There are certain actions that a master should always take before and during berthing. The most important rules are:

  • slow speed
  • controlled approach
  • planning
  • team work
  • checking equipment

          Bridge team

  • the master must ensure that all ships personnel are familiar with the expected approach to the berth/quay/lock or terminal and what is expected of them. A positive team approach to the task improves efficiency and communication

          Passage planning

  • always brief the bridge team to ensure the officer of the watch (OOW), helmsman, lookout and pilot are fully aware of the expected manoeuvres and the likely effects of wind, tide and current
  • always passage plan from berth to berth. Pay careful attention to the dangers that are likely to be encountered during periods under pilotage
  • always fully brief the pilot, making sure that he understands the ship’s speed and manoeuvring characteristics
  • always ask the pilot to discuss the passage and berthing plan. Ask questions if anything is unclear
  • always check with the pilot that the ship will have under-keel clearance at all times
  • always have your anchors ready to let go and forecastle manned in advance of berthing

          Equipment check

  • ensure main engines and thrusters are fully operational before approaching the berth. Main engines should be tested before arriving at the pilot station ahead and astern. Remote controls checked
  • ensure steering gears fully operational. Both steering motors operating. Hand steering mode operational
  • ensure all bridge equipment checked including engine movement recorders, VDR, radars, course recorders, echo sounders and all remote read outs. Use a bridge equipment check list

          Working with tugs

  • consider the use of tug assistance, where wind, tide and current or the ship’s handling characteristics create difficult berthing conditions
  • always estimate windage and use this estimate to determine the number of tugs required
  • when berthing with a bow thruster, a large ship may need a tug to control the ship’s stern
  • when estimating the number of tugs consider their bollard pull and propulsion arrangements


Handling characteristics will vary from ship type to ship type and from ship to ship. Handling qualities are determined by ship design, which in turn depends on the ship’s intended function. Typically, design ratios, such as a ship’s length to its beam, determine its willingness to turn. However, desirable handling qualities are achieved only when there is a balance between directional stability and directional instability.

         Underwater hull geometry

Length to beam (L/B), beam to draught (B/T), block coefficient, prismatic coefficient (ratios of the ship’s volume of displacement against the volume of a rectangular block or a prism) and location of longitudinal centre of buoyancy, all give an indication of how a ship will handle.

High values of L/B are associated with good course directional stability. Container ships are likely to have an L/B ratio of approximately 8, while harbour tugs, which need to be able to turn quickly and where course stability is not required, have a value of 2.5 to 3.

High values of B/T increase leeway and the tendency for a ship in a beam wind to ‘skate across the sea surface’. A B/T ratio of over 4 is large. Most merchant ships have a B/T ratio in the range of 2.75 to 3.75. A 22-metre fast motor yacht will have a B/T ratio of about 5.75.

Ships with large block and prismatic coefficients have poor course stability and a readiness to turn. When turning, they will do so easily. Large tankers have these characteristics.

Ships with a large protruding bulbous bow are likely to have their longitudinal centre of buoyancy far forward. As a result, the ship will show a tendency to turn.

         The pivot point

A ship rotates about a point situated along its length, called the ‘pivot point’. When a force is applied to a ship, which has the result of causing the ship to turn (for example, the rudder), the ship will turn around a vertical axis which is conveniently referred to as the pivot point.

The position of the pivot point depends on a number of influences. With headway, the pivot point lies between 1/4 and 1/3 of the ship’s length from the bow, and with sternway, it lies a corresponding distance from the stern. In the case of a ship without headway through the water but turning, its position will depend on the magnitude and position of the applied force(s), whether resulting from the rudder, thrusters, tug, wind or other influence.

The pivot point traces the path that the ship follows.

         Lateral motion

Ships move laterally when turning because the pivot point is not located at the ship’s centre. When moving forward and turning to starboard, the ship’s lateral movement is to port. When moving astern and turning to starboard, lateral movement is to starboard.

It is important to understand where the pivot point lies and how lateral movement can cause sideways drift; this knowledge is essential when manoeuvring close to hazards.

