Comment and photos by Reshma Nilofer Naha - India's first female Marine Pilot (Kalkata Port Trust)
Who is a Marine / Maritime Pilot?
A certain someone, an acquaintance, asked me who is a Pilot. Why a pilot. Any Captain can do Ur job blah blah blah and more blah. It felt funny to do the self dabba (brag) and explain why Captains/Ships would need a pilot. When Pilot is onboard, the Pilot conducts the ship, while the Master still has the con. Pilots are expert navigators to that particular port they work from.
Badass manourvres need local expertise... Which the Master almost always wouldn't be comfortable taking up without the prevalent conditions and other info provided to him/her (The traffic, tide, weather and Port installations, etc to name a few). He/she cannot study that for every port the ship calls. There are a million ports with a gazillion specific minute details so there are a few pilots for each port who is an expert in their port and it's conditions. And who said no? A captain can berth the ship in many ports in the world where Pilotage is not compulsory. It will be a challenge for sure, but yes Captains can, not everywhere, but in many ports around the world. Guess what, Masters go on to train further to become pilots in most ports of the world. Thats the reason why this role is considered to be at the Pinnacle of the Maritime Industry.
IMO says, "Pilots with local knowledge have been employed on board ships for centuries to guide vessels into or out of port safely - or wherever navigation may be considered hazardous, particularly when a shipmaster is unfamiliar with the area.
In addition to local knowledge and expertise, pilots are able to provide effective communication with the shore and with tugs, often in the local language".
In addition to the above allow me to add excerpts from views of some of my colleagues and my own. Manoeuvering is a skill which can be definitely acquired by the Master but he/she is not an "expert" of the subject as he/she is supposed to know and learn plenty other things also...
He/She manoeuvres the ship in open sea or in an Anchorage/heavy traffic area where the margin of error is wider...hence lesser risk..
A Pilot's job is primarily manoeuvering and he is trained likewise keeping in mind the local factors of the respective Port.... the ship is handed to an expert who is proficient in ship handling under the local conditions (wind, tide etc.) where the margin of error is miniscule due to the proximity of shore installations and other ships...
That's why a Pilot is required over a Master of the ship...
What makes our job stressful, intricate and important is that the dangers and occupational hazards we face as a pilot are humongous (what's at stake), immediate and instant. We re required to adopt to a variety of ships, multilingual crew and prevailing conditions in a snap of a second. And however much we've discussed and improved our methods of boarding ships over centuries, it continues to be very dangerous till date. The risk to life is very much REAL. The video attached here will give a glimpse at our dangerous ladders situation which the Maritime World and its people need to look into seriously. Coz it takes years to make a Pilot (blood and sweat to be precise) but takes just a Minute to lose one!
On a positive note, all said and done, it is one of the most satisfying jobs in this Universe (my humble opinion). There is absolutely no monotony, each day, each ship (even if a regular ship), each member of the crew, the weather and current and the monoeuvrability of the ship are different. At the end of each trip, when I disembark from a ship bidding goodbye or shaking hands with a Captain who has a smile on his/her face, I am a content person. That satisfaction has no name, my dear friends. U must feel it to believe it!