Education And Training Of Pilots In The Netherlands

by Eline van der Vlist-Lammers (Coordinator education and training for STODEL) and Ed Verbeek (Master Mariner) - published on 30 September 2022 982 -

Article originally published in SWZ|Maritime September 2022

Through the years, the Dutch Pilots have developed a system of selection, initial education and continual professional training. What is the current state of affairs?

To be admitted to the selection, the candidate has to have a certificate of competence (CoC) Master all Ships or Chief Mate all Ships. In the  Dutch system, the holder of a CoC Chief Mate all Ships has completed all education, training and examinations necessary to become a master, but lacks only a limited amount of sea time. The candidate will possess a BSc.

The selection consists of five parts:

• Intake: Information is given about the selection procedure, the initial education, the possible career paths, and life as a pilot. The candidate has ample opportunity to ask questions.

• Psychological test: The candidate will have a full day psychological assessment at an independent bureau. Some aspects are role plays,  capacity tests and personality tests. A number of psychologists, familiar in observing behaviour on the bridge, evaluate the candidate and  come to a recommendation.

• Test with a training ship: Candidates have a one hour test in which they are asked to perform some simple prescribed manoeuvres. This test is about insight and aptitude to act. Although it would be nice if the candidate is already a good ship handler, at this stage, it is not the most important point. Experience has shown that ship handling skills can be taught successfully to persons who have never  handled a ship before. The candidate is evaluated independently by two trainers. 

• Physical examination: Pilots climb ladders when ships are rolling and pitching, are winched from a helicopter to the ship, and jump down on the pilot tender. They have to work longer or shorter hours at unpredictable and varying times. This requires good general health, for  the safety of the candidate as well as for the organisation. Therefore, the pre-employment physical examination is more stringent than the  standard maritime physical test.

• Final interview: Selection ends with a final interview. The admissions committee consists of the President of the Dutch Pilot  Cooperation, the President and Vice President of the Regional Pilot Cooperation, and the national Coordinator of the training organisation. Candidates can explain their motivation to become pilot. After the interviews, the committee discusses all aspects of the selection and a final conclusion is drawn.

Initial national education

The initial education is given by STODEL, the training organisation of the Dutch Pilots, and is accredited to an MSc University of  Applied Sciences level. The apprentices, or rather students, of all Dutch regions come together for ten weeks of training in the aspects that are the  same nationwide. There are some refreshers, such as the ColRegs, some subjects that will be discussed to a greater depth, such as tides or buoyage systems, and there will also be subjects that might be new to the students, such as the inshore Rules of the Road. Of course, a  lot of attention is paid to the theory underpinning ship handling and national and international legislation with respect to pilotage. There is a carefully designed programme with exercises in practical ship handling with a training ship. The students get simulator training in traffic situations, with a heavy emphasis on the applicable rules of the road and the use of Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP). The national part is concluded with examinations.

Initial regional education

After successfully completing the national part of the initial education programme, the student starts in the region. Each region has slightly different requirements depending on the specific circumstances. The regional part will take (close to) a year. The main part  consists of 200-250 trips accompanying licensed pilots. The first few trips are only to observe. Subject to the approval of the captain and under the guidance of the pilot, student pilots will take more and more of the navigation until, under benign circumstances, the student  pilot will perform almost all of the ship handling, including working with tugs. Coach pilots will assess their progress.

These trips are not just about ship handling; other important aspects include how students interact with bridge teams and their ability to  anticipate, both with regards to their own ship as well as to others. It is this intricate combination of situational insight and awareness,  technical ship handling and integration within the bridge team that gives the best chance for a safe and efficient voyage.