         Propeller and rudder

The rudder acts as a hydrofoil. By itself, it is a passive instrument and relies on water passing over it to give it ‘lift’ to make it more effective. Rudders are placed at the stern of a ship for this reason and to take advantage of the forward pivot point, which enhances the effect. Water flow is provided by the ship passing through the water and by the propeller forcing water over the rudder in the process of driving the ship. The optimum steerage force is provided by water flow generated by a turning propeller. Water flow is vital in maintaining control of the ship. While water flow provided by the ship’s motion alone can be effective, the effect will diminish as speed is reduced. Obstacles that deflect flow, such as a stopped propeller in front of the rudder, particularly when the propeller is large, can reduce rudder effectiveness. Reduced or disturbed flow will result in a poor response to rudder movements.

Conventional rudders are described as ‘balanced’; part of the rudder area is forward of the pintles to help the rudder turn and to ease the load on the steering motor. This arrangement provides for better hydrodynamic loading. A flap (Becker rudder) can be fitted to the rudder’s trailing edge. The flap works to increase the effective camber of the rudder and to increase lift.

Rudders can be defined by what is known as the ‘rudder area ratio’, which is a ratio of the surface area of the rudder divided by the ship’s side area beneath the water level. The rudder area ratio gives an indication of the likely effectiveness of a rudder. Merchant ship ratios range from 0.016 to 0.035. The larger the ratio, the greater the effect the rudder will have.

The balance between headway and lift is dependent on how much of the propeller disc is blanked by the rudder when hard over. This knowledge is important when considering the effect of a ‘kick ahead’. If the optimum rudder angle for a given speed is exceeded the radius of turn will increase because the rudder will generate more drag than lift.

          Thrust vectoring devices – Azimuth thrusters

Thrust vectoring devices are fitted as an alternative to a rudder. They operate under the principle that a rudder is effective because it deflects the propeller slipstream, which initiates a turn and maintains a state of balance once the turn is established. Consequently, manoeuvrability is enhanced when all the thrust from a propeller is vectored. Azimuthing ducted thrusters, cycloidal thrusters and pump jets all operate by directing thrust to initiate and to maintain the turn.

Azipods are devices where the prime mover is an electric motor, encased in an underwater streamlined pod, which connects directly to a propeller. Pods are fitted to the outside of a hull. They can be azimuthing i.e. used as a rotational device or used in a fixed position in a similar way as a fixed propeller. Propellers attached to them can push or pull. A propulsion pod acts as both propeller and rudder.

          Bow thrusters and their use

Lateral thrusters can be fitted in the bow or the stern.

          Bow thrusters

Their objectiveness will depend upon:

  • the distance between the thrusters and the ship’s pivot position
  • the forward draught
  • the ship’s speed

Lateral thrusters are most effective when a ship has neither headway nor sternway. They create a turning effect by providing a side force at their location. Their effectiveness will depend upon the distance between the thruster and ship’s pivot point. When berthing a ship that has a single bow thruster, and no stern thruster, it is important not to become too focused on the bow, because this can be controlled with the thruster. Plan to get the stern alongside as a priority. Remember that pure rotation can only be induced by two lateral thrusters, one forward and one aft, opposing each other, and that a tug may be needed to control the stern of a large ship.

Bow thrusters are used when it is required to ‘breast’ on to or off a berth, to move the ship’s head from a jetty or to turn the ship in a limited space. Modern ships fitted with a bow thruster will often berth without tug assistance.


However, a bow thruster will lose its effectiveness as a ship’s speed increases. Depending on the hull and thrust tunnel design, thrust effectiveness can be lost at between 2 and 5 knots. The reason for this is the merging of the slipstream from the thruster with the general flow around a forward moving hull. When speed increases above 2 knots, local loss of pressure over the hull, downstream from the thruster, creates a turning moment opposite to the moment produced by the thruster. The thruster may become ineffective.

Thrusting when stopped – When stopped and thrusting, a ship’s pivot point is likely to be aft. If a bow thruster is put to starboard on a stopped ship, the ship will turn to starboard.

