1,000 ways to secure a Pilot Ladder

by Arie Palmers, Netherlands - published on 10 January 2020

photos, graphics and article by Arie Palmers


2 metres of ladder with at least 4 non compliances

1. Introduction

Dear reader,

My name is Arie Palmers and I have been working as a pilot in the Scheldemonden area since 2009. After I was involved in 2 incidents with minor injuries in one week in the spring of 2018, I started wondering whatever might have caused these 2 incidents and I started developing an interest in pilot ladders and the way they are secured.
From that moment on I have been keeping a tally of the non compliant boarding arrangements I see in front of me on a daily base, and off course I participate in the annual safety campaign, conducted by IMPA each october.
The outcome of the campaign is that about 18-20% of the boarding arrangements are non compliant in accordance with:

  • SOLAS Regulation V/23
  • IMO Resolution A.1045(27)
  • NEN ISO 799-1(2019)

In my own tally the outcome is even more staggering: 47% of the pilot boarding arrangements I have to encounter are non compliant….What does this difference mean??? That will be work enough ahead for another article…..On a daily basis we see numerous of different ways a pilot ladder is secured, the vast majority of them is non compliant and therefore dangerous for the user. Insurance companies might even deny liability after an incident because you could have known or should have known the arrangement was dangerous. If you still use it, it’s on your own behalf….
In the next few chapter’s I will discuss the arrangments we see a lot, and explain why they are non compliant. As the title suggests already: 1000 ways to hang a ladder, only on of them is right.Names of the vessels involved, will not be displayed in the article, just out of politeness.. The facebook page “dangerousladders” often displays names and destionations of the vessels involved, mainly to warn our collegue in the port of destination that a present is underway.
I wish you all good readings and please feel free to comment and share. Please keep coming back home vertically and not horizontally!!


Broken combination with 3 more non-compliances

2. Deck Tongue.


Notorious offender...

A photo explains more than a 1000 words… Here we see an example of an so called deck tongue, installed on one of our regular visitors. Seems like a great and simple solution to install and adjust a pilot ladder, ingenious invention! Unfortunately this system is non complant and therefore downright dangerous for anyone who might have to use it (pilots, agents, surveyors, crew changes etc etc).


Here we see the decktongue in use holding the ladder, or to put it better, holding one step. Besides all this, the ladder seems rather old and worn. Let’s have a look at the regulations to explain why this setup is dangerous.
ISO799-1(2019) states that: each siderope shall have a breaking strenght of at least 24kN ad the diameter should be 20mm (63 mm circumference) (4.2.1)

ISO799-1(2019) states that each step shall have a strenght of at least 8,8 kN (table A.1 production test).

IMO1045(27) 2.1.1 the securing points etc shall be at least as strong as the sideropes.

After reading this, we find out that each siderope can handle 2400 kilos (4800 together) and that each step can handle a weight of 880 kilos. The strenght of the deck tongue? Don’t have the slightest idea….. is it tested and certified?
So we buy a tested ladder that can handle about 5 tonnes on the sideropes, and then we put a step that can carry 800 kilos behind a steel plate…. One touch of the pilot lauc h and it’s gone, rather inconvenient fort he poor guy standing on the ladder at that moment…
Swell, swinging of the ship or the launch lifting the ladder can also have the dangeous result that the ladder comes loos out of this deck tongue and goes overboard….
Besides that, SECURING a ladder is something totally different dan putting it behind a piece of welded steel. We all climb ladders without being secured in any way…. Solas and imo provided the minumum safety rules concerning the ladders, less is absolutely not more in this case.


Notorious offender, and it's not even a pilotladder.
As we say: non-compliant as hell...

3. Bulwark setup


Notorious offender with bulwark setup
It’s not even a pilot ladder (at least 6 non compliances)

Another easy way to prepare a ladder: throw it over the railing, tie the sideropes together with a piece of rope you found on deck and you have the ladder ready in a jiffy!!
The ladder is not a pilot ladder, something to get into in another article..
We have already seen that the ladder has to be secured to strongpoints on deck, well…a railing is not a deck, seems easy peasy and yet it goes wrong time after time, why? Maybe it looks easier to rig it this way.


This setup makes you have to stumble sideways to reach the entrance

We have already seen that the ropes of the ladder can handle almost 5 tonnes combined, just a question for the reader: are you sure the railing can handle 5 tonnes? We have all seen beaten up and damaged railings in our career, who of you hasn’t stepped on a railing piece of steel, and it gave way? We’ll never be able to find out who spotwelded the railing in a far away shipyard many years ago
For sure a railing can’t handle 5 tonnes.
Conclusion: ‘securing’a ladder on a piece of railing is non compliant and therefore dangerous..if it’s non compliant, it’s dangerous…don’t use it!
Have them secure the ladder to strongpoints on deck and don’t forget to report them.


