Photos by Mirjam TerpstraI have had the privilege of being at quite a number of meetings, conferences and seminars, sometimes representing The Netherlands, but mostly representing the Netherlands pilots. I have had many discussions about the role of pilots and pilot organisations, which lead me to write an article “What is the added value of pilotage?”, published in the February 2020 issue of Seaways.
It has become clear to me that only a few people actually know what pilots are doing. Even captains and mates generally only know what a pilot is doing on their (type of) ship, which can be quite different from what a pilot is doing on other (types of) ships. Just think of the difference of piloting cruise ships versus piloting Vale-Max bulkers.
By the way, this works the other way around as well: pilots often don’t realise that slowly but surely they take their own port as yardstick of how pilots work, and that isn’t necessarily an accurate picture of pilotage in general.
Still, I’m convinced that the ones who know best what pilots are doing, are pilots themselves. So I believe that it is up to pilots to communicate their role in a way that is understood by their audience, which can have very different backgrounds. If we feel that the job of pilots is misunderstood, I think that we have to evaluate our way of communicating.
An issue is that there are different legal descriptions of the job of the pilot. These roughly fall into two categories:
- A pilot is any person, not belonging to a ship, who has the conduct thereof
- A pilot is an adviser
These seem very different descriptions. However in most legislations which use the 2nd description, somewhere in the rules and legislations there are articles that allow, or even normalise, the pilot taking the con, so in practice the differences are not that large.
Pilots coming from a background in which the pilot is described as an “adviser” tend to use that description to explain their role on board. This article tries to assist pilot organisations with this background in thinking of an appropriate description to explain the job of maritime pilot in everyday language.
The term adviser has not been chosen lightly, there are solid legal reasons to do so.
However in ordinary conversations I have noticed that the use of the term “adviser” may lead to a misunderstanding of the role of pilots. This can happen with people who are not actively involved in bridge activities, and even with captains and mates of ship types on which pilots fulfil an advisory role, and who do not realise that this is only part of the spectrum of a pilots job.
To avoid such associations I have started to use the term ”specialist” to explain the role of a pilot. This term can be used irrespective if the pilots are seen as “having the con” or as “an adviser”. The captain can be viewed as “general manager”. In those countries where the legal status of the pilot is “adviser”, the captain (within legal boundaries) decides how to employ this specialist. This can be either in a direct operational capacity or in a more advisory role.
For the sake of completeness, these are the descriptions of the terms as in the on-line Cambridge dictionary:
- Adviser: someone whose job is to give advice about a subject:
- Specialist: someone who has a lot of experience, knowledge, or skill in a particular subject; or
someone who limits his or her studying or work to a particular area of knowledge, and who is an expert in that area:
- Expert: -a person with a high level of knowledge or skill relating to a particular subject or an activity;
-having or showing a lot of knowledge or skill:
The word “specialist” carries the notion that the person has had additional education and training, and has amassed experience. It reduces the notion that pilots are “only advisers” and advice only of local conditions. Aspects like shiphandling are better covered by terms like “specialist” or “expert” than by “adviser”.
This description of “specialist” needs to be expanded to a description of the role of the pilot and pilot organisation. I have tried to do that in the earlier mentioned article in Seaways. I’ll shortly mention some aspects, and refer to the article for those who want to read my arguments more in depth.
Most discussion about pilotage revolves around the individual pilot on the individual ship. Often overlooked is the influence pilotage has on the traffic flow: pilotage as a system. Pilots can understand the problems of other ships(-types) first hand, as they have been on board all these (type of) ships. The movements of ships with pilots, all with the same training, are predictable. Pilots have the opportunity to discuss formally and informally (meetings, pilots office/boat etc) so that consistency is improved.
Which leads to the importance of pilot organisations, which provide education and training, information, facilitate meetings etc. to keep the specialist up to standard, and promote predictability.
Another aspect that deserves attention is the role of pilots as risk managers, to minimise the risk that the ship presents to port (and infrastructure).
When I talk about the role of pilots, typically I’ll say that pilots are specialists, educated, trained and supported by the pilot organisation,. Because of their specialist knowledge and experience (local and manoeuvring) they can anticipate the critical parts of the voyage, both for the own ship as for all ships they are going to meet.
Pilots have developed strategies to have maximum chance on a safe and expedient passage under all hydrological and meteorological circumstances (including aborting or not commencing the passage).
They have seen so many bridge teams in action, that they are able to identify the weaker areas of the bridge team and are able to give support in the areas needed (to indicate the difference between bridge team and pilot, I call the combined team “Team on the Bridge”).
I hope that I have given you food for thought on how to verbalise the role of the pilot, who is supported by the organisation, without neglecting the larger picture of pilotage as a system.
In normal conversations we generally do not use legal terms. Outside of legal proceedings, if the role of the pilot is mentioned maybe you could consider to avoid the use of the legal term “adviser” and instead use words like “specialist” or “expert”, which are closer to the operational reality and can be used whichever the legal system.