Thrusting with headway – The pivot point will be forward, so thrusting will be ineffective, especially at high speeds.

Thrusting with sternway – The pivot point is aft and when the bow thruster is put to starboard, the ship’s bow will swing to starboard. The thruster will be effective, and will act as a form of ‘rudder’.

         Rudder response

The time it takes for the rudder to respond to a helm order will determine how rapidly a ship gets into a turn. The quicker the rudder responds, the sooner the ship will begin to turn.

         Single rudders and twin screw ships

Manoeuvring characteristics at low speeds will generally be poor on twin screw ships fitted with a single centre line rudder. This is because the single centre line rudder may have to be moved to large angles before any part of it becomes immersed in the slipstream of one of the propellers. When not immersed, the lift produced by the rudder at low speeds will be very small, resulting in large turning circles and poor helm response.

         Transverse thrust

Transverse thrust is the tendency for a forward or astern running propeller to move the stern to starboard or port. Transverse thrust is caused by interaction between the hull, propeller and rudder. The effect of transverse thrust is a slight tendency for the bow to swing to port on a ship with a right-handed propeller turning ahead.

Transverse thrust is more pronounced when propellers are moving astern.

When moving astern, transverse thrust is caused by water passing through the astern- moving propeller creating high pressure on the starboard quarter of the hull, which produces a force that pushes the ship’s stern to port. Rudder angle can influence the magnitude of this force.

Masters should be aware of the variable effect of transverse thrust. As water flow over a ship’s hull changes, so does transverse thrust. The difference is most noticeable in shallow water. For example, a ship that turns to starboard in deep water may well turn to port in shallow water. Also, the magnitude of the force will change and, by implication, there will be a range of water depths for which the bias may be difficult to predict, something that is especially true when a ship is stopping in water of reducing depth.

Transverse thrust is often used to help bring the ship’s stern alongside during berthing. When a propeller is put astern on a ship moving forward at speed, the initial effect of transverse thrust is slight. However, as the ship’s forward motion decreases, the effect of transverse thrust increases.

It is essential for a master to understand just how much effect transverse thrust has on his particular ship. He should also be aware on how the traverse effect can vary or change due to its currents and depths of water.

          Approach speed

Many berthing accidents occur because the speed of approach is too high. The master should advise the pilot of the ship’s stopping distance and general manoeuvring characteristics, giving particular emphasis to speed, corresponding engine revolutions and to the critical range. When close to a dock, speed should be the minimum necessary to maintain control. Masters should plan ahead with the pilot on if, and how many, tugs are to be to be used.

          Control while slowing

It can be difficult to reduce speed and maintain control. This is because reduction in propeller speed reduces water flow over the rudder and the rudder becomes less effective. The normal procedure for stopping is to put engines astern. However, when a propeller rotates astern, water flow over the rudder is broken and the ship will be less responsive to helm. In addition, there is the disruptive effect of transverse thrust.

For this reason, it is essential to plan a stop by reducing speed in good time. Also, it should be appreciated that putting engines to full astern during an emergency could result in a loss of steerage.

          Kick ahead (astern)

The ‘kick ahead’ is used when a ship is moving forward at very slow speed due to minimal water flow over the rudder and the ship is not responding to helm. It is also used to initiate a turn or to maintain a heading. Engines are put ahead for a short burst with the objective of increasing water flow over the rudder, but without increasing the ship’s speed. Engine power is reduced before the ship’s longitudinal inertia is overcome and she begins to accelerate.

When using the ‘kick ahead’, it should be borne in mind that prolonged and frequent kicks ahead will increase the ship’s speed; the master should know his ship and how it reacts to ‘kicks ahead’ or astern. Note for example that ships with hull growth tend to the slower and more ‘sluggish’ at slow speeds. Apply full rudder before initiating the ‘kick ahead’ to provide maximum steering force. Anything less than hard over during turning will allow a greater proportion of the power to drive the ship ahead. It is important to reduce engine power before reducing helm.


