Marine pilotage

SafetyWatch_icon_1.pngSafety concern

Navigation through confined waters under pilotage is a high-pressure situation where errors can easily lead to serious incidents.

What can you do?

The clear and open exchange of information between the ship’s master and crew and the pilot is vital, both during the pilotage passage and before it even commences. This helps to ensure that all members of the bridge team have a shared mental model of the pilotage passage and, as a result, a good understanding of how it should proceed.

This pre-passage information exchange should always include:

  • the courses or tracks to be followed
  • speeds at critical points during the pilotage
  • limits in relation to planned tracks and speeds.

It should also include information on the ship’s handling characteristics and the state of critical equipment such as navigation systems, steering gear, main engine and bow thrusters.

Clear communication is also essential during the passage itself. This is to ensure that the members of the navigation team—including the pilot, bridge team and engineers on duty in the engine room—understand their roles and responsibilities and that instructions are fully understood and correctly actioned. Every member of the team must be free to speak up or “challenge” if they notice something abnormal or they feel that something is amiss.

In addition, a pilotage situation represents a complex environment. This complexity, combined with long hours and the need for precision, can cause fatigue. Precautions must be taken to prevent errors. Especially useful is a fatigue management plan that predicts potential fatigue levels at key positions in the pilotage task and that allows for strategic preparation.


More information

A number of ATSB marine investigation reports have highlighted problems that can arise in the course of a pilotage.

Following the finalisation of the investigation into the grounding of the Atlantic Blue in 2010, the ATSB completed a safety issue investigation into Queensland coastal pilotage operations. The report identified six significant safety issues in coastal pilotage operations.

External references

Related: SafetyWatch
Last update 23 October 2017