Marine pilots play a crucial role in the maritime industry all over the world. It is their responsibility to board commercial ships and safely navigate the vessel to and from safe harbor in protected waters. These routes often include navigating narrow channels, congested vessel traffic, rocky areas, and local weather conditions. Pilots are required to have extensive knowledge of the waters they serve—even memorizing the nautical chart features, aids to navigation, and landmarks. Using their salty experience and local knowledge, pilots contribute immensely to the safety of the ship, cargo, other vessel traffic, and the marine environment.
All sorts of vessels can require pilots: container ships, dry bulk ships, cruise ships, chemical tankers, ferries, car carriers, and more. A marine pilot often uses a smaller vessel, known as a pilot boat, to meet much larger vessels at sea. The pilot can face serious danger in the open ocean due to wind, waves, and navigating in close proximity to massive ships. Once near the ship, the pilot boat calls for the commercial ship to create a lee—a safer place for the pilot boat to pull alongside out of the wind and swells. The pilot must then climb out of the pilot boat and onto the ship.
Sometimes the pilot is able to climb into a doorway in the hull nearer to the waterline. But more often, he or she must climb a rope ladder vertically up the ship’s side (freeboard). These rope ladders are referred to as “Jacobs ladders” and can extend up to 27 feet in length. The rope ladder may terminate on the vessel’s main deck, or it may terminate at a platform and set of stairs on the outboard part of the ship (accommodation).
Regardless of the ladder arrangement, the pilot faces peril every step of the way. Transitioning from the pilot boat to the ladder can throw the pilot into the sea or under the ship. Once on the ladder, the ship will continue to move and the wind will continue to blow, making climbing the ladder difficult. When transitioning from the ladder to the deck or accommodation platform, the pilot again faces a treacherous combination of forces and balance. Sometimes these perils are even faced during nighttime operations.
To protect the safety of marine pilots, careful repairs and preventative maintenance must be committed to:
Pilot boats (engines and machinery)
Lines and wires
Able seamen, ship officers, and deckhands must also be properly trained on how to support the pilot during his transition to ship. The use of good communication between the pilot boat, the pilot, officers on deck, and the wheelhouse is also essential for safety.
The most common accident for pilots is falling from a height. This could mean falling back onto the pilot boat or going into the sea. Lives are often lost either way. Pilots who fall can suffer internal bleeding, broken bones, head injuries, drowning, lacerations, and hypothermia.
Mariner Law, PLLC understand the role of pilots and the safety risks they face. The firm is active in many areas served by pilot organizations, such as:
Puget Sound Pilots
Columbia River Bar Pilots
Columbia River Pilots
Sandy Hook Pilots Association
Hudson River Pilots Association
Northeast Marine Pilots Association
Southwest Alaska Pilots Association
Southeast Alaska Pilots Association
Mariner Law, PLLC is well-versed marine pilot injury and wrongful death issues under the Jones Act, LHWCA, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure. Pilot injuries are often career-ending and life-threatening, if not fatal. If you or a loved one was hurt on the job as a pilot, contact an experienced admiralty lawyer as soon as you can. Rest assured that vessel owners and insurance companies are taking steps to protect their interests in the event of an injury claim. Injured pilots deserve the same—an attorney to fight for their best interest every step of the way. Contact (253) 600-2531 now for a free confidential consultation. There’s no obligation to speak with a Jones Act lawyer now. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.