Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pilotage: One of the oldest yet least-understood maritime professions.

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Captain Michael R. Watson, president, American Pilots’ Association.

Even though pilots are a critical component of safe and efficient maritime transportation of people and cargoes, and have been operating in port areas for hundreds of years, there still exists some confusion and misunderstanding regarding the role and function of pilots.

When a ship is in U.S. compulsory pilotage waters, responsibility for its safe navigation is shared between the pilot and the vessel master. A pilot, when aboard a ship and engaged in pilotage duties, directs the ship’s navigation. The pilot’s authority to direct the ship’s movements is, however, subject to the master’s overall command authority and responsibility for the ship’s safety.

Since the pilot is not a crewmember, he or she is insulated from the economic pressures on shipping interests, and directs the movement and navigation of the ship in a manner that protects the marine environment and maintains navigational safety while facilitating waterborne commerce.

American Pilots’ Association Guidance
It is not unusual in some segments of the maritime community to hear a pilot described as merely an “advisor” to the master. That description is not consistent with principles of U.S. pilotage law; it is counter to mandates given to vessel masters under international regulations and doesn’t reflect how a pilot carries out his or her duties on the bridge of a ship.

It is important to the overall navigational safety of a vessel that the master, bridge team, and other vessel interests have an understanding of—and respect for—the role and responsibilities of the pilot.
While not having the legal effect of case law, agency rulings, or regulations, the American Pilots’ Association statement on the role and responsibilities of the pilot is a good reference in the event of any confusion or misunderstanding regarding the proper role of the pilot.

Captain Morgan Hoburg, San Francisco Bar Pilots, steps from the
pilot boat to the pilot ladder.
Full article is available at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/spring2011/.