Pilotage service. Pilotage process. Procedure of ordering a pilot. Pilot embarkation. Process of pilotage

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The process of entering or leaving almost any port in the world requires great skill and attention on the part of the navigator because a good many of ports are situated in inner waters difficult of access. As to the Masters who have to take the vessel into a port for their first time they usually don’t know bye-laws and peculiarities of the pilotage area. Therefore a special service has been established in every maritime country in order to render assistance to ves­sels in port and coastal waters navigation.

Pilotage area is an area which is very dangerous and difficult for navigation such as straits, channels, canals, harbors, locks, rivers, port areas and so on.

Pilot is a qualified person who is authorized to pilot vessels in a particular pilotage area. There are port pilots, deep-sea pilots and river pilots. Every pilot must have a PILOT LICENCE (CERTIFICATE) which he produces, if requested, to the person by whom he is employed.

Pilotage may be compulsory, obtional or advisable. In some ports special certificate can exempt Master from necessity to order a pilot. This, so-called, PILOTAGE EXAMPTION CERTIFICATE is given to the Masters who visit these ports very often and have local knowledge.


Usually pilots stand by to render assistance round-the-clock, but in some small ports. Pilotage Service works only in the day time. The procedure of ordering a pilot is different in each port .It‘s described in special ship’s publications such as Guide to Port Entry, Pilot Book and ALRS Vol.6. This procedure depends on the local navigation condition. Request for pilotage may be addressed either to Agent or directly to the port Pilot Station by means of telecommunication or radiogram. The vessel should notify Pilot Station in advance of arrival, as a rule from 96 to 24 hours before arrival. Such radiogram should contain routine particulars about the ship:

  • Ship’s name; call sign; the port of departure; draft; LOA; gross tonnage; free board; ship’s air draft; ETA; port of destination and so on.

During the first communication Pilot Station specifies the time or the place where the vessel must call it again to acknowledge her arrival. Communication is usually effected on VHF channel 16.

When the vessel reaches the intended place she should in the day-time hoist flag G of the INTERNATIONAL CODE OF SIGNALS, meaning "I require a pilot". Light signals may be used at night.


When the vessel’s Pilot Station ETA is established, the OOW shall contact the pilot station to arrange the pilot boarding. During such communication the pilot station specifies the time and the place of pilot embarkation. As a rule vessels are met by Pilot Boat flying the Pilot Flag (upper half white and lower half red) and very often having the word PILOT on the sides. The OOW shall communicate with the pilot boat to establish on which side of the vessel the Pilot shall board, and the vessel’s heading and speed at time of boarding He shall supervisee the embarkation and disembarkation of the Pilot, which is accomplished by means of pilot ladder. The pilot ladder must be accordingly rigged for boarding and meet current IMO standards. In fresh wind the pilot ladder is rigged on the vessel's lee side. The rigging of the ladder shall be supervised by a Deck Officer. Sometimes when weather conditions prevent the pilot from embarking, he remains in the pilot launch and leads the vessel, maintaining constant communication with the piloted vessel and giving orders by VHF radiotelephone.

Vessels may also be met by a helicopter. In this case boarding is accomplished by landing in any sea condition.

The OOW with hand-held VHF radio should meet the pilot and show him to the Bridge, where the pilot should be met by the Master. As soon as the Pilot is board, flag G is to be substituted for flag H meaning “I have a Pilot on board”.

                                                                            PROCESS of PILOTAGE

During the voyage Navigating Officer and the Master should draw up the pilotage plan. The planning must continue from sea to berth or vise versa. The boarding of the pilot is the part of the plan. A well planed passage will not stop at the PBA. The areas where the pilot actually will have the conn are also planned by the navigator. So, pilotage area must be carefully studied by OOW and the Master. Before boarding of the pilot the Master should ensure that:

  • The appropriate charts and publications are available;
  • The navigation aids are in order and operational;
  • An efficient watch including OOW, helmsman and lookout is posted;

When the pilot enters the Bridge it is good practice for the Master to make time for a brief discussion with the pilot.. This will include the instructions as to destination, pilot’s planned route, speeds and ETA, berth and which side to, tugs, VTS information and traffic expected, expected shore assistance, expected weather and tidal conditions, UKC during the ship’s progress as well as alongside or at anchorage and so on.

For his part, the Master should advice the pilot of the handling and maneuvering characteristics of his ship, all navigational aids and equipment as well as any defects or problems, crew and watch availability, special instruction from ship-owner, ship-s information manager or agent. Much of this information can be readily available on a Master/Pilot exchange form. Detailed exchanges should be carried out before the vessel reaches a critical area, if practicable.

Masters and OOW must remain alert to the Pilot’s handling of the vessel.  They must observe  the helm and engine orders given by the Pilot. The Master shall ensure that OOW is capable of acting on the Master’s behalf with a Pilot should he need to leave the Bridge. Despite the presence of the Pilot the Master remains responsible for his actions, whether the Pilot is acting alone or with the Master.

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