Wind and its effect

Wind has a significant effect on a ship. It causes heading changes and leeway. Failure to compensate correctly for wind during berthing is a significant cause of berthing accidents. The difficulty in allowing for wind arises from the variable effect that wind can have on a ship because of changes in a ship’s heading and speed.

Wind has special significance in the handling of high-sided ships such as car carriers, container ships, bulk and tankers in ballast. The effect will vary with the relative wind direction and the speed of the ship. Although wind force and direction can be estimated from information obtained from a variety of sources, such as weather forecasts, VTS information, the ship’s own wind instrumentation and personal observation, local conditions can change rapidly and with little warning. Control of a ship can be easily lost during the passage of a squall. There is an obvious need to understand how wind will affect your ship, and how this effect can be difficult to predict. For example, it might appear logical that the effect of wind on a tanker stopped in the water would cause the bow to swing towards the wind. However, experience shows that a tanker stopped in the water will usually lie with the wind forward of the beam rather than fine on the bow.

It is especially difficult to predict the effect of wind on a partially loaded container ship. Ships with high sides and large windage, car carriers, loaded containers and passenger ships, for example, should always keep an eye on changes in wind direction. Cloud formations to windward can often be an indication of approaching squalls.

         The centre of lateral resistance

The force of the wind causes the ship to drift and, by doing so, hydrodynamic forces act on the underwater hull to resist the effect of the wind. The point of influence of these underwater forces is known as the Centre of Lateral Resistance (CLR) and is the point

on the underwater hull at which the whole hydrodynamic force can be considered to act. Similarly, there is a point of influence of wind (W) which has an important relationship with the CLR. W is likely to alter frequently as it will change in relation to the wind direction and the ship’s heading.

To anticipate the effect wind will have on a ship’s heading, W must be viewed in relation to CLR.

Ship handlers prefer to refer to pivot point (P) rather than CLR when discussing the effects of wind on a ship with headway or sternway. However, a stopped ship does not have a pivot point and for this reason CLR should always be used. In the discussion which follows, CLR is used for a stopped ship and P for a ship with motion.

         The point of influence of wind

The point of influence of wind (W) is that point on the ship’s above-water structure upon which the whole force of the wind can be considered an act.

Unlike a ship’s centre of gravity, the point of influence of wind moves depending on the profile of the ship presented to the wind. When a ship is beam to the wind, W will be fairly close to the mid-length point, slightly aft in the case of ships with aft accommodation and slightly forward if the accommodation is forward.

A ship will always want to settle into a position where the pivot point and point of influence of wind are in alignment.


Water depth

Water depth has a profound effect on manoeuvring. In a harbour, water depth may vary from deep water to conditions in which there is danger of touching bottom. The

behaviour of the ship changes with changes in water depth. A ship’s resistance increases as water depth reduces. The increase becomes significant when the water depth is less than twice the mean draught. The effect of this increased resistance is a reduction in speed, unless engine revolutions are increased.

As well as speed, water depth affects manoeuvring, and as depth and under-keel clearance reduce, turning ability deteriorates, virtual mass increases (increase in a ship’s mass resulting from water being dragged along with the ship) and the effect of the propeller’s transverse thrust on yaw alters. As a result, a ship can become difficult, if not impossible, to control during a stopping manoeuvre as the rudder loses the beneficial effects of the propeller slipstream, and the bias off-course may become more pronounced. The increase in virtual mass is most noticeable when a ship is breasting on to a quay or jetty. Virtual mass in sway motion is invariably large, increasing as under-keel clearance reduces. Consequently, any impact with a quay wall jetty or fender will be much more severe if under-keel clearance

is small. Similarly, when a large ship moored in shallow water is allowed to move, the momentum can be considerable. Fortunately, the situation is alleviated by the considerably increased damping of any movement that is a consequence of shallow water and small under-keel clearance.

