Skip to main content


My first introduction to the complex relationship of a Master and Pilot was in October 1953 while attending Seamanship School in Europe. That was as a Cadet starting pre-sea training, now some 56 years later it is still as complex and clearly an unresolved issue. The basic problem is that all Pilotage Authorities want complete control without the final responsibility. This means that they can then 'opt out' when things go wrong, as sometimes they do. Masters know this and Pilots know this, though their Pilotage Authorities will argue this point 'ad infinitum'.
The exception is the Panama Canal where the Canal Transit Authority accepts full responsibility and has complete control for a vessel's transit. It is all properly documented thus everybody involved knows and understands exactly where they stand. Mostly in other ports the Pilot boards and things go off well, particularly given the difficulties of communication on occasions. Port Pilots are remarkably adaptive cheerful people doing an excellent job in all sorts of conditions and weather. However on occasions things come apart at the seams.

On the morning of November 07, 2007 the MS "Cosco Busan" prepared to leave the Port of San Francisco. Her Port of San Francisco Pilot boarded and from that point things went steadily downhill. The resulting NTSB Report says it all, and it manages to excuse, blame and insult everybody involved.

The Report's section on 'Cultural Differences,' covering the interaction between the Master and Pilot, is particularly offensive. In the 'Conclusion' section item #11, "by cultural differences that made the Master reluctant to assert authority over the Pilot," is a deplorable, inaccurate, discourteous and racist sentence which has no place in a United States NTSB Report.

Every Master has a clear right to be supplied a Pilot in command of his faculties as well as his knowledge of the Port. Clearly this was not the case that morning. The Vessel Traffic System (VTS), manned by USCG, should have told the Pilot to delay sailing until there were more positive factors for handling this large vessel. The Master of MS "Cosco Busan" had a perfect right to assess that since no negative factors had been stated to him the Port passage was suitable for his vessel. Indeed that was why the Port of San Francisco Compulsory Pilot was on board in the first place, to conduct a safe departure passage. He would do so by having and giving expert Port of San Francisco navigational knowledge to the Master of MS "Cosco Busan". Unfortunately this navigational knowledge was impaired by the Pilot's personal health, something the Master of MS "Cosco Busan"could not possibly have known.

For NAUTICAL LOG the saving grace of the NTSB Report is the dissent by Member Deborah A. P. Hersman. This dissent shows a complete understanding of the role of the Master with a 'Compulsory Pilot' on board. Her comments were the most valuable and effective part of the entire investigation and we thank her for them, regretfully her term with NTSB is now completed.

So then what is a Master to do? Where does he get guidance to make an assessment? Let me say it is all rather tricky and full of legal pitfalls for the unwary. Fortunately in the United Kingdom 'Navigation under Pilotage' is covered under The Merchant Shipping Acts. Also Her Majesty's Government issue 'updates' in the form of a Statutory Instrument (S.I.) as may be required. British Masters and Masters of British ships, not necessarily the same thing these days, are expected to keep themselves up to date on SI's effecting British ships. So lets take a look at what The Merchant Shipping Act and S.I.'s cover in this regard.

