Rate this article:  

Loss Prevention Circular No. 04-00

Pilot on the bridge
Role, Authority and Responsibility

As you are aware, many navigational incidents leading to groundings and collisions involve pilots. The primary problems involve the role, responsibility and authority of the pilot onboard. This Loss Prevention Circular focuses on 4 case study examples of pilot aided grounding and collision followed by general guidance on the prevention of these types of incidents.

Case 1: Collision with terminal dolphin
At 0200 hrs, Vessel 1 was given instructions to leave a pre-designated anchorage and proceed to load cargo at the terminal. The vessel was underway at 0254 hrs and two pilots boarded at 0354 hrs. The vessel entered the breakwater with the Master on the bridge.

The vessel made routine visits at that location thus the Master thus felt comfortable with the berthing routines. The vessel passed the breakwater at 8.5 knots even though the maximum permitted speed was only 5 knots.

Although the Master observed that they were exceeding the maximum speed, the Master did not attempt to bring this to the attention of the pilots.

Four tugs were requisitioned to assist the vessel in berthing at the terminal. Due to the excessive speed of the vessel, the tugs had difficulty maintaining speed to keep up with the vessel as she made her way to the terminal.

As the vessel approached the terminal, all verbal communication between the pilots and the tugs were in the local language (non-English) that was not understood by the Master. The aft tug was made fast after the vessel entered the breakwater and was quite close to the berth.

The forward tug approached while the vessel was only 50 metres from the berth. Furthermore, before the line could be made fast on the vessel, the tug started pulling on the line, thereby the entire line was run out and was no assistance to the vessel. The two remaining tugs were of no assistance at all.

As a result, the vessel lost control and could not be stopped before colliding with the mooring dolphin. Extensive damage was caused both to the ship and to the mooring dolphin.

The following causes contributed to this incident:


The vessel’s speed was excessive when trying to connect to the tugs.


There was a lack of communication between the pilot and the master at many stages while transiting the channel. There was little or no information exchanged regarding the docking plan and how the 4 tugs were to be put to use and coordinated.


The Master did not insist that pilot not exceed the maximum allowable speed as it entered the breakwater.


The pilot, when communicating with the tugs, was speaking a language that was not understood by the Master. This made it difficult for the Master to have a proper situational awareness.


The Master was over-confident as to the abilities of the pilot.

Case 2: Grounding at mooring
Having arrived at port to load, a strong east to south-easterly wind prevented Vessel 2 from commencing cargo operations via feeder vessels. On a following morning, the Master received orders from his agents to proceed, with pilot embarked, to a more protected location to commence cargo operations. However, British Admiralty Charts of the area are not particularly detailed. The pilot had only a photocopy of a larger scale local chart.

At 1606 hrs the port anchor of the vessel was dropped approximately on the 50 m contour line on the photocopy map. The vessel had 8 shackles of chain (approximately 220 m) in the water that, the Master estimated, gave a distance of about two cables from the anchor to the stern of the vessel and thus provided a turning radius of about two cables.

The vessel was moored on a heading of 150° and, in the Master’s estimation, outside the 20 m contour line should she swing right round. The vessel’s echo sounder transponder is situated in the bow of the vessel and when she initially anchored it was observed that there were 33 m of water indicated under the keel.

The pilot assured the Master that the vessel was on good holding ground and that the loaded draft would be 11.8 m. The Master was satisfied that the ship was anchored in a good position.

On the final day of loading (four days later), the wind had shifted to the west and the vessel was now on a heading of 289° . The Master’s intention was that the ship should arrive at its discharge location with an even keel. Therefore, the intention was to complete loading with a trim by the stern of 45 cm. In order to achieve this, it was agreed that the last 700 tonnes of cargo were to be used for trimming purposes.

At 1520 hrs the feeder vessel gave notice to commence loading the remaining 700 tonnes. At 1540 hrs, the Chief Officer of the vessel boarded the feeder vessel and noted the draft of his vessel was 11.12 m forward and 10.52 m aft. The trim at the head surprised him. He was concerned that they were not able to attain the 45 cm stern trim. Loading was suspended while he checked his calculations. In addition, he requested that the ballast tanks be sounded since he believed that the ship should not have had a head trim at the time. At 1600 hrs the First Officer notified the Master of his concern.

At 16.15 hrs the aft draft was checked again. It remained at 10.52 m despite continuous loading into no. 7 hold. They then realised the vessel was aground and loading was suspended at 1620 hrs. The ship’s heading remained steady at 289° . At 1800 hrs the steering gear was extensively damaged with the rudderstock protruding approximately 20 cm above the steering flat.

The following causes contributed to this incident:


When the wind veered, the anchor position changed from being in the lee of the land to being in the lovart side of the land, a most unfortunate position to be anchored in. At that point in time it would have been prudent to change anchor position towards the other shore.


Eight (8) shackles of chain on 33 meters depth was somewhat excessive. The recommended ratio is three to four times the depth depending on depth and holding ground.