Water depth limits a ship’s speed. There is a maximum speed that a conventional displacement ship can achieve in shallow water which can be less than the normal service speed. This is called the ‘limiting speed’. Limiting speed needs to be considered during passage planning. Knowledge of areas where ship’s speed is limited by water depth is important because any increase in engine power to overcome the limiting speed will greatly increase wash. In simple terms, the limiting speed can be calculated from the formula:

Vlim = 4.5 √ h

where h is the water depth in metres and Vlim is speed in knots.

In shallow water, and because of insufficient engine power, a conventional ship may be unable to overcome the limiting speed. However, some powerful ships such as fast ferries can overcome limiting speed but in doing so produce dangerous wash.


Squat is the increase in draught and trim that occurs when a ship moves on the surface of the sea. At low speed, a ship sinks bodily and trims by the head. At high speed, a ship bodily lifts and trims by the stern. At especially high speed, the ship can plane. However, squat is greatest in shallow water where the resulting increase in draught and trim can cause grounding.

This, of course, provides a further limit on speed in shallow water, consideration of grounding due to squat being especially important if the under-keel clearance is 10% or less of the draught and the speed is 70% or more of the limiting speed.

In shallow water, squat can be estimated by adding 10% to the draught or 0.3 metres for every 5 knots of speed. High speed in shallow water can also adversely affect a ship’s course ability to steer. Squat effect will vary from ship to ship.

          Interaction with other ships

Just as ships can interact with banks, they can also interact with other ships. The same basic physical factors are involved: shallow water, speed and distance. When one ship comes too close to another at high speed, then one or more things can happen. The ship may turn towards, or be drawn towards the other ship, or both ships may sheer away from each other, or the ship may turn towards (across) the other’s bows.

These hydrodynamic effects are collectively known as ‘interaction’. They can, and do, lead to collisions or contact. Interaction is accentuated by shallow water when a large hydrodynamic effect can render a ship almost impossible to control. To minimise their effect, it is essential that masters anticipate the situation, that speed is reduced before the encounter, if practicable, and that the maximum passing distance is maintained. This is especially true when overtaking.

Interaction is more of a problem when overtaking than when crossing on a reciprocal course, because the forces have more time to ‘take hold’ of the other ship. But it should be remembered that both ships are affected by the interaction and both should take care to minimise its effect. Research has shown that mariners accept closer passing distances

for overtaking ships than for crossing ships.

          Approach channels

Approach channels allow a deep-draught ship to enter an otherwise shallow port and may provide many of the external factors that affect manoeuvring.

The width, depth and alignment of many approach channels are now subject to rigorous analysis at the design stage so that they provide the minimum hazard to ships that move along them. They are designed for single or two-way traffic and their width, depth and alignment are an optimised compromise between acceptable marine risk on the one hand and economic acceptability (with regard to dredging costs) on the other.


         Port-side berthing

A bow thruster can be used to position the bow with a degree of precision, however, bow thrust will not help to control the stern. Transverse thrust can be used to bring the stern of small ships alongside. However, on a larger ship that is not fitted with a stern thruster, a tug can be secured aft to control the stern while bow thrust is used to control the bow.

The recommended procedure is to stop the ship off the berth and then work her alongside, using bow thrust and a tug to provide lateral power.

         Starboard-side berthing

A bow thruster enables the bow to be positioned with a degree of precision. However, without tug assistance, the difficulty of getting the stern alongside remains. Consequently, positioning the stern remains a priority. The use of bow thrust alone to bring the bow alongside, before the stern, is likely to cause the stern to move away from the berth. This situation is difficult to remedy. Once the ship is in position, berthing can be completed using bow thrust until the bow is alongside. When a tug is secured aft, control of the stern is greatly improved.


Anchors are an effective berthing aid. Anchors can be used for berthing without tug assistance on ships without bow thrusters and, in an emergency, to stop any ship.

          Dredging anchors (sometimes known as ‘kedging’)

A dredging anchor will hold the bow steady while allowing a ship to move forward or aft. A bow anchor can be dredged from a ship going forward or astern. The advantages of dredging an anchor when moving forward are principally that the ship’s pivot point moves to the position of the hawse pipe and, to overcome the anchor’s drag, propulsive power is used giving good steering at low speed. When going forward, corrective action will be needed to prevent the bow from swinging to port or starboard.

