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The relationship between the master and the pilot is fraught with potential difficulties and conflict. The pilot directs the navigation of the ship, but the master still retains overall command and control. The freedom that the master gives to the pilot varies from master to master but also depends upon the circumstances in which the pilotage takes place. The master of a large foreign-going ship entering a difficult channel will tend to adopt a more passive attitude to the pilot than a coastal master who knows the area intimately.


The way in which the law interprets this relationship, and the rights and responsibilities of each to the other and to third parties, obviously differ from country to country and the following is therefore offered as a general overview. In many legal systems, the customary rules and statutory enactments provide a confused and sometimes contradictory picture, which tends to the conclusion that a master, when considering how to operate with a pilot, should be guided more by common sense and self-preservation than by precise legal principles.


The pilot owes a professional duty of care to those whom he serves, which assumes knowledge and awareness of local conditions. The pilot is therefore generally liable to the shipowner, and to third parties, for a failure to exercise such care. In practice, however, such responsibility is largely illusory since the pilot, as an individual, has few assets with which to satisfy any award of damages. Also, the extent of his liability is often restricted at law or limited in amount, although he may also be subject to criminal sanctions under any relevant legislation as a result of his actions.


Where there is injury or damage to the property of a third party caused by the pilot’s negligence, the third party will naturally look to the shipowner for compensation. There may be a possibility of a recourse action against the harbor authority, port commission, or canal company that employs the negligent pilot.


If, however, the relevant body merely acts as a licensing authority, it will not be liable for pilot error. Pilot associations are also generally immune from liability for the actions of their members.


Given the lack of accountability of the pilot, it is tempting to ignore any detailed legal analysis of the relationship between the master and the pilot. This would be a mistake since the principles which have been articulated in various legal jurisdictions provide a well-considered view on the way in which the relationship should operate most effectively.


In terms of engagement, the master is only legally bound to employ a pilot in an area of compulsory pilotage. However, the master may be found liable for not employing a pilot where it can be shown that such failure caused or contributed to an accident. Whilst the pilot may assume control of the navigation of the ship, this does not relieve the master of his command of the ship. The master, therefore, retains both the right and the responsibility to intervene in the actions of the pilot, although it has been stressed on many occasions that the master is only justified in intervening, when the pilot is in charge, in very rare instances; for example, where he perceives the threat of imminent danger to the ship or when the pilot is obviously incapacitated in some way.


There is, therefore, a divided authority, with both the master and the pilot continuing to have active roles that may potentially conflict. The pilot is responsible for and should be left in charge of, navigation in terms of speed, course, stopping, and reversing, but the ship’s master is responsible for all other matters such as maintaining a proper lookout. And the pilot is entitled to expect a well-regulated and seaworthy ship, that provides him with proper assistance and information.



These recommendations are for the guidance of masters, their supporting personnel and pilots in laying down the minimum standards to be expected of the pilotage service given onboard ships in pilotage waters worldwide and aims to clarify the roles of the master and the pilot and the working relationship between them.


1. Principles for the safe conduct of pilotage


.1 Efficient pilotage is chiefly dependent upon the effectiveness of the communications and information exchanges between the pilot, the master, and other bridge personnel and upon the mutual understanding, each has for the functions and duties of the others. Ship’s personnel, shore-based ship management, and the relevant port and pilotage authorities should utilize the proven concept of “Bridge Team Management”. Establishment of effective co-ordination between the pilot, master, and other ship’s personnel, taking due account of the ship’s systems and the equipment available to the pilot is a prerequisite for the safe conduct of the ship through pilotage waters.


.2 The presence of a pilot on the ship does not relieve the master or officer in charge of the navigational watch from their duties and obligations for the safe conduct of the ship.


2. Provision of information for a berth to berth passage planning


.1 Ships should provide the relevant port or pilotage authority with basic information regarding their arrival intentions and ship characteristics, such as draft and dimensions, as required by the port or other statutory obligations. This should be completed well in advance of the planned arrival and in accordance with local requirements.


.2 In acknowledging receipt of this information, the appropriate port or pilotage authority should pass relevant information back to the ship (either directly or via agents) as soon as it becomes available.


Such information should include as a minimum: the pilot boarding point; reporting and communications procedures; and sufficient details of the prospective berth, anchorage, and routing information to enable the master to prepare a provisional passage plan to the berth prior to his arrival.


However, masters should recognize that not all of this information may be available in sufficient detail to complete the passage plan until the pilot has boarded the ship.


3. Master pilot information exchange


.1 The pilot and the master should exchange information regarding the pilot’s intentions, the ship’s characteristics, and operational parameters as soon as possible after the pilot has boarded the ship.


The ICS Master/Pilot Exchange Forms (Annexes A1 and A2 of the ICS Bridge Procedures Guide) or the company equivalent format, should be completed by both the master and pilot to help ensure ready availability of the information and that nothing is omitted in error.


.2 The exchange of information regarding pilotage and the passage plan should include clarification of:

• roles and responsibilities of the master, pilot and other members of the bridge management team;

• navigational intentions;

• local conditions including navigational or traffic constraints;

• tidal and current information;

• berthing plan and mooring boat use;

• proposed use of tugs;

• expected weather conditions.


After taking this information into account and comparing the pilot’s suggested plan with that initially developed on board, the pilot and master should agree with an overall final plan early in the passage before the ship is committed. The master should not commit his ship to the passage until satisfied with the plan. All parties should be aware that elements of the plan may change.