Neither the vessel nor the pilot had the proper charts with the required contour details of the location they finally anchored.


The vessel crew made incorrect assumptions as to the consequences to the ship if she swung about. The crew should have taken continuous soundings at the location they were anchored since limited information was available.


The ship’s crew were over-confident with the pilot’s assessment as to the water depth of where the ship was anchored. This should have led them to be more diligent.

Case 3: Grounding while navigating
At 2040 hrs Vessel 3, a pilot and his apprentice at the wharf boarded the general cargo ship. The vessel had completed loading at approximately 1600 hrs and was preparing a transit to a new port where additional cargo was to be loaded. It was estimated that it would take 25 hours to complete the passage.

The vessel had not made the engines ready for passage at the time the pilots boarded. They had determined that the vessel had approximately 12 hours more than necessary to make the passage. The Master was aware that some pilots would not take the vessel through the passage at night and told the pilot that departure could be postponed until daybreak.

The pilot assured the Master that it was safe to sail at night. The Master then suggested that they take a route where the channel was wider. However, the pilot preferred and recommended another passage. This passage was recommended for day passage only and required a number of sharp turns to navigate. However, due to commercial pressure, night passage for the route suggested by the pilot was allowed.

The Master and pilot exchanged more information about the vessel and then the Master ordered the engines to be prepared for departure. At 2100 hrs the crew was called to their manoeuvring stations and began unmooring. At 2137 hrs full manoeuvring speed was ordered and executed.

Five persons were in the wheelhouse: the Master, pilot, apprentice, OOW and the helmsman. The OOW used one of the radars when unoccupied by one of the pilots and plotted fixes on the chart on average of every 5 minutes.

A number of minor manoeuvres were made between 2127 hrs and 2218 hrs. At 2218 hrs, the ship prepared to make a 60-degree turn to port at 11.5 knots. At 2225 hrs, the pilot began the planned port turn by ordering a 10 degrees port rudder. Having observed the vessel’s reaction to this rudder angle was not quick enough, the pilot increased the rudder angle to 20 degrees. The rate of turn increased but after the turn was completed, the vessel ended up closer to the shore on her starboard side than was intended.

From this moment on, the Master became particularly vigilant and closely monitored the rudder orders. He did not communicate his concern to the pilot. There was little or no time to exchange opinions on this matter since the vessel was approaching another tight turn of 50 degrees to starboard to pass between two islands.

At the required location, the pilot issued a 10 degrees starboard rudder at a point at a point where one of the islands was 3.5 cables (0.55 km) ahead of the vessel’s wheelhouse. The Master considered this rudder angle may be have been insufficient to obtain the required rate of return but hesitated to change the pilot’s orders. He did however make sure the rudder indicator needle moved to the requested 10° to starboard.

The pilot observed that the vessel was slow to react to his order of 10° starboard rudder and ordered a 20° starboard rudder. Neither the time nor the vessel’s exact position was recorded when this order was given, however, the distance to the island was decreasing.

Having heard the pilot’s last order, the Master ordered the rudder hard to starboard. The Master’s order was repeated by the pilot and was executed by the helmsman. The bow of the vessel cleared the island and kept sweeping to starboard. However, the vessel’s port side was observed to be quickly approaching the island.

At 2231 hrs, with the island’s northern tip several metres off of the vessel’s port side and ahead of the wheelhouse, the pilot ordered the rudder hard to port and stop engine. A slight vibration was felt followed by the distinct touch of a hard object. Some seconds later, air was heard escaping from the tanks.

Although no oil was spilled in the water, the vessel was ascertained to have damage to her side shell plating. The shell plating was punctured in several places allowing seawater to ingress into an empty ballast and fuel tanks.

The following causes contributed to this incident:


There was a lack of proper voyage planning. The time between when the pilots boarded the vessel and when the ship got underway was quite short particularly since they had 12 hours more than necessary to make the transit to the next port.


The pilot insisted transiting a direction that was recommended for day travel. The Master should have insisted in following the recommended route. However, he was also familiar with the pilot since he had made routine visits to this location and felt over-confident in the pilot’s recommendations.


There was a significant breakdown of communication between the Master and the pilot. Once the first order for 10 degree rudder didn’t result in the required rate of change in direction was made, the Master should have been aware that another 10 degree rudder order in the second turn would not acquire the desired results. He should have communicated this to the pilot and/or discussed the manoeuvring characteristics: (1) during the pre-voyage briefing, (2) after the first 10 degree rudder order that was changed to a 20 degree rudder, and/or (3) just after the pilot’s second 10 degree rudder command.


There was a lack of fundamental seafaring skills used for the tight turning manoeuvre to starboard. A standard practice of reducing the speed of the vessel, commanding the turn, and then bringing the vessel back up to manoeuvring speed should have been used.

Case 4: Grounding while navigating
At 1300 hrs Vessel 4 departed partially loaded with two pilots on board. The pilots agreed to alternate their watch. Pilot 1 was to conduct the vessel between 1300 and 1800 hrs and Pilot 2 between 1800 and 2300 hrs and so on. From 1300 to 2300 hrs the passage was without any significant incident other than the vessel encountering some concentrations of fishing vessels.

