Compliant Pilot Ladders Save Lives

By Sabeela Faiza 5 Min Read

Maritime pilots have been safely guiding ships in and out of port for thousands of years. These highly skilled mariners are responsible for safely manoeuvring huge ships in and out of port. As ships have grown larger this task has become increasingly more complex as the port infrastructure has remained the same. In some ports ships are twice the size of the design capacity of a port which may be over 100 years old. The role and importance of the maritime pilot has grown significantly as the vessels have, handling vessels with multiple tugboats into increasingly tight spaces.


Getting these highly skilled individuals to and from ships is a challenging task, and requires the maritime pilot to head out to sea in a small pilot boat to rendezvous with the vessel, board her and take over the safe navigation of the vessel from the Captain. In order to get aboard the pilot first needs to climb up the side of the ship and this is done with a rope ladder known as a pilot ladder.


Pilot ladders have been around for hundreds of years and haven’t changed significantly since they were first produced. Whereas these ladders were traditionally made on board the ships they are now constructed ashore in pilot ladder workshops using production line efficiency and modern construction techniques. Ladders are now constructed to increasingly tight international standards and inspection.


The weak link however in the task of maritime pilot boarding has become the securing of the pilot ladder. As the shipping world has moved to tighter and tighter turnaround times along with a reduction of manning the ability of crew members to gain onboard knowledge has dwindled. Whereas a trainee deck rating would have learnt these basic seamanship skills from the bosun on long sea passages this time is now spent maintaining these huge vessels and ensuring they stay to their increasingly tight schedules. A 400m long ship (that’s the height of the original Tower 2 of the World Trade Centre) will be run with around 24 crew members. Imagine running a building that size with the same number of people. The deck ratings are now so busy with maintenance there is no time for ‘on the job training’.

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This has led to a dilution of knowledge that has gradually declined over the last twenty to thirty years. This has meant we have a whole generation of seafarer that isn’t familiar with how to secure a pilot ladder. With limited pilot ladder training this has led to bad practice creeping into the industry with pilot ladders being secured in dangerous ways that has sadly led to an increasing number of accidents and fatalities. 2023 was a low point in these incidents with 7 fatalities connected with pilot transfer activities and multiple serious career ending injuries.


Ensuring seafarers are adequately trained in pilot ladder transfer operations is essential to the welfare of maritime pilots and intrinsic to ensuring our just in time logistics chains operate efficiently. If a ship can’t get into port it can’t work cargo, delaying their arrival in the next port and so on and so on.


Training crew members need not be hard. Companies such as Fathom Safety exist to provide high quality pilot ladder training through cloud based e-learning. Providing immersive 3D animated training makes it a familiar experience for the modern generation of seafarer allowing crew members to complete training at their own pace and even on their own connected devices.


By providing comprehensive training in pilot ladder transfer operations the maritime industry is able to ensure pilot safety, guarantee the safe arrival and departure of vessels, protect our fragile global logistics network and facilitate     world trade.

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