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Master/Pilot Relationship - The Pilot's View

Master/Pilot Relationship - The Pilot's View
Report No. 98007

In May 1993, the Nautical Institute published a Nautical Briefing on Bridge Watchkeeping. Chapter 10 of this briefing gave advice on "Navigation with a pilot embarked". This read as follows:

Despite the duties and obligations of a pilot, his presence on board does not relieve the master or officer in charge of the watch from their duties or obligations for the safety of the ship. The master and pilot shall exchange information regarding the navigation procedures, local conditions and the ship's characteristics. The master and officer of the watch shall co-operate closely with the pilot and maintain an accurate check of the ship's position and movement.

Pilots are engaged for a variety of reasons depending on circumstances which include pilotage based upon local knowledge, liaison, ship handling and bridge support. The duty of the pilot is to direct the navigation of the ship and to conduct it so far as the course and speed of the ship is concerned. He liaises with the VTS, organises the use of tugs and advises on the use of moorings and towing lines. The position of the pilot on board a vessel is aptly summarised by the Canadian Royal Commission on Pilotage, Ottawa 1968, as follows:

....'to conduct a ship' must not be confused with 'being in command of a ship'. The first expression refers to action, to a personal service being employed; the second to a power. The question whether a pilot has control of navigation is a question of fact not of law. The fact that a pilot has been given control of the ship for navigational purposes does not mean that the pilot has superseded the master. The master is, and remains, in command; he is the authority on board. He may, and does, delegate part of this authority to subordinates and to outside assistants whom he employs to navigate his ship - i.e., pilots. A delegation of power is not an abandonment of authority but one way of exercising authority.

It has never been easy for the master to question the advice given by the pilot who has the required local knowledge but does not have the ultimate responsibility for the ship, her crew and her cargo. The advice given by the "authorities" is that a full plan of action is exchanged between the master and pilot as soon as the pilot boards the vessel. This is all very well for departure but in many cases it is just not possible when the vessel is entering a port. By the time the pilot has boarded and been taken up to the bridge it is very often essential to start proceeding inwards immediately to avoid going aground or hampering other vessels. In the vast majority of cases the pilot works professionally alongside the master and officers to make up an efficient and safe Bridge Team but it can sometimes break down with disastrous consequences as in the following case, in which I am happy to publish a letter received from the Hong Kong Pilots association in response to MARS 97023.

MARS 98007 (March 98) Master/Pilot Relationship - The Pilot's View

The MARS reports form delightful reading in a language that the mariner can understand. In general, we are mindful of the service these reports render in terms of general awareness amongst the sea-going community. We are sure they are as avidly read by pilots world-wide as they are by those engaged on somewhat longer voyages.

There is however, the danger that those who provide such reports also take on the role of witness, reporter, judge and vested interest, all at the same time. In a Marine Court these roles are judiciously separated and we can be grateful for that. We are confident that the readers are aware of this characteristic and interpret the reports with care. SEAWAYS itself goes to the extent of omitting the names of those involved, in the vast majority of cases, so that a MARS report does not become a battleground between the parties involved.
In this instance, the peculiar circumstances of the case have resulted in a reversal of the traditional safeguards of identity. For this reason, we wish to clarify the issues involved, not only for the sake of a fair presentation of the facts but also to uphold the reputation of the Hong Kong, China Pilots Association, which is the only body providing pilotage services in Hong Kong, China. MARS 97023 has impugned the integrity of the service we provide through stating the incident occurred in Hong Kong, China waters and involved a pilot in these waters. The following paragraphs represent our analysis of that event and the results of our own investigation into the incident.

The report commenced by sighting the incident as an "apparent weakness" in the master/pilot relationship. We feel this phrase is appropriate and regret that such careful terminology was not used in the remainder of the report. There are some fundamental differences between the MARS report and the report of the pilot who we understand attended the vessel in question.