Sideway shuffle again..how strong is the railing?

4. Platform placed over the securing area of the ladder


Always a surprise when you lift the lid

Having a platform built over the securing area of the pilot ladder is absolutely not illegal, it can even improve te acces: no debri or other tripping hazards.
BUT, 99 out of 100 times, when you lift the lid, there’s a surprise underneith: a steel bar (wich we’ll discuss later) a deck tongue or just nothing to hold the arrangement in place.


Looks like a safe access...


...so the 3cm piece of steel is the only thing between life or death.

Basically, whenever you encounter a platform over the ladder, just ask them to lift it because you want to check the way of securing. As we have seen in the last photo, there was no securing at all!
A nice and swift way fort he crew to install, and it can be a swift way for you to get down to the deck level of the pilot boat.

Secured to strongpoints on deck?  No..
Secured to strongpoints?  No..
Secured?  No..

Again it’s non compliant and therefore dangerous, don’t use it. Have them secure it to strongpoints on deck and don’t forget to report the vessel.
Instead of getting down the ladder you’ll be walking the plank…


5. Spreader


Spreader used for secured the ladder behind a very thin piece of railing

A spreader is a great invention to prevent a pilot ladder from twisting. Without a spreader you might look at the horizon instead of the ship’s side all of a sudden. How to get back in a good position when something like that happens?
That is what a spreader is made for and not for keeping a ladder secured to strongpoints on deck.
As we know from an earlier statement in the article, steps can handle 800 kilos and sideropes 2400 kilos each. That’s the main reason you can and will not secure it this way. On touch of the pilot boat and the ladder will be damaged beyond repair, as will the poor soul standing on the ladder be…


Again a spreader as a securing method

6. Human force

I feel very lucky i’ve never ran into this method, but at least 2 of my collegues have. Let’s just assume you have to board a vessel, the ladder has to be lowered a bit, wich goes rather rapidly and before you know it you look up, you see a smiling face, thumbs up “ ready mr pilot!!”
The you start climbing, what might be a real Jacob’s ladder, you reach the top and 2 quite overweight guys stand on the sideropes on deck… horrible
They must have read the instructions wrong. The instructions clearly state: the ladder has to be secured to strongpoints on deck and not to strong men on deck. After this case the vessel was reported, captain was angry, not with the guys on deck but with the pilot for reporting his vessel.


7. Combinations


Non-compliant combination

Solas 23 clearly states (3.3.1): a pilot ladder requiring a climb of not less than 1,5 m and not more than 9 m above the surface of the water etc.etc.
Why 1,5 m? Well wait and see where you want to grab with a pilot ladder on a low freeboard of the vessel you have to climb onto… 3 steps over the side and nothing to hold on to.
Why 9 m? To make something clear: this has nothing to do with the lenght of the ladder, but only with the distance from the watersurface tot he deck entry point >> more than 9m? Combination..
If you drop down from distances over 9 m there is a significant risk of severe injuries or even death when you fall down. It’s the acceleration..(FUBAR)
We have seen that i wrote in the above picture the set up was non compliant, but why? Looks allright or not?
To start with, the ladder is tied to the gangway. Both ladder and gangway have to be secured to the hull independantly, and not together… You see the ladder is not attached to the hull this way.
Ok. Suppose they have sorted this issue and you start climbing. You reach the platform and there’s nothing to hold on to. On both sides of the platform there have to be hand hold stanchions (and horizontal ropes) so you can safely transfer from the ladder to the platform.


Happy new year 2020!

More than 90,000 pageviews in 3 months. Thank you! Read more...

Physical Pilot Ladder Simulator (Chile)

<b>by Maritime Innovation Center Chile</b> This physical ladder simulator was design for crew tra... Go to video...

Florida Harbor Pilots - Who We Are

Go to video...

Breaking News: Container Ship hits Pilot Boat in Italy

According to a report today by www.MaritimeBulletin.net a pilot boat was rammed from a container ship and sunk. Read more...

Report on the collision on 8 November 2018 between the frigate HNoMS Helge Ingstad and the oil tanker Sola TS

Part one report on the collision on 8 November 2018 between the frigate HNoMS Helge Ingstad and the oil tanker Sola TS outside the Sture Terminal in the Hjeltefjord in Hordaland county Read more...

A New Experience - Transits Through Expanded Panama Canal

Go to video...