The intention is for the anchor to drag and not to dig in. If the anchor does dig in, it could cause the ship to stop and necessitate breaking the anchor out again. Digging in can also damage the ship, anchor or windlass. It is therefore important to use as little cable as possible; typically a length of cable that is between one and a half and two times the depth of the water.

Local knowledge regarding the nature and condition of the seabed is important to avoid dredging in an area where the bottom is foul. Dredging an anchor can be used to control the bow when manoeuvring into a downwind berth.

          Emergency anchoring

In an emergency, anchors can be very effective in stopping a ship, provided the anchor is lowered to the seabed and the cable progressively paid out. Initially, the anchor should be allowed to dredge and gradually build up its holding power until its braking effect begins to reduce the ship’s speed. This is why only experienced personnel should be posted forward on stand-by. Care should be taken when trying to stop any ship in this way, especially a large ship, as the anchor and its equipment may ‘carry away’ causing damage or injury particularly if the anchor should snag.


The key to any port approach is planning and both anchors should be made ready before a port approach or river transit. A part of the passage plan and/or pilot exchange should be the use of anchors and where the dangers are in relation to sub-sea pipe lines and cables. These should be highlighted on the charts. It is too late to check in an emergency.


It is evident from the other chapters of this Master’s Guide dealing with the technical aspects of ship berthing that the effective use of pilotage and towage services is crucial in avoiding accidents. It is therefore important to reflect briefly on the legal responsibilities of pilots, those engaged in towage services, and the ships that they assist.


The relationship between the master and the pilot is fraught with potential difficulties and conflict. The pilot directs the navigation of the ship, but the master still retains overall command and control. The freedom that the master gives to the pilot varies from master to master but also depends upon the circumstances in which the pilotage takes place. The master of a large foreign-going ship entering a difficult channel will tend to adopt a more passive attitude to the pilot than a coastal master who knows the area intimately.

The way in which the law interprets this relationship, and the rights and responsibilities of each to the other and to third parties, obviously differs from country to country and the following is therefore offered as a general overview. In many legal systems, the customary rules and statutory enactments provide a confused and sometimes contradictory picture, which tends to the conclusion that a master, when considering how to operate with a pilot, should be guided more by common sense and self-preservation than by precise legal principles.

The pilot owes a professional duty of care to those whom he serves, which assumes a knowledge and awareness of local conditions. The pilot is therefore generally liable to the shipowner, and to third parties, for a failure to exercise such care. In practice, however, such a responsibility is largely illusory since the pilot, as an individual, has few assets with which to satisfy any award of damages. Also the extent of his liability is often restricted at law or limited in amount, although he may also be subject to criminal sanctions under any relevant legislation as a result of his actions.

Where there is injury or damage to the property of a third party caused by the pilot’s negligence, the third party will naturally look to the shipowner for compensation. Commonly, the pilot is seen as the servant or agent of the master/shipowner. His faults or errors are therefore taken to be those of the master/shipowner. There may be a possibility of a recourse action against the harbour authority, port commission or canal company that employs the negligent pilot. If, however, the relevant body merely acts as a licensing authority, it will not be liable for pilot error. Pilot associations are also generally immune from liability for the actions of their members.

Given the lack of practical accountability of the pilot, it is tempting to ignore any detailed legal analysis of the relationship between the master and the pilot. This would be a mistake since the principles which have been articulated in various legal jurisdictions provide a well considered view on the way in which the relationship should operate most effectively. In terms of engagement, the master is only legally bound to employ a pilot in an area of compulsory pilotage. However, the master may be found liable for not employing a pilot where it can be shown that such failure caused or contributed to an accident. Whilst the pilot may assume control of the navigation of the ship, this does not relieve the master of his command of the ship. The master therefore retains both the right and the responsibility to intervene in the actions of the pilot, for example, where he perceives the threat of an imminent danger to the ship or when the pilot is obviously incapacitated in some way.

