relating to the navigation and safety of the ship are conveyed to the Pilot.
In a study conducted by Transport Canada, when pilots were asked whether language barriers make it difficult to communicate orders to the helmsman on foreign-registered vessels, some 60% replied that language barriers “sometimes” affect communication with the helmsman while 20% reported that it “often” resulted in difficulty in communicating.
An IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) memorandum on the “Role of the Human Element in Maritime Casualties”, submitted by the government of the Bahamas, states:
It should be noted that in the Act, if the crew have insufficient knowledge of English and do not hare a common language, the ship shall be deemed un-seaworthy and shall not proceed to sea.
It should be noted that teamwork is as important as technical proficiency for safe navigation. Ineffective communications on the bridge, interrupted procedures, lack of situational awareness, lack of teamwork between pilot and ship officers, etc. have been contributory factors in several similar occurrences in recent years.
Master / Pilot Information Exchange
- Pilot to be provided by Master with relevant ship-handling information (draught, trim, turning circles, peculiar manoeuvring characteristics in restricted water depth/ channel width and other data). This information may be displayed at the conning position.
- Proposed track, plan, an alternative plan, and available anchor berths along route explained by pilot’s charts. With Master, Charts compared with the pilot’s charts.
- If required, appropriate Master/ Pilot information exchange from may be used
- The safe progress of the ship in relation to agreed track and plan monitored by Master and Officer of the Watch and the execution of orders checked
- Berthing/ un-berthing plan, including the availability and use of tugs and other external facilities, agreed by pilot and Master
- Tide, set, wind force and direction, visibility expected along the route
- The pilot informed of the position of life-saving appliances provided for his use
Check List of Items to be agreed between the Master and the Pilot
Navigation Advice to Pilot
- Vessel’s heading, speed, RPM. (speed increasing/ decreasing)
- Distance off / bearing of nearest appropriate navigational aid / Landmark
- ETA at next course change position/Heading
- Point out converging and close by traffic
- Depth of water under the keel
Reach Agreement on Underway procedures
- Manoeuvres for narrows, bends, turns, etc
- Courses/ headings, distance off danger areas, maximum speed
- Restrictions: day versus night movement/ berthing
- Tide and current conditions not acceptable
- Minimum acceptable visibility at any point
- Use of anchor (planned, emergency)
- Manoeuvres not requiring tugs
- Manoeuvres requiring tugs
- Number of tugs required (and when)
- Source of tug securing lines: ship or tug
- Push / pull power of required tugs
- Communications procedure between vessel and tugs
- Placement of tugs alongside
- Crew standby requirement – number available and stations
- Expected time vessel has to arrive at berth/ turning basin at high / low/slack water- average speed to his positions
Reach Agreement on Mooring / Unmooring Procedures
- Maximum acceptable wind force and direction
- Unmooring procedures without tugs in event of an emergency
- The sequence of running out/retrieving mooring lines / Wires
- Mooring lines to be run out by launch and time to run lines
- Provision for dock line handlers
- Determine which side to
- Firewires required
- Any other necessary items
Common errors found in the Master – Pilot relationship
The details delineated below are from a study conducted by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. This has been included here to guide the student as what not to do and how to formulate an effective master – pilot relationship that should be within the framework of the bridge team management.
- In the 273 occurrences examined, misunderstanding between the pilot and master, lack of attention by the pilot or the OOW, or lack of communication between the pilot and the OOW was frequently present.
- The vast majority of responding masters, bridge officers and pilots believe that teamwork is as important as technical proficiency for safe navigation.
- Recent occurrences indicate continuing problems with respect to the adequacy of bridge teamwork; e.g. lack of a mutually agreed passage plan, lack of interaction, coordination and cooperation among the bridge team, lack of precise progress-monitoring by the OOW, etc.
- Fundamental differences in the corporate perspectives of ship officers and pilots on such issues as the need for compulsory Pilotage and limited pilots legal liability are not conducive to promoting harmony in bridge teamwork.
- Bridge personnel are found reluctant in questioning a pilot’s decision.
- Most masters and bridge officers who responded state that they always inform the pilot of the manoeuvring characteristics of the vessel, but few pilots state that they are always provided with the information.
- The majority of masters and bridge officers feel that pilots do not always provide adequate timely information on local conditions.
- Many masters and bridge officers reported that pilots do not always provide information to the master or the OOW regarding the passage plan.
- Pilots and masters also disagree over the adequacy of hand-over briefings; most masters / OOW say that they are informative and most pilots say that they are not.
- Many masters and OOW believe that pilots do not always convey information essential to safe navigation which is received by radio communications.
- With respect to the overall exchange of information between pilots and masters and OOW, apparently, each party is under the assumption that the other knows the necessary information and, if they do not, they will request it.
- Misperceptions that the other party knows about the manoeuvring characteristics of the vessel, or the local conditions and the intended passage plan can lead to significant misunderstandings and surprises for the bridge team.
- A majority of pilots reported that language barriers “sometimes” prevent effective communication with the master and the OOW; several reported that language barriers “often” prevented it.
- Pilots and bridge officers disagree on the extent to which OOW monitor the vessel’s progress, the pilots expressing some dissatisfaction with respect to how well they are being supported or monitored by bridge personnel. However, both groups agree that the pilots seldom assist the OOW in monitoring the vessel movements.
- Most of the foregoing findings are indicative of serious barriers in the relationship among pilots, masters and OOW, thereby compromising their effectiveness as a coherent team.
International Best Practices for Maritime Pilotage as given on UK Pandi.