Monday 19th Nov, 2018

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The true nature of pilotage



I refer to your article of 13 August and would like to reassure your readers that the “Pilots of the Future” are practicing now in Australia.

The similarities are few between the processes and techniques described in your article and those of a pilot engaged in most Australian pilotage services using sophisticated and modern safety management systems (SMS).

The article does not well reflect on the profound changes to Australian pilotage and professional development that have occurred over the last ten years.


Undoubtedly technology has been embraced with the almost universal pilot use of PPUs but this should not be misrepresented as the primary safety enhancement.

The development of a modern SMS is the major safety enhancement to pilotage, not the adoption of new technology. SMS development has a high focus on human factors, the causative factor attributed to approximately 90% of vessel incidents (vessel groundings etc.). The focus of the SMS is to eliminate the high risk human factors, specifically mitigating strategies to minimise the single person error.

The change to a modern pilot services commences well before the pilot boards the vessel. After the pilot is ordered, say four to five days before the pilot boarding the vessel, the proposed way points are forwarded to the master, along with a risk management checklist. In some services the vessel will be provided with guidance notes (extracted from the SMS SOPs) for the pilot’s proposed bridge activities together with emergency response procedures and contacts.

This allows the master and navigating officers to familiarise themselves with the procedures and enter the way points into the vessel’s navigation systems prior to the master/pilot briefing after the pilot boards. It is most important to provide written advice well in advance as most masters and navigating officers possess a first LOTE. It easier for non-English speaking bridge personnel to understand written English over a period of days than the spoken word in a short oral Master Pilot Exchange (MPX) conducted after the pilot has boarded.

The article mention of a “discussion of the passage ahead” is an overly simplistic reference to the MPX. This process should involve a discussion of the proposed passage plan, copy of which should be presented to the master. An integral part of this process for Australian pilot Services requires the pilot to conduct a risk assessment with the master and complete a check list for this purpose.

We at Torres Pilots have altered the character of the master/pilot (MPX) briefing from an instructional nature to an opportunity for the master and navigating officers to ask questions of the pilot regarding the detailed passage plan presented on boarding. A second, confirmatory risk management check is conducted during the MPX.

To eliminate single person errors, the coastal pilots’ focus on working as part of a bridge team consisting of the pilot, master and navigating officers, using the on-board navigation systems. TP Pilots carry on board ECS, GPS and plotters (PPUs) as backup, should the on board navigation systems fail.

All Australian pilots are trained in BRM and many attend AMPT courses; most Australian pilots would have attended the excellent courses conducted by Ravi Nijjer of the Marine Consultancy Group.

Unfortunately similar systems are not used in many other parts of the world. Australian pilot services are amongst the world leaders in the development of SMS but many otherwise advanced maritime countries are lagging behind in this regard.

The discretionary pilot actions described by Professor Brooks could not be further removed from the reality of SMS procedures used in modern Australian pilotage services. The SMS is designed to prevent the type of conduct where the pilot essentially “does the job the way he wants to do the job”.

Perry Sutton
Torres Pilots Pty Ltd
Bulimba QLD

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