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Marine Pilot Boats

About 100 Maersk Line vessels call at a port every day across the world. Given the vast difference in the geographies that the vessels end up at, have you ever wondered how the logistics and communication at each port are managed? It’s worth considering that every port would have a local language, a different set of local coastal state regulations, and a different system to navigate around the coastal area. A thorough knowledge of the local waters thus becomes mandatory in manoeuvring the vessel through the channel. 

1This important advisory capacity of negotiating the vessel to and from the port successfully lies with the marine pilot. Pilots are the experts at ship handling possessing thorough understanding of the local waterways and possible anomalies. So every time a vessel is about to call at a port, the marine pilot boards the vessel and takes over the control of the navigation, communication with the tugs and the local vessel traffic control.

Normally, the pilot joins an incoming ship prior to the ship’s entry into the shallow water at the designated “Pilot boarding area” via a pilot boat and climbs a pilot ladder to the deck of the vessel. They are transported by high speed “Pilot Boats” from shore to an inbound ship and from an outbound ship back ashore.

Pilot boats often use bright colours, like flashy yellow or red, to make them clearly visible and distinctive in poor climatic conditions.

2It’s noteworthy that at a few ports, the pilot is taken on board the inbound vessel through a helicopter. Ports such as Bremerhaven port in Germany, for example, get the pilots on board an inbound vessel and off an outbound vessel via helicopters due to the weather conditions. The reason being the sea that can get very rough at these ports and it makes it difficult for pilot boats to operate. The pilots face a lot of difficulty to board the ship from the boat. Helicopters therefore are a more stable option in such situations. It is also common to see pilot boarding operations via helicopter on South African ports like Durban as it’s a more cost and time efficient option.

So next time when you see a picture of a person boarding a vessel through a helicopter or a small fancy boat that joins your cruise ship or our huge vessels when it’s around the port, you know what’s happening.

Image courtesy: Aditya Mohan