"For several hundred years shipmasters have engaged the services of persons having local navigation knowledge to assist in navigating their ship. The use of such 'pilots' was originally entirely at the discretion of the Master. However, where the Master lacked the appropriate skills and knowledge on board, failure to use a pilot could be seen as a breach of obligations as to seaworthiness and possibly constitute civil negligence. In the course of time governments, and harbour authorities began to insist that they, under control of a pilot license, administer the navigation of ships in the area under their authority. This was done in the interest of safety of all shipping using the area, compliance being enforced through legislation and criminal sanctions.
The presence on board of a Pilot, particularly a Compulsory Pilot, who is required by law, to take charge of the navigation of a ship creates difficulties in terms of personal liability of the Master and the Pilot should the ship be involved in a marine casualty during pilotage.
The Master of a ship has a personal duty to the owner, crew, passengers and cargo to take reasonable care of all. Breach of this duty resulting in damage to any could make the Master personally liable to pay compensation and his employer vicariously liable for such damage. Thus failure to obtain the services of a pilot could constitute a breach of duty that is civil negligence.
Compulsory Pilotage means that by law the Pilot is in charge of the navigation of the ship. The Master is at all times in command of his ship and can at any time take the navigation out of the hands of the Pilot. Indeed the Master has a duty to take the navigation out of the hands of the Pilot who shows manifest incompetence from any cause. Under Compulsory Pilotage this would mean safely securing the ship and calling for another Pilot. Under 'Compulsory Pilotage' the context of 'navigation of the ship' involves such things as directing tugs, courses, speed, turns, using swinging basins, where and when the ship will come to rest. The Pilot is personally accountable for any errors he may make in respect of these matters.
The Master is required to ensure that the ship responds promptly and efficiently to the Pilot's orders as to course and speed. The Master is further required to provide the Pilot the support he needs such as lookouts, radar observer's, navigators as circumstances dictate. Failure to do so would make the Master personally responsible.
In non-compulsory pilotage the Pilot has no right in any form to take charge of the navigation of the ship. He is merely an additional navigator who responds to the Master's orders as any other officer.
The Law of the country having jurisdiction over the area decides on the type of Pilotage and its usage. In the United Kingdom legislation gives virtually complete control over Pilotage to various 'Competent Harbour Authorities'. Many have contracted with Trinity House to provide Pilotage Service. Similar legislation exists in other countries. In the United States a system of Federal Licensed Pilots and State Licensed Pilots and Berthing Masters exists.
Finally Masters or Deck Officers can obtain endorsements for various Ports and thus be exempted from Pilotage by acting as their own Pilots under the terms of this endorsement."
Good Watch


Popular posts from this blog


It sometimes happens that one is going to write a Post on a subject when lo and behold there is already an excellent one.  Such is the case today; so rather than repeat everything let me refer you to the source of that Post

At present we are experiencing Perigean Spring Tides which occur when the Moon is at perigee on its oval path that is the closest point to Earth.  One of the principal results are higher than usual Spring Tides as against the Neap Tides.

Should you be interested in the full explanation of this phenomenon then you might like to reference "Old Salt Blog" which has an excellent explanation of this event and uses all the correct terms - quite unlike our Media here in South Florida.

Good Watch.


In recent years there has been a steady decline in the professionalism, accuracy and quality of the various Media outlets and the social media.  In the rush to get there first with a story the shoddy Media - lets call it the really shoddy social media - have resorted to making up stories.  When growing up in the late 30's and 40's this was called lying and got one punished in our house.

Fake news includes inaccurate and unsupported stories all of which in the last year have been published without correction or apology.  Now it seems this attitude has spread to the maritime blogs.  One blog which was generally pretty good about its posts has slipped in accuracy lately including quoting from European tabloids.  A recent post was about H.M.S. Vengeance and its missile launches off the coast of Florida part of its programme to Certify boat and crew  The story was an ill advised, inaccurate choice in subject matter as to what happened and how the incident was reported to a Foreign N…


This month saw the commissioning into the Irish Naval Service of a new Class of Irish Naval vessel more of the Frigate size than the previously Corvette size.  However they are all classed as Patrol vessels, the new vessel is LÉ Samuel Beckett P61.NAUTICAL LOG wishes her well and a successful service.

The older vessels saw unbelievable service and value for money the first being commissioned in 1979 and continued through the '80's and 90's into the 21st. Century.  During those years in addition to patrolling the stormy seas around the rugged Irish coast they made passages across the Western Ocean to the United States and Canada, south to South America as far as Argentina, and east to Asia as far as Korea.  Such passages are really remarkable for such small vessels and show the competence of Irish seafarers who as Naval Officers and Merchant Marine Officers train together.

Good Watch.