The SOLAS, Chapter V, Reg. 23 requirement for pilot boarding states only that a lifebuoy equipped with a self-igniting light ‘shall be kept at hand ready for immediate use’. A reader of The Nautical Institute’s Seaways, an experienced harbour pilot, has commented that this specification could be improved.

The Nautical Institute gathers reports of maritime accidents and near-misses as well as tips that can improve safety on board. It then publishes these so-called Mars Reports (anonymously) to prevent other accidents from happening and make shipping safer. In this case, a tip from an experienced pilot is shared.

In the pilot’s opinion, the lifebuoy would be best located about five metres aft of the pilot ladder. Ostensibly, this would somewhat compensate for the vessel’s forward motion (if the pilot is in the water) since pilot boarding usually takes place at speeds between four and seven knots.

The reader also suggests the lifebuoy be free of brackets so as to make the accessibility and deployment easier.

Also read: brings steerable lifebuoy to the Dutch market

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • Standards are established to reduce risks but they should never be considered ‘set in stone’. Standards themselves should be continuously evaluated and improved upon.
  • Pilot boarding may seem like a common manoeuvre, and it is. But every time a pilot uses a pilot ladder, their life depends on the quality of the equipment used and the alertness and competency of the vessel crew.

Also read: Man overboard while rigging the pilot ladder

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202245, that are part of Report Number 361. A selection of this Mars Report was also published in SWZ|Maritime’s December 2022 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published (in full) on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.

Also read: Does your pilot ladder meet requirements?