The relationship between the ship’s team and an employed pilot is difficult to define.

The ship’s Master is charged with the responsibility for the safety of the ship; pilots are engaged to assist with navigation in confined waters and to facilitate port approach, berthing and departure.

The Master has the ultimate responsibility and has the right to take over from the pilot in the rare event of the pilot’s inexperience or misjudgment.

In practice, the Master may find
himself in a position where he is not happy about the way the passage is being conducted by the pilot, yet is in no position to even
query the pilot’s actions as he, the Master, has no idea as to what should be happening.

Ideally, the Master and his team will be aware of the pilot’s intentions and be in a position to be able to query his actions at any stage of the passage.

This can only be brought about by:

1. The bridge team being aware of the difficulties and constraints of the pilotage area.

2. The pilot being aware of the characteristics and peculiarities of the ship,

3. The pilot being made familiar with the equipment at his disposal and aware of the degree of support he can expect from the ship’s personnel.

Unfortunately this is not the way that things have developed.

Boarding a strange ship, pilots often feel that they are unsupported.

They know that the next part of the passage is going to be entirely up to themselves and consequently get on with and make the best of a bad job.

Equally, the OOW may feel that he is excluded from events. He doesn’t know where the ship is going, ho w it is to get there, nor what is expected from him.

Consequently, he is very likely to lose interest.

Such insecurities and doubts can quite easily be overcome by the ship’s team operating a consistent system,




A well planned passage will not stop at the pilot boarding area.

The planning will continue from sea to berth, or vice versa, the boarding of the pilot being part of the plan.

The areas where the pilot actually has the conn will still have been planned by the navigator.

This enables the Master and OOW to compare the progress of the ship with the planned track and also enables them to be aware of the constraints and other details of the passage.

Abort and contingency planning will assist should the ship experience navigational or other problems.


As stated above, the Master may not be aware of the area, the pilot unaware of the peculiarities of the ship.

These problems can be minimized by establishing a routine Master/pilot exchange.

When the pilot enters the bridge it is good practice for the Master to make time for a brief discussion with the pilot.

The Master may need to delegate the conn to the OOW or other officer, as appropriate, in order to discuss the intended passage with the pilot.

This will include such items as the pilot’s planned route, his anticipated speeds and ETAs, both en route and at the destination, what assistance he expects from the shore, such as tugs and VTS information and what contingencies he may have in mind.



For his part, the Master needs to advise the pilot of the handling characteristics of his ship, in particular any unusual features
and relevant information such as anchor condition, engine type and control and personnel availability. Much of this information can be readily available on a Master/pilot exchange form.

When these broad outlines have been established, the pilot will now need to be acquainted with the bridge, agreeing about how his instructions are to be executed (does he want to handle the controls or would he rather leave that to one of the ship’s staff), where the VHF is situated and how to change channels and which radar is available for his use.

In particular he needs to be
advised of the present mode of the radar.

The pilot is now better placed to take the conn.

The above will obviously depend upon many factors.

1 The position of the pilot boarding area. Often this is such that there will be little time between the pilot actually entering the bridge and taking the conn.

2 The speed of the ship at the pilot boarding area. This too could limit time availability.

3 Environmental conditions such as poor visibility, strong winds, rough seas, strong tides or heavy traffic may inhibit the exchange.

If the exchange has not been carried out for any reason, even greater care will need to be exercised by the bridge team. This
situation should be avoided if at all possible.


Despite the presence of the pilot, the Master is still responsible for the safety of the ship.

The pilot is the local expert and will obviously conduct the ship to the best of his ability, advising the Master as necessary and usually actually conducting the passage.

This applies whether the pilotage is voluntary – i.e., the Master has requested assistance – or compulsory – i.e., the ship is required to take a local pilot within defined areas.

Frequently the Master will remain on the bridge during the pilotage. This obviously will depend on the circumstances.

In the event of a long pilotage it would not be practicable for the Master to remain throughout. In this case he must remember to delegate his authority to a responsible officer, probably the OOW, exactly as he would at sea.

In any case the Master is in a poor position to question the pilot regarding the progress of the ship or its situation at any moment, unless he, the Master, knows what should be happening at that time.


The ship’s progress needs to be monitored when the pilot has the conn exactly as it has to be under any other conditions.

Such monitoring needs to be carried out by the OOW, and deviations from the planned track or speed observed and the Master made aware exactly as if he had the conn.

From such information the Master will be in a position where he can question pilotage decisions with diplomacy and confidence.

Monitoring will include regularly fixing the position of the ship, particularly after each course alteration, and monitoring underkeel clearance.

Verbal orders from the pilot also need to be checked to confirm that they have been correctly carried out.

This will include monitoring both the rudder angle and rpm indicators when helm and engine orders are given.

It is recommended that communication between the pilot and the bridge team is conducted in the English language.

If the master leaves the bridge, the OOW should always seek clarification from the pilot when in any doubt as to the pilot’s actions or intentions.

If a satisfactory explanation is not given, the OOW should notify the master immediately, taking whatever action is necessary before the master arrives.

Whenever there is any disagreement with decisions of the pilot, the cause of concern
should always be made clear to the pilot and an explanation sought.

The OOW should bear in mind that during pilotage, the ship will need to be properly secured for sea.

Excessive use of deck lighting at night may cause visibility interference.


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