New pilots can draw a chart of the area from memory, with all  depths, distancesand directions

Furthermore, students spend on average a day per week on theoretical lectures: local rules and regulations, topography, and all the local peculiarities that have a bearing on navigating and ship handling, for example tides and special wind effects. The students will also be an observer at the vessel traffic services (VTS) traffic tower. There are sessions with trainers of the tug companies and the students will spend a number of days on board tugs. A training ship is utilised for a number of sessions, such as use of anchors, and there is additional time on the simulators. Attention is paid to the information portable pilot units, which use the ship’s pilot plug, can supply and their limitations. During this period of training, there are exams at certain intervals to check if the apprentice pilot’s progress is sufficient.

At intervals, the students have to write a report reflecting on past periods, which gives an indication of their introspective capabilities. This is  a very important aspect of being a pilot, as there is little opportunity for the organisation to observe a pilot's day-to-day way of working. When  things don’t work out as planned, an attitude of self-righteousness (thinking that it happened because of the boatmen, tugs, crew, captain, etc.) is not very helpful. Even if some aspects of a less than perfect voyage might be traced back to other parties, an important aspect of the job is to try to work out how to act yourself to minimise the chances that boatmen, tugs or others act differently than intended.

During regional training, there is some additional national training as well, such as a Personal Safety Training focussed on the needs of pilots with exercises such as falling off the pilot ladder, Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET), a Man Overboard Exercise, a Dutch writing lesson for the research report, and a Bridge Resource Management course.

Embarkation training with a special installation on the training vessel
Embarkation training with a special installation on the training vessel
Embarkation training with a special installation on the training vessel
Embarkation training with a special installation on the training vessel

During the national part of the training, students pursue the theory of research. At the start of the regional part, they choose a topic. The research consists of a problem, method, analysis, conclusion and recommendation, which leads to a thesis. In the Netherlands, a pilot is also a partner in the cooperative. Pilots must understand annual accounts and budgets and need to know the role of the entities he or she has to work with in the port. Students are prepared by four exercises, which lead to a portfolio with four parts that have a connection with the Dutch pilot organisation. The initial education is completed with an oral exam of the theory, a presentation of the research and twelve practical exam trips.

Gaining experience and professional training

After passing the exams, the new pilots are able to draw a chart of the area from memory, with all the depths, widths, distances,  directions, etc. They know all the relevant rules and regulations, procedures and so on. They are local experts, even though learning all this local knowledge represents only about 25 per cent of their education, most of the rest is ship handling, while using this local knowledge.

During their student trips, they have built up an understanding of the possibilities and limitations of piloted ships of all sizes. Starting with small ships, at planned intervals, the pilot is admitted to pilot larger ships, and simulator training is given to prepare pilots for the next step. Training is designed to give the right information at the right time: when the pilot is going to make use of it. Depending on the region, admittance for all ships takes up to eight years. On top of this, are specialisations with the required additional training. Examples are Deep Draught Ships and Shore Based Pilotage (SBP). Both these training programmes are a combination of theory, simulator and practice. For SBP pilots, the examinations are overseen by the VTS authority.

Repeater training is given depending on the need, Deep Draught pilots get yearly refresher courses for example, SBP pilots a repeater course every three years, which is concluded with examinations.

Exchanging information

The pilot organisation makes sure that all pilots are informed of the relevant development and changes in their region. On a regular basis, pilots are given the opportunity to meet and talk about all operational issues. One item on the agenda is discussing incident and accident reports, so that all pilots have the opportunity to be aware of the issues involved. Just as important as this formalised exchange, are the  informal meetings of pilots on the pilot tenders and the pilot station. A lot of experiences are exchanged starting with: “What happened on my last…”.

Additional training

All pilots can take a voluntary simulator training one day per year during which they can ask the instructor for specific exercises of interest.
In most regions, a Chief Pilot is stationed 24/7 at a VTS centre. This pilot oversees the pilotage operations and can discuss operational matters with the VTS team leader. Formalised training is provided for this function. The Personal Safety Training including HUET is repeated every four years.

Keeping education and training up to standard

Training has a dynamic function and what is adequate now will not necessarily be adequate in the near future. Therefore, there are systems in place to evaluate all education and training, and to share knowledge and experience between the instructors and training coordinators within a region and nationwide. The training is updated on a regular basis.