* The MARS report cites " a very strong current" on the day in question, the Pilot's assessment was 2-3 knots

* The reader of the MARS report may be left with the impression that the Pilot was aware that the anchor was fouled by a "heavy and probably very long wire rope". The Pilot's perception is that the Master reported that the anchor chain "felt tight", whereupon the Pilot turned to the Second Officer standing next to the telegraph and requested "Dead Slow Ahead" to give a kick ahead to take the stress off the chain. This resulted in a sharp rebuke from the Master who insisted that all reports must be directed to the Master and not to any other officer.

* The MARS report states that the "Pilot shook his head as though it was not his business!". While the first part of the statement may be a matter of fact, the latter part is clearly conjecture. Shaking of the head has very many connotations especially in the context of different cultures and the Master's interpretation may well have been a result of his dissatisfaction with the Pilot's request for an engine order to the Second Officer.

* The MARS report cites the refusal of the Pilot to come to the bridge wing and makes reference to the mutually agreed fact that the Pilot did not have a raincoat while the Master did. The report implies a possible correlation between these two events. In point of fact, the Pilot's refusal to leave the bridge was occasioned by the need to monitor, amongst other things, such as radar, the VHF communications, particularly from small vessels, which are frequently delivered in Cantonese and often give prior warning of an intended manoeuvre. Hong Kong, China waters have a high density of such craft. Their movements are difficult to control and their actions, particularly in the case of tugs and tows, are frequently mentioned in the context of accidents involving collision and grounding of large vessels. Pilots in Hong Kong, China waters give high priority to their manoeuvres.

* The MARS report states "The Pilot did not advise me of anything, broke off communication and his attitude was moody". The first part of this statement is clearly extreme. The second part does not correspond to the Pilot's view that he tried to invoke the help of the Traffic Control Centre operators to reason with the Master over the VHF. The third part is again clearly conjecture in a cross cultural setting.

* The Pilot's report quotes the Master as insisting that the Pilot was employed by the ship in an assisting capacity and the Master had the right to give any order and control the whole ship. It was asserted repeatedly that this was the company policy. The Pilot, in practice has a duty not only to the ship he is serving on but also to the safety of navigation of all ships in the area. For this reason, pilotage is compulsory in Hong Kong, China waters and is being extended to the smaller size of vessels in a continuing program of strategic safety measures for the port of Hong Kong, China. The provision of a pilot aboard a higher proportion of vessels is expected to enhance the already enviable safety record.

* It is significant that the Master made no complaint to the HKPA either directly or indirectly about the behaviour of the Pilot. The Pilot, however, was sufficiently concerned as to make a report to the HKPA and the vessel's agent about several aspects of the incident.

We believe that the cause of safety would, in this case, have been better served by contact with the HKPA before publication of the MARS report. We also believe that in this case:

* poor cross cultural communications contributed to the incident

* a better understanding of the port and of the pilot's role in assisting the master to navigate the ship safely within this port would have been of value in preventing the incident.


MARS 97023 was an example of poor relations between the master and the pilot to which the Hong Kong, China Pilots Association (HKPA) responded in MARS 98007. I am pleased to report that the Association has now produced a booklet called PILOTS' INFORMATION TO MASTER which contains information for shipmasters, shipowners and local shipping agents. The booklet is designed by the HKPA to give general hints and information for ships entering Hong Kong, China waters. The objective is to promote safety and efficiency to all ships when navigating, berthing or unberthing in Hong Kong, China Harbour. There are 15 pages of text in English and Chinese, diagrams to show buoy mooring arrangements and a plan showing VHF coverage. The publication of this booklet helps to show the commitment of the HKPA to quality pilotage services and they welcome the participation and support of all users. As such it should assist the exchange of information between the master and the pilot and I sincerely hope that it goes a long way towards improving the relationship of the bridge team with the pilot.

The booklet, in addition to general advice, arrival and departure information, passage information and guidance on buoy mooring and berthing also gives advice to take in the event of a tropical storm or typhoon developing. Comments and suggestions may be faxed to the General Manager of HKPA - Fax:- 852 28030859 or by email:- Further information, such as the timing, draft limitation, tug requirements for berthing or unberthing operations within the port can all be found in the BERTHING GUIDELINES obtainable from Mardep's web site on the Internet. The address for this is