After the change of watch at 0000 hrs, personnel on the bridge comprised of the second officer, who the OOW, Pilot 1, and the quartermaster who was at the helm. The visibility had been good until approximately 0100 hrs when the vessel entered a light haze. The radars had been placed on the 12-mile range at the time. By 0125 hrs, the visibility had decreased to about 150 metres. No dedicated lookout was posted.

At approximately 0113 hrs the vessel reported its position to the local Marine Communications and Traffic Service (MCTS). The vessel also stated that their ETA to the point where the next course alteration was planned was 0240 hrs.

Communication between the pilot and the OOW was conducted in English and there were no communication barriers.

The OOW had been recording the position of the vessel at approximately 15-minute intervals on the chart in use. The pilot did not refer to those positions nor did he refer to the chart to refresh his memory. The pilot carried a personal course book that he used to navigate the vessel. This book had no provisions for recording of ETA or the actual time of course alternations. The pilot relied solely on his memory to keep track of the vessel’s position.

At approximately 0130 hrs, the pilot saw on the radar, what he believed, to be the entrance to the passage and began the required course alteration to starboard. The pilot did not reconfirm the vessel’s position prior to the course alteration. The OOW took a range and bearing of a point of land and noted these values on the chart. Before the OOW had time to plot the vessel’s position on the chart, the pilot began a course alteration. The OOW returned to the conning position and ensured the helmsman promptly executed the pilot’s orders.

Shortly after reaching the new heading, the pilot realised that the vessel was not on the proper course and ordered a hard-a-starboard helm in the hopes of bringing her around but this was unsuccessful and the vessel grounded at 0135 hrs.

Depth soundings were taken in the area of the grounding and it was determined that the bow was firmly aground and the stern was afloat in deeper waters. The vessel sustained extensive damage to shell plating and internals in way of stem to No. 3 double-bottom tanks.

The following causes contributed to this incident:


There was a substantial lack of bridge resource management (BRM). The OOW and/or the Master should have been more diligent about ensuring that the OOW was there to reconfirm decisions made by the pilot. This could have been done through better verbal communication between the pilot and the OOW.


The pilot did not reconfirm his mental model of his position before making the critical turn. The OOW, did not have the proper situational awareness with regard to the vessel’s position. The pilot did not reconfirm the vessel’s position prior to the course alteration. When the pilot gave the order to turn, the OOW only focused upon whether the helmsman made the turn. He didn’t reconfirm that they turned at the proper location.


The weather played a marginal role in the grounding. However, as a precaution, the vessel may have considered placing a dedicated lookout.

Recommendations and Lessons Learned


The Master is in command of the ship at all times with only one exception: when transiting through the Panama Canal. Therefore, it is always the duty of the Master and OOW to keep a situational awareness of all activities of the pilot. Although the pilot is most knowledgeable about local waters, it is the responsibility of the Master/OOW to verify position through proper use of charts, radars and other position fixing devices and follow local rules on speed and routing.


Voyage planning is crucial in all situations including when pilots are on board. Sufficient time should be allowed for proper communication between the Master, pilots and OOWs. This voyage plan should include every important activity starting from the embarkation of the pilot, in and out of the berth, and finally the disembarkation of the pilot.


If the pilot is to command tugs and/or personnel at a berth in a language that is foreign to the crew, the Master must demand that the pilot communicates with the Master and/or OOW in a common language


When the piloted voyage is taking the vessel through narrow waters, you should mark "wheel-over" points either on the chart or at the radar screen in order to know when you are reaching "points of no return". This helps to allow the pilot, Master, and/or OOW to keep a better situational awareness.


The ship’s crew is normally the most knowledgeable regarding the manoeuvring capabilities of the ship. Detailed descriptions of the ship’s manoeuvring characteristics should be communicated during the voyage planning stage. In addition, the Master and/or OOW should communicate manoeuvring capabilities during the voyage, as necessary. The Master and OOW should never feel hesitant to discuss these matters with the pilot if they feel it necessary to do so.


Ensure that the vessel is equipped with the necessary updated charts for the intended voyage. It is not sufficient to rely on the pilot to provide this information.


The OOW should always closely monitor the activities of the pilot. Many times, the pilot will not necessarily communicate with the OOW regarding the vessel and/or voyage. The OOW should not hesitate to communicate with the pilot on any relevant matters regarding the vessel or the voyage.


The OOW should not only be diligent with regard to his duties to ensure the pilot’s orders are properly followed but also to monitor the pilot’s activities. If the OOW has concerns regarding the pilot’s activities, he should contact the Master immediately.


The vessel should have clear procedures and instructions to Master’s and OOWs on what to do with a pilot onboard. These should be included as part of the ships safety management system (SMS).


BRM is an important activity to ensure safety. Any BRM training should include how to handle the change in communication, command, and control when a pilot takes over navigation of the ship.