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Boarding Safety and Pilot Ladders

Boarding Safety and Pilot Ladders

The world is taking a deeper look at safety across the marine environment. Our BC Coast Pilots (BCCP) work hard to ensure the highest standards when navigating vessels in and out of B.C.’s coastal waters, however they are not always awarded the same safety assurances when boarding a vessel for an assignment.

The most common and effective way our pilots embark and disembark vessels at sea is from pilot boat to vessel via a “pilot ladder” of which safety standards are set by the IMO Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention. Despite these regulations being put in place over a decade ago, we still face regular issues with defective pilot ladders.

The pilot ladder is one of the first impressions a pilot gets of the ship, and can set their frame of mind early on in the assignment. When a pilot boards a vessel on a sound, well-rigged ladder attended by an officer and deck party, this can go a long way to ensuring the pilot is in the right mindset to give their full attention to the navigational safety of the vessel. It is not always apparent from the deck of the pilot boat whether a ladder is up to code or not. It is the responsibility of the shipping company, as well as Masters and officers on board to ensure that ladders are:

  • SOLAS compliant
  • Regularly inspected and properly maintained
  • Properly rigged and supervised
  • Properly lit at night or in low-visibility situations

Each year, stories are shared of Pilots being injured or even killed while embarking and disembarking vessels from jurisdictions around the world. According to the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA), nearly 30 pilot deaths occurred between 2005 and 2018, about half of which were related to ladder failures or non-compliance issues.  Now more than ever, pilots are taking a stand and calling on the global shipping industry to raise the standards of pilot transfer safety arrangements.

The Pilot has the right to refuse to board any vessel offering defective ladders. This can result in serious delays or effects on the port’s commercial trade if the vessel should not be allowed to proceed to berth, as well as significant financial costs to the shipowner. Typically, vessels have alternative ladders on board to replace unsafe ladders, however replacements may also be substandard and also rely on proper rigging by the vessel crew. Pilots are rallying together to raise awareness of these issues and sharing information globally on a daily basis via websites, apps, and social media to alert other pilots and ports about ships with pilot ladder deficiencies.

The BCCP join the call from pilot organizations around the world to improve compliance by the shipping industry to the standards set by SOLAS. The shipping industry can, and must do more to ensure safety on their vessels for pilot transfers.