UK MAIB spotlights pilot ladder incidents and accidents

by UK MAIB - published on 28 August 2023 385 -

Pilot Ladder Incidents And Accidents

Text and pictures by MAIB, UK - Published 17 July 2023
The MAIB canvassed 105 UK Competent Harbour Authorities for their 2022 pilot transfer statistics. This revealed that almost 700 marine pilots conducted over 96,000 transfers underway using pilot ladder, during which there were over 400 incidents or accidents.

Just over half of these were reported to the MAIB, the most serious of which resulted in the pilot suffering a fractured ankle when they lost their grip on the handhold stanchion and fell 3 metres onto the pilot boat. The preliminary assessment found that the vessel’s handhold stanchions were not fit for purpose, as heir design prevented the pilot gaining a firm grasp as they reached the top of the ladder (Figure 1).
Analysis of the pilot ladder incidents and accidents reported to the MAIB revealed:
  • 25% - were because shackles rather than rolling hitches were used to secure the pilot ladder side ropes (Figure 2)
  • 23% - occured because the material condition of the pilot ladder was poor (Figure 3)
  • 13% - happened because handhold stanchions were not fit for purpose (Figures 1 and 4)
  • 39% - involved issues such as the length of the ladder, its position against the hull and incorrect rigging of the tripping line, among other noncompliance.

Actions To Prevent These Incidents And Accidents:

▶ Check that the pilot ladder is properly rigged
Associated British Ports’ Pilot Boarding Arrangement Requirements – Best Practice information poster
provides useful guidance on some of the most common mistakes and how to rectify them:

▶ Inspect the ladder before use
While old ladders are more likely to be in poor condition, new ladders are also at risk of damage; the pilot ladder should be thoroughly checked before each use and replaced or retested afer 30 months of service. Useful guidance on pilot ladder maintenance, use and replacement is free to download via:

▶ Handhold stanchions must be fit for purpose
The pilot is at particular risk of falling when they transition between the top of the ladder and the vessel’s deck. The handhold stanchion design must allow the pilot a firm grip as they make this transition. The Designated Person Ashore must be notified and arrangements made to fix the issue if the existing on board arrangements do not meet this requirement.

▶ Continue to report pilot ladder incidents and accidents to the MAIB
It is concerning that MAIB has been unable to undertake full analysis of the cause of pilot ladder incidents and accidents due to little more than half of these occurrences being reported to the branch. MAIB is happy to receive reports of unsafe pilot ladders via the UK Maritime Pilots Association (UKMPA) pilot ladder defect reporting app, which is very easy to use:

Conclusions by MAIB:

"This analysis indicates that 99.6% of pilot transfers while underway were completed safely and without incident or accident during 2022. However, the potential consequence of the pilot falling from a ladder can be fatal and the low tech, high risk embarkation and disembarkation of the pilot by ladder requires continued management and oversight."
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