Inadequately Rigged Pilot Ladders Leading To Deaths Onboard


Pilot ladders are the most effective way for most marine pilots to embark and disembark at sea, provided the regulations are complied with and risks are properly assessed. Unfortunately there continue to be tragic accidents with loss of life. Maritime Executive writes about the common pitfalls for Pilot transfer arrangements.

To enable ships’ crews to properly and safely rig a pilot ladder, it is important that the vessel is properly designed and built with pilot transfer arrangements given the consideration they deserve.

Over the last century the IMO SOLAS Convention has been continually expanded to cover all aspects of ship safety, including requirements for pilot transfer arrangements. The standard it sets out is the minimum required to maintain a safe working environment for pilots during transfer operations, avoiding unnecessary risks to life and limb.

Under Resolution A 1045 (27), the first recommendation is that ‘ship designers are encouraged to consider all aspects of pilot transfer arrangements at an early stage in design’.

SOLAS V Regulations

Safe and convenient access to and egress from, the ship shall be provided by either:

  • a pilot ladder requiring a climb of not less than 1.5 m and not more than 9 metres above the surface of the water so positioned and secured that:
  • it is clear of any possible discharges from the ship:

  • it is within the parallel body length of the ship and, as far as practicable, within the mid-ship half length of the ship

  • each step rests firmly against the ship’s side; where constructional features, such as rubbing bands would prevent the implementation of this provision, special arrangements shall, to the satisfaction of the Administration be made to ensure that persons are able to embark and disembark safely

Pilot falls off pilot ladder

In September 1974, a UK pilot tragically lost his life when falling from the pilot ladder of a storm damaged passenger ferry he was endeavoring to take into shelter.

On trying to get an acknowledgement of liability from the vessels owners, the pilot’s widow lost her case and a subsequent appeal because the pilot was adjudged to have been partially responsible for the accident because he attempted to board a vessel with a freeboard of greater than nine meters without using a combination arrangement.

His colleagues were not surprisingly very concerned by this and came up with an ingenious (and very cheap) method of easily identifying freeboards of more than nine meters. The pilot-inspired solution was paint a white over red pilot flag on the ship side with the boundary between the colors marking nine meters of freeboard.

If any of the red paint is visible, the freeboard exceeds nine meters and a combination ladder must be rigged for the pilot transfer operation. Although universally accepted at the time to be an inspired initiative, the mark has not been widely incorporated into ship designs.

Recommendations and Precautions

  • The access area shall be kept free and clear at all times and can also be marked with permanent signs.
  • The pilot ladder should be checked after it is rigged preliminary to ensure it is properly secured to the ship by a crew member by descending few steps. While doing so safety should not be jeopardised. The crew member should always take care of their own safety wearing a life jacket and a lifeline if appropriate.
  • The duty officer should closely monitor continuously and observe the pilot all the time while he is on the ladder. He should always remain in contact with the bridge via walkie talkie, report every event and inform the bridge at once on the safe arrival of a pilot onboard.
  • A canvas bag or net and a rope should be kept ready at the embarkation position to hoist aboard any baggage the pilot might have with him.
  • A pilot dedicated lifebuoy with water actuated automatic light and lifeline should be readily available.
  • If a retrieval line is being used, care should be taken that it does not hinder the pilot nor obstruct the safe approach of the pilot boat.
  • At night the access area should be well illuminated to facilitate safe boarding and deboarding.
  • A spare ladder should always be available onboard.
  • Pilot ladders remain the most efficient way for pilots to board vessels. The transfer of a pilot between the pilot boat and ship is a significant risk that needs to be carefully managed.
  • Periodic inspection of the boarding arrangement, especially the pilot ladder should be an ongoing process and should be inculcated into the planned maintenance system onboard ships.
  • Each pilot ladder, accommodation ladder and its associated equipment should be properly checked and stowed after every use.
  • Ropes should also be checked for any kind of deterioration.

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Source: Maritime Executive


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