Pilots are essential to the maritime industry. They bring ships in and out of busy ports. The job of piloting is dangerous. One of the biggest dangers is transferring between a ship and the pilot boat. Recent reports indicate there are far too many pilot ladder accidents that could be prevented with inexpensive upgrades.
About Pilots and Pilot Ladders
Pilots are maritime workers who know their local waters. They use their expertise and experience to safely guide large ships into and out of ports. To do their jobs, they must transfer from a small pilot boat onto a ship to be piloted and back again after taking a ship out to sea.
This transfer from boat to ship and back is the riskiest part of piloting. It’s easy to slip, fall, and be seriously injured or even killed. One of the mechanisms for pilot transfer is a pilot ladder. This is a rope ladder commonly used for pilots to climb onto cargo ships whose decks are well above the water line.
Pilot Ladder Report Highlights Dangers
The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) recently released its annual report on pilot ladder safety. It found that more than 700 pilots made nearly 100,000 ladder transfers. There were 400 incidents involving pilot ladders, of which only half were officially reported.
The report found that 25% of the accidents resulted from the use of shackles rather than rolling hitches to secure the ladder. In 23% of accidents, the ladder was in poor condition. In 13% of the accidents, the handholds were not sufficient to give the pilot a good grip. Other issues included inappropriate ladder length or position and improper rigging.
Another report from 2022 conducted by the International Maritime Pilots’ Association found significant rates of non-compliance with ladder safety standards on ships. Non-compliance was found in all locations and ship types. Most non-compliance was not reported.
Safety Recommendations for Pilot Ladders
The MAIB report concluded that pilot ladder accidents are underreported and that they could be prevented with simple, inexpensive fixes.
- Regularly checking the rigging on pilot ladders
- Inspecting the ladder before every use
- Replacing or testing ladders after 30 months of use
- Properly fitting handhold stanchions
- Consistently reporting issues with pilot ladders and instances of non-compliance.
Pilot Ladder Accidents
The UK and international reports highlight a problem that occurs regularly worldwide. A recent accident in Australia occurred when a ladder’s ropes snapped. The pilot fell seven meters onto the pilot boat, suffering serious injuries.
Although the exact cause for it has yet to be determined, a pilot fell from a ladder while boarding a ship in the Dardanelles. He was not hurt in the fall. Another recent incident involved the retrieving line, the line used to bring the ladder up after use. A pilot became entangled in the line as he boarded a large ship, which could have resulted in a trip and injury or a fall overboard.
A ladder is a simple tool, but when used to transfer pilots between boat and ship, it can be a matter of life and death. If you are a pilot and are hurt in unsafe working conditions, a maritime lawyer can help you take legal action or seek compensation.