photo and article by Luis Vale, Portugal
Different opinions on the profession Pilot
Lately there has been a considerable increase in opinions of seagoing ship´s masters complaining about pilotage services, expressed whether as LinkedIn articles and comments or in some reputable industry magazines.
The complaints are diverse and range from pilot boarding procedures to port traffic management and even sarcastic comments about pilot’s character.
It is a known fact that pilotage services vary in quality throughout the world, from the well trained pilots carrying sophisticated electronic equipment and belonging to a certified pilotage organization, thus delivering a real added-value service, to the unfortunate but still existent local gentlemen who can hardly communicate in English with the master.
Everyday problems with which we are confronted
Unfortunately, and this seems to be forgotten by masters serving on nice reliable vessels, working for reputable owners, this is also the sad reality of shipping in general. I could write pages and pages of substandard ships and substandard procedures of ships and masters calling at my port. From the failure to give a reliable ETA at short distance, not knowing the local time, not carrying a suitable chart, anchoring in the wrong position, informing an erroneous draft even when critical UKC is expected, pilot ladders and pilot boarding procedures not conforming to IMO resolution, captains standing alone on the bridge, no adequate information provided to the pilot, no position keeping throughout the passage, no lookout posted and even not being able to effectively communicate with their multi-national crews, the list is extensive, not to mention ship-related deficiencies. Our way, as pilots, to deal with this is to formally communicate to the appropriate authorities through the proper channels. I don’t think that passing a wrong idea about a class of professional mariners on any specialized site or magazine is the best way to do it. This criticism between holders of the same nautical education must be left to the proper forums, where these issues can and must be discussed, specially, considering that there is never a proper identification of the ports and pilots involved in the above mentioned articles and opinions, the whole pilotage class is unfairly and unreasonably targeted.
In most countries, pilots are experienced and highly trained mariners with an extensive seagoing career. In my own country, pilots hold an unlimited masters license, lengthy sea service, all have a 4 years University degree and many have Post Graduation and Masters of Science courses. This, in addition to having passed psychological and physical tests, formal training in Bridge Resource Management, shiphandling in simulators/models and so on.
Safety comes first
Another thing that seems to be forgotten by some shipmasters is that pilots are a part of a vast and often complex safety organization of port services, including VTS, towing and Port State Control that ensures the safety and efficiency of navigation and the protection of infrastructures and the environment within the port area. This means that although we, as pilots, are trying to provide that particular vessel with the best possible service, sometimes our main concern about the overall safety of navigation within the port will be greater than any individual specific ship and this will imply that some vessels will be required to adjust ETA, change pilot boarding position or wait. This will become more frequent as ports are getting congested and ships are getting bigger. Pilots and masters working professionally as a team will undoubtedly find safe answers to problems that may arise.
Pilots can handle constructive criticism. In my port we created a satisfaction survey that is handed to the master on arrival, where several aspects of the pilot service are evaluated from 1 to 10. We kept the survey anonymous and it is filled and handed by the master to another pilot by the time of sailing. We have also included a blank field for remarks and we introduce the master’s pertinent suggestions on our port procedures, or pass their complaints to the appropriate authorities.
It is also worth remembering that pilots often put their lives at risk when boarding or disembarking from vessels, and not all are expecting a carton of cigarettes for it…
I published this letter on Seaways, the journal of The Nautical Institute, a few years ago but looks like the content is still up to date.