.3 Contingency plans should also be made which should be followed in the event of a malfunction or a shipboard emergency, identifying possible abort points and safe grounding areas. These should be discussed and agreed between pilot and master.


4. Duties and Responsibilities


.1 The pilot, master, and bridge personnel share responsibility for good communications and mutual understanding of the other’s role for the safe conduct of the vessel in pilotage waters. They should also clarify their respective roles and responsibilities so that the pilot can be easily and successfully integrated into the normal bridge management team.


.2 The pilot’s primary duty is to provide accurate information to ensure the safe navigation of the ship. In practice, the pilot will often con the ship on the master’s behalf.


.3 The master retains the ultimate responsibility for the safety of his ship. He and his bridge personnel have a duty to support the pilot and to monitor his actions. This should include querying any actions or omissions by the pilot (or any other member of the bridge management team) if inconsistent with the passage plan or if the safety of the ship is in any doubt.


5. Preparation for pilotage


.1The pilot should:

• ensure he is adequately rested prior to an act of pilotage, in good physical and mental fitness and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol;

• prepare information for incorporation into the ship’s passage plan by keeping up to date with navigational, hydrographic and meteorological information as well as traffic movements within the pilotage area;

• establish communication with the ship to make arrangements for boarding.


.2 In supporting the pilot, the master and bridge personnel should:

• ensure they are adequately rested prior to an act of pilotage, in good physical and mental fitness and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol;

• draw upon the preliminary information supplied by the relevant port or pilotage authority along with published data (e.g. charts, tide tables, light lists, sailing directions and radio lists) in order to develop a provisional passage plan prior to the ship’s arrival;

• prepare suitable equipment and provide sufficient personnel for embarking the pilot in a safe and expedient manner;

• establish communications with the pilot station to confirm boarding details.

6. Pilot boarding


.1 The boarding position for pilots should be located, where practicable, at a great enough distance from the port, so as to allow sufficient time for a comprehensive face-to-face exchange of information and agreement of the final pilotage passage plan. The position chosen should allow sufficient sea-room to ensure that the ship’s safety is not put in danger, before, during, or directly after such discussions; neither should it impede the passage of other ships.


.2 The pilot should:

• take all necessary personal safety precautions, including using or wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment and ensuring items are properly maintained;

• Check that boarding equipment appears properly rigged and manned;

• Liaise with the master so that the ship is positioned and maneuvered to permit safe boarding.


.3 In supporting the pilot, the master and ship’s personnel should:

• ensure that the means of pilot embarkation and disembarkation are properly positioned, rigged, maintained and manned in accordance with IMO recommendations and, where applicable, other port requirements;

• the master should liaise with the pilot station/transfer craft so that the ship is positioned and maneuvered to ensure safe boarding.


7. Conduct of passage in pilotage waters


.1 It is essential that a face-to-face master/pilot exchange (MPX) described in section 3.1 results in clear and effective communication and the willingness of the pilot, master and bridge personnel to work together as part of a bridge management team. English language; or a mutually agreed common language; or the IMO Standard Marine Communication Phrases should be used, and all members of the team share a responsibility to highlight any perceived errors or omissions by other team members, for clarification.


.2 The master and bridge personnel should:

• within the bridge management team, interact with the pilot providing confirmation of his directions and feedback when they have been complied with;

• monitor at all times the ship’s speed and position as well as dynamic factors affecting the ship (e.g. weather conditions, maneuvering responses and density of traffic);

• confirm on the chart at appropriate intervals the ship’s position and the positions of navigational aids, alerting the pilot to any perceived inconsistencies.


.3 The pilot should:

• ensure that the master is able to participate in any discussions when one pilot relinquishes his duty to another pilot;

• report to the relevant authority any irregularity within the passage, including deficiencies concerning the operation, manning, or equipment of the ship.


8. Berthing and unberthing


.1 The necessity of co-operation and a close working relationship between the master and pilot during berthing and unberthing operations is extremely important to the safety of the ship. In particular, both the pilot and the master should discuss and agree on which one of them will be responsible for operating key equipment and controls (such as the main engine, helm, and thrusters).


.2 The pilot should:

• co-ordinate the efforts of all parties engaged in the berthing or unberthing operation (e.g. tug crews, linesmen, ship’s crew). His intentions and actions should be explained immediately to the bridge management team, in the previously agreed appropriate language.


.3 In supporting the pilot, the master and bridge personnel should:

• ensure that the pilot’s directions are conveyed to the ship’s crew and are correctly implemented;

• ensure that the ship’s crew provide the bridge management team with relevant feedback information;

• advise the pilot once his directions have been complied with, where an omission has occurred or if a potential problem exists




9. Other matters


.1 The pilot should:

• assist interested parties such as port authorities, national authorities and flag administrations in reporting and investigating incidents involving vessels whilst under pilotage, subject to the laws and regulations of the relevant authorities;

• in observing the recommendations within this document pilots should meet or exceed the requirements set down in IMO Assembly Resolution A.485(XII) and its annexes;

• should report to the appropriate authority anything observed which may affect the safety of navigation or pollution prevention, including any incident that may have occurred to the piloted ship;

• refuse pilotage when the ship to be piloted is believed to pose a danger to the safety of navigation or to the environment. Any such refusal, together with the reason, should immediately be reported to the appropriate authority for further action.


.2 The master, having the ultimate responsibility for the safe navigation of the ship has a responsibility to request replacement of the pilot, should he deem it necessary.

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