Pilot embarkation & disembarkation is very routine but risky operation. Unfortunately even though many Pilot ladders incidents are easy to avoid, these keeps showing up on vessels. The principle requirement for the pilot ladders is governed by chapter V of the SOLAS. Most if not all must have seen the IMPA poster for the “boarding arrangements for the pilots onboard”. This can be downloaded from www.impahq.com and is also available in the bridge procedure guide.


Why these accidents ?

There are number of reason for these accidents & I wish to sum these up as following

– Parting of the pilot ladder rope.
– Incorrect rigging of the pilot ladder
– Pilot ladder made of Incorrect specifications or use of damaged pilot ladders

Parting of the pilot ladder rope

Now most of the pilot ladder incident that occur are usually parting of either the ladder rope or the side ropes. Why do these rope part and what can be done to avoid this ?

Use of Manila rope is one of the requirement for pilot ladders. Manila rope has absorbing quality, that make it the first choice for stage rigging and thus pilot ladders. But this quality is also a concern when it comes to absorbing sea water and sunlight which may harden it or rot it over longer period of exposure. Now this can sometime trick a seaman. A manila rope which might look in excellent condition but which has been exposed to sunlight, sea water or even chemicals might have lost its internal strength. Apart from the negligence of the seafarers to inspect and discard an obvious damaged rope and pilot ladder, a bad rope with excellent visual condition can also be the cause of pilot ladder ropes giving way.

The best way to avoid degrading of the pilot ladder rope is to minimise its exposure to seawater, sunlight and chemicals by securing it nicely when not required. In the new rules and SOLAS amendments, it is now required

– to have inspection records  for the pilot ladders.
– Pilot ladders must be certified by the manufacturer to be complying with International standards. (Ship staff should make sure they have ladder tag as well as pilot ladder certificate onboard).

However considering visual inspection of manila ropes used in pilot ladder can sometimes give false indication of its condition & strength, the author is of the opinion that pilot ladder should be changed with new one after a fixed interval of time, irrespective of its condition.

Incorrect rigging of the pilot ladder

Another cause of these accidents is incorrect rigging of the pilot ladders and there are couple of mistakes that ship staff can make. First is using ropes instead of shackles to secure the ladder on the ship’s deck. Second is pilot ladder step resting on the fish plate which can snap down once someone puts his weight on the pilot ladder and third is inappropriately securing the ends of pilot ladder on ship’s deck (like resting the pilot ladder step on some of the ship’s structure. Pilot would be lucky if he gets warning for inappropriate securing of pilot ladder after climbing for few steps but there have been incidents where pilot did fall from considerable height.

Use of damaged  or inappropriate pilot ladder

The photos says it all and we all know that these are not what ship staff have to offer to pilots for boarding, but pilots do come across these situations sometimes. See for example the photo where a kind of ladder was permanently made in the ship side for person transfer.


These may not be very common but one can come across these specially on coastal ships plying in fixed ports. Irrespective of the trade & size of the ships these kind of arrangement are risky and should strictly be avoided.

Best Practices

All these incidents can be avoided by having a set of best practices related to use of pilot ladders.

– Pilot ladders onboard should be of correct specification and ship staff should have certificates for the pilot ladders onboard.
– Pilot ladders should be secured when not in use.
– Exposure to sunlight and seawater should be minimised as far as possible. On longer voyages, the pilot ladder should be kept under shelter such as in deck store.
– The condition of ladder ropes, steps as well as other fittings should be checked at least monthly and before use.
– Before arrival to a port, the ladders on both sides should be cleared off ready for deployment, if when pilot requests ladder on one side. This would avoid mistakes if crew has to place pilot ladder on the other side on last minute request from pilot.

Any other point that I missed to address regarding pilot ladders ?

Wishing you all fair winds & following seas.

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Capt Rajeev Jassal

About Capt Rajeev Jassal

Capt. Rajeev Jassal has sailed for over 19 years mainly on crude oil, product and chemical tankers. He holds MBA in shipping & Logistics degree from London. He has done extensive research on quantitatively measuring Safety culture onboard and safety climate ashore which he believes is the most important element for safer shipping.

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