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Gard News 200, November 2010/January 2011

Good communication between master and pilot continues to be paramount.

The article "Master/pilot exchange of information", published in Gard News issue No. 154, focused on the importance of good communication between master and pilot, a problem which  was also highlighted in the articles "Pilot on board!" in Gard News issue No. 181 and "Is the pilot a part of the bridge team?" in Gard News issue No. 185. In the following article Gard News revisits the topic once again.1

Ideally the pilot, the master and the officer of the watch (OOW) should discuss and agree on the intended passage plan in pilotage waters prior to commencing the passage. Unfortunately, this is often not done in accordance with bridge team management principles. For the master and the ship's crew to be able to supervise the pilot's performance, or even question the pilot's actions, they all have to be aware of the pilot's intentions.

Pilots prevent far more accidents than they cause. Nevertheless, when a pilot boards a vessel there may be pressure on both the pilot and the bridge team in terms of time. As a result, the passage plans of the pilot and the on-board bridge team may not be consistent with each other. There may be a lack of communication between the bridge team and the pilot regarding the intended passage, which may significantly reduce the safety of the operation.

Recent findings in incidents investigated by Gard involving pilots showed that common elements were present in most of these cases:

(1) information had not been shared by the master and the pilot,

(2) there had been insufficient time for the ship's crew to familiarise themselves with the pilot's intended passage plan,

(3) the pilot boarding ground was frequently closer to the harbour entrance compared with the charted boarding ground.

In many areas pilots use their own electronic chart systems, displaying the passage on a laptop or similar device that they bring with them on board and connect to the vessel's AIS pilot plug. Use of such aids to navigation, if combined with reduced planning and bad communication between bridge team and pilot, further reduces the ability of the OOW to monitor the pilot's intentions regarding the vessel's track, changes of course and to question any decisions made by the pilot.

Nowadays most vessels are equipped with ECDIS or ECS as aids to navigation and support to conventional paper chart navigation.2 When the passage is properly represented in these electronic systems, it is possible to enable a number of automatic alarms, which add to the safety of navigation. However, for these safety barriers to be effective, the passage plan must be properly agreed between vessel and pilot.

In some areas pilots send passage plans or passage planning information for a particular port to vessels in advance. This proactive communication enables the vessel's bridge team to prepare and enter the expected passage in the on-board systems prior to the arrival of the pilot, including activating the safety settings on the vessel's ECDIS/ECS. When the pilot arrives on board, the bridge team is already aware of his main intentions and should be able to quickly discuss and agree on the passage plan, including any possible deviations from the original plan. However, this should not replace the all-important master-pilot exchange of information.

Given the technology available today, the transmission of intended passage planning information in advance of the vessel's arrival by the pilot, pilotage authority or other responsible body through a simple e-mail would significantly add to safe navigation and would assist the pilot in becoming a more integral part of the bridge team. This becomes even more important with the impending implementation of full ECDIS regulation. And why not also use emails to send the waypoint details in advance?

Advance information leaves only minor technicalities to be discussed or confirmed at the time of pilot boarding and ensures that the bridge team's full attention can be immediately directed towards navigation.

This is probably the way forward: communication of the pilot's intended passage plan in advance of the actual operation, which would facilitate input of the plan in the ship's anti-grounding monitor system, the ECDIS.  This would also allow the bridge team to familiarise themselves with the intended passage plan and be in a better position to monitor the pilot's actions.

1 See also the article "Harbour towage and pilotage", elsewhere in this issue of Gard News.
2 See article "ECDIS - Charting the future of navigation" elsewhere in this issue of Gard News.