(MARS 201866) A bulk carrier hit a buoy in darkness after failing to use a portable pilotage unit (PPU). The master only started to challenge the pilot’s course of action when it was already too late.

As edited from official ATSB report 325-MO-2016-003

A pilot and trainee pilot boarded a bulk carrier in darkness. Courses and positions had previously been sent to the ship for the express purpose of planning the passage. The pilots completed the master/pilot exchange with the bridge team, establishing that the OOW would inform the pilot when the ship was 7 cables from each course alteration position (waypoint).


They proceeded through the reef-infested passage at about 8 kt. The electronic navigational chart (ENC) was continuously displayed on the pilot’s PPU, which had been set up near the bridge front windows on the port side.

Plotting on the Paper Navigational Chart

The OOW was plotting the vessel’s position on the paper navigational chart at five-minute intervals. He also followed the pilot’s standing instruction by informing him when the ship was 7 cables from the next waypoint.

Buoy’s Echo Lost on Radar

The pilot was positioned by the S-band radar, near the ship’s centreline and was using the radar to determine the distance to the AP buoy. The OOW then advised 7 cables to go to the next waypoint and the pilot acknowledged the information.

The pilot ordered 10° starboard rudder. The bridge of ship was now a little more than 6 cables from the AP buoy. Shortly afterwards, the pilot ordered 5° starboard rudder, but he was unable to find the buoy’s echo return on the radar’s display. His usual practice was to use a 7 cable distance from the buoy as his wheel-over position. He became fixated on regaining the lost echo.

Ship Hull Comes into Contact with Buoy

For the next two minutes the rudder angle remained at starboard 5°. The position plotted on the chart indicated that ship was about half a cable (100 m) north of the charted track and the master observed aloud that the AP buoy was right ahead.

About ten seconds later, the master asked how the buoy was, followed eleven seconds later with ‘will we touch the buoy?’ The pilot said ‘no’ and shortly after ordered starboard 10°, followed sixteen seconds later by starboard 20° and then ‘hard a starboard’.

In spite of some more helm applications the port quarter of the ship’s hull contacted the buoy.\

Lessons Learned

  • Even though the OOW was somewhat integrated into the pilot’s operations by informing him at 7 cables to each waypoint, neither he nor the rest of the bridge team possessed the same mental model as the pilot for the transit.
  • There was a PPU on the bridge showing the vessel’s position in real time, but the bridge team were not using this tool and were preoccupied with other aspects of the pilotage.
  • In darkness a person’s visual perception is not the same as in daylight, so objects may appear closer than they actually are. Because accurate depth perception is very difficult, especially at night, it is important that human abilities are always supplemented by the use of all other navigational and electronic aids.
  • The master’s comments were too little, too late. He was not in a position to challenge the pilot properly as he was using only his visual acuity to sight the buoy.

MARS Reports

This is one of the October MARS Reports that are part of Report Number 312. A selection of this Report has also been published in SWZ|Maritime’s November issue.


Through the kind intermediary of The Nautical Institute we gratefully acknowledge sponsorship provided by:
American Bureau of Shipping, AR Brink & Associates, Britannia P&I Club, Cargill, Class NK, DNV, Gard, IHS Fairplay Safety at Sea International, International Institute of Marine Surveying, Lairdside Maritime Centre, London Offshore Consultants, MOL Tankship Management (Europe) Ltd, Noble Denton, North of England P&I Club, Sail Training International, Shipowners Club, The Marine Society and Sea Cadets, The Swedish Club, UK Hydrographic Office, West of England P&I Club

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