July 13, 2023General Business News

Did you Know?: Maritime Pilots

Did you know


That the function of a “Pilot” is not only a term for the aviation industry but also for the maritime industry? Although unlike one on an airplane, a ship Pilot does not have command over the vessel and works in an advisory capacity.


What is a pilot, and why do we at Hafnia consider them vital to our transportation journeys? 


A maritime pilot, marine pilot, harbor pilot, port pilot, or ship pilot is a mariner who has expert local knowledge of a congested or dangerous part of a voyage which could include port entry and exit or river mouths. Unlike the captain and crew who travel onboard the ship, marine pilots are usually stationed in ports and are integral members of port operations teams. There are also private pilot organizations where the pilotage is within the family and passed on to the next generation.


Pilots know the local details of particular locations, such as the water depth, currents, reefs, and other existing hazards. Most pilotage areas have compulsory pilotage, although there are some areas where voluntary pilotage is offered to assist the vessel’s Captain.


Pilots board our ships and become an integral part of the ship’s bridge team composition for the short duration of time they are on board. They are usually the first contact for the ship’s crew with the port the vessel is calling.


Pilots join the vessel via a pilot boat, or sometimes by helicopter to help in navigating the vessels in or out of a specific port or through congested areas. Transfer to the vessels can be quite a dangerous mission as this can sometimes get bumpy in rough weather conditions.


Pilots are assigned to vessels from only one port, due to their local knowledge of piers, docks, water depths, communication procedures, and regulations. A pilot works as an advisor and does not take over command of the ship. The pilot must always balance the need for good service with their public responsibility by working closely with people on the vessel to ensure a safe voyage. The pilot remains under the captain’s overall command but are often giving helm and engine commands to the bridge crew.


Regardless of the vessel’s type or size, the pilot is trained to advise and navigate all types of ships, while providing a smooth and cooperative working relationship with the people onboard. The new pilots often come on board as trainees with senior pilots, to watch and learn. They then graduate to pilot ships themselves. Many ports have procedures where the pilots start with smaller vessels and graduate to larger vessels eventually.


There is a global association for pilots known as the  “International Maritime Pilots’ Association” which was launched in June 1970, in an effort to promote effective safety outcomes in pilotage as an essential public service. Currently, it represents 8360 marine pilot members across 51 countries.

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