Vessel On Master’s Orders & Pilot’s Advice


As the north protection and indemnity insurance (P&I) club informs, it is well known that presence of pilot on the bridge doesn’t relieve the master or officer in charge of the watch from their duties for the safety of the ship. There are many cases where the master gives control to the pilot or fails to challenge potentially unsafe instruction, sometimes resulting in an incident.

To Follow Or Not To Follow

According to the P & I club, if a pilot informs the master to perform the manoeuvre that results in an incident. Will that protect the master from being responsible? No, because ship management and navigation is the responsibility of the master. This is illuminated by lines 170 and 171 of new york produce which reads “…The owners to remain responsible for the navigation of the vessel…same as when trading for their own account….”.

For example, the unsafe berth case The Stork, in this case Master acted reasonably when following pilot’s advice on anchoring in spite the Master having issues with the instruction. The court noted that pilots possess intimate local knowledge and concluded, “Of course, the Master cannot transfer his responsibility to the pilot, but a Master would be very imprudent if in a place of this sort he disregarded the advice of those with local knowledge unless he had very good reason for doing so.”

This means that the master along the bridge team must review the instructions given by the pilot to make sure that if pilot instruction followed, the ship or vessel will be in safe condition.


The pilot’s suggestion considered as employment order which enables an owner to hold the charterer responsible. Mr Justice Staughton was clear in The Erechthion that the orders of a harbour master to proceed to an anchorage were employment orders, the pilot’s suggestion as to where the vessel should anchor was a matter of navigation so the ultimate responsibility lies with the Master. Although the charterer may pay for the pilot, this does not make the pilot the charterer’s servant. Accordingly, this does not mean that the charterer will be responsible to the owner for the pilot’s negligence.

Easier Said Than Done

It is very difficult to disagree with pilot instructions. Masters are aware of the commercial consequences of missing a schedule or creating delays. Suppose If the Master choose not to follow a pilot’s instruction, and this results in a delay or extra expenditure, a dispute will follow. But if the Master chooses to follow the instruction and it results in an incident, again a dispute will follow.

Inevitably, there is a high risk of a dispute in both choices then how can a Master best equip themselves?

SOLAS Chapter V

SOLAS Chapter V regulation 34-1 states that: “the owner, the charterer, the company operating the ship, or any other person SHALL NOT prevent or restrict the Master of the ship from taking or executing any decision which, in the Master’s professional judgement, is necessary for the safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment.”

It means that according to SOLAS, Ship is in command of the master and the master makes reasonable choices based on the safety of the ship.

Evidence to prove that the choice not to follow the pilot’s instructions was reasonable. This can include:

  • Risk assessments
  • Tidal data
  • Charts
  • Passage plans
  • Navigation warnings
  • Echo sounder records
  • VDR data
  • Statements
  • Photographs
  • Checklists
  • Master pilot exchanges
  • The bridge logbook entries

Courts are always in favour of a Master who has considered the safety of their crew and the vessel and acted reasonably, even when there is a delay or additional expenditure.

If the Master follows the pilot’s  instruction without thinking fully of the safety factors, and an incident occurs, then SOLAS Chapter V will work against the Master.

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Source: Nepia


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