Although outside the scope of this article, the quality of the instructors is of prime importance. Instructors are selected and trained in the  required knowledge and skills, both nautical-technical and instructional. And of course, they need continuing input in the form of courses and conferences to stay up to date and to maintain a fresh perspective. Systems are in place to feed-back the information of accident and incident reports to the trainers, so that these reports have an effect on the education and training.

Students on the bridge of the Mercuur during an instructional trip.
Students on the bridge of the Mercuur during an instructional trip.
Students on the bridge of the Mercuur during an instructional trip.
Students on the bridge of the Mercuur during an instructional trip.
A different job

We hope that by presenting the Dutch training of pilots, we have made clear that a captain and a pilot have closely related, but different professions. Captains have an education aimed at the multitude of responsibilities and tasks they have to fulfil. For captains, the focus of their task is to safely and efficiently run the ship as an enterprise. Pilots, on the other hand, have specialist knowledge in the navigation of the ship in a specific small area. 

The students have already completed all formal education to become a captain, the pilotage education is on top of this. Pilot education is more than just gaining local knowledge. If that would be the core skill, pilots would be ready to pilot all ships  immediately after finishing their primary pilot education. However, the new pilot still has to gain a lot of experience and take a number of additional courses before being allowed to handle all ships. Pilots have worked with hundreds to thousands of different bridge teams. Keeping in mind their education and training, pilots should be able to identify the strong and weak point of a bridge team and fill gaps where needed.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) described the role of a pilot in a safety study as: ‘A marine pilot’s local area knowledge and skills allow safer navigation of the area. In conducting a pilotage, the pilot effectively has control of the ship’s navigation, but legally only provides relevant advice to its master who remains responsible and always in command of the ship.’

The Dutch Pilot Corporation aims to provide a system of education,training, provision of information and required experience. This equips pilots with general navigational, ship handling and team skills, and specific knowledge of the influence of local conditions on ship handling and navigation and seeks to maintain these. All to enable pilots to anticipate all critical parts of the voyage, for their own ship, as well as for other ships that they might meet. This leads to developing safe strategies with a maximum chance of a successful, expedient and successful passage under all hydrological and meteorological circumstances, including aborting or not commencing the passage if conditions make the risk too high.

We hope that we have been able to explain what we see as important for the career change of mariners to pilots: from generalists with overriding authority to specialists working under the authority of captains; and how we try to maintain the required knowledge and skills in order to provide these for the specific ship, captain, port and circumstances.


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Captain Robert de Roos Loodswezen Rotterdam - Rijnmond, Netherlands
on 6 October 2022, 14:04 UTC

Thank you for sharing! During my career as a pilot/trainer in Rotterdam it was a great pleasure being involved in the pilot-training! Even more, after my retirement in 2017 in the Netherlands, training of (trainee-) pilots still has my full attention and interest. Since then I have trained a dozen of pilots on Cyprus and in Costa Rica, using much the same methods as in the Netherlands. I am very grateful to the Dutch Pilots for all the time, effort and opportunities which was (en still is) put in the training of pilots, including the development of "Permanent Education" in order to improve knowledge and skills by using simulator and lessons learned from incidents, not only locally but all around the world. Especially because of the changes of scale and technics, I can not stress enough how important a proper "Initial pilot-training" and "Permanent Education" are. As much as the regular pilot-operations. Robert de Roos, pilot/pilot-trainer Limassol, Cyprus

Mr. Hai Pham Tan Cang Pillot LLC, Vietnam
on 3 October 2022, 03:30 UTC

Many thanks for sharing. My organization has more information to developing our education system

Marine Pilot / Mooring Master Amit Kumar Singh Reliance Industries Limited, India
on 2 October 2022, 04:50 UTC

Excellent curriculum and selection procedure. Understand non Seafarers can be trained as pilots as done in few countries but Appreciate the part that only ex seafarers are selected for Netherlands. Dutch training pattern should be implemented universally.


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