Lessons Learnt: Injury to Pilot

Vessel Type: Tanker

Incident description

In preparation for arrival in port to load cargo, the crew rigged the pilot ladder combination on the port side in accordance with the pilot's instructions. The tanker's master manoeuvred the vessel to create a lee for the pilot launch and the pilot transferred from the launch to the rope ladder without incident. Unbeknown to the launch crew, a tripping line attached near to the bottom rung of the ladder fouled a cleat on the near side of the launch and as the craft manoeuvred away, the ladder was stretched and pulled from the ship's side. At this time, the pilot was still ascending the ladder, which parted under the strain causing him to fall into the sea. The detached section of the ladder then fouled the launch propeller, resulting in a loss of power and subsequent difficulties in rescuing the pilot from the water. When the pilot was recovered, he was found to have sustained a serious head injury.


Pilots provide a vital service to seafarers by assisting with the safe navigation of vessels at the most critical stages of the voyage. Embarking or disembarking from a high freeboard vessel can be a daunting task at the best of times, particularly in heavy weather. It is therefore most important that pilot boarding arrangements and procedures are in strict compliance with SOLAS requirements to best ensure the safety of pilots and other persons who may use the equipment. With reference to this incident, no tripping lines, loops or other trailing rope work should be attached to the pilot ladders which may foul on a launch or obstruct the safe transfer of the pilot. Pilots have the right to decline boarding vessels with defective ladders, which can result in serious delay.

Lessons Learnt
  • Pilot ladders and associated equipment must be constructed and maintained in compliance with SOLAS requirements
  • The use of tripping lines and other obstructions must be prohibited
  • The rigging of pilot ladders should be performed under the supervision of a responsible officer
  • The crew should keep a close eye on the launch and the pilot transfer during the operation to ensure prompt warning and assistance can be given in the event of an incident
  • Pilots and launch crew must be alert to any deficiencies or improper rigging of the equipment

Staff Author