There is therefore a divided authority, with both the master and the pilot continuing to have active roles that may potentially conflict. The pilot is the servant of the master and is responsible for giving advice on navigation, speed, course, stopping and reversing. The ship’s master is responsible for the ship and the entire operation including difficulties, monitoring the pilot’s actions and maintaining a proper lookout. The pilot in turn should expect a well-regulated and seaworthy ship with competent bridge personnel that provide him with proper assistance and information.


Towage has been defined as ‘a service rendered by one vessel to aid the propulsion or to expedite the movement of another vessel’. Towage can take place in many different

circumstances and can be part of salvage or wreck removal operation following a casualty. It can also occur when a ship is in distress in order to avoid a casualty occurring. In the vast majority of cases, however, towage is a routine operation, particularly within the confines of a port. This is referred to as customary towage.

An agent of the ship, or the charterer, usually requests the services of a tug for port towage. Once engaged, however, the tug may take its orders from any pilot on board the towed ship and therefore the presence of tugs adds to the complexities of the relationship between the master and pilot referred to above. The pilot and the master should be fully aware of each tug’s power and handling characteristics but the responsibility for engaging tug assistance, where required, rests with the ship’s master, and the ship’s master may be found negligent in not engaging a tug to assist where the circumstances warrant it and an accident occurs. Every shipowner should leave the question of tug assistance to the discretion of the master who must make a judgement based on the prevailing circumstances.

The rights and responsibilities of the tug and the towed ship, with regards to each other and in relation to third parties, are generally dealt with in the applicable towage contract. In most cases, the contract will be based on industry standard terms that lay down clearly the division of responsibility between the two entities. Specific port user agreements exist, but standard form contracts, such as the UK Standard Towage Conditions, the Netherlands Towage Conditions or the Scandinavian Conditions, are used in most cases. These all favour the tug, although in the USA, the Supreme Court has held that any clauses in a towage contract purporting to relieve the tug owner of liability for negligence are invalid as being against public policy. In Japan, the tug owner must exercise due diligence to make the tug seaworthy at the time she leaves the port and is liable for any damage to the tow caused by any failure to do so. Generally, in the absence of clear wording to the contrary, a court will apply as an implied term of the towage contract that the tug owner warrants to exercise due diligence to make the tug seaworthy at the commencement of the towage.


The master has the ultimate responsibility for the safe navigation of his ship. He must be cooperative with the pilot, yet assertive. He must remember that he is in command not the pilot. He must be confident that the pilot is doing his duties correctly and he must be ready to take over if the pilot is not fulfilling his duties.

In most occasions, pilotage is compulsory. The majority of accidents during berthing occur with a pilot on the bridge. No berthing guide would be complete without reference to the master/pilot relationship. With kind permission of the International Chamber of Shipping, Intertanko and OCIMF we have reprinted the following text from their guide ‘International Best Practices for Maritime Pilotage’.

International Best Practices for Maritime Pilotage

These recommendations are for the guidance of masters, their supporting personnel and pilots in laying down the minimum standards to be expected of the pilotage service given on board ships in pilotage waters worldwide and aims to clarify the roles of the master and the pilot and the working relationship between them.

Such guidance is designed to supplement existing regulations and standard references on pilotage which include, but are not limited to, those listed in Section 10.

         1. Principles for the safe conduct of pilotage

  1. Efficient pilotage is chiefly dependent upon the effectiveness of the communications and information exchanges between the pilot, the master and other bridge personnel and upon the mutual understanding each has for the functions and duties of the others. Ship’s personnel, shore based ship management and the relevant port and pilotage authorities should utilise the proven concept of “Bridge Team Management”. Establishment of effective co-ordination between the pilot, master and other ship’s personnel, taking due account of the ship’s systems and the equipment available to the pilot is a prerequisite for the safe conduct of the ship through pilotage waters.
  2. The presence of a pilot on the ship does not relieve the master or officer in charge of the navigational watch from their duties and obligations for the safe conduct of the ship.

         2. Provision of information for berth to berth passage planning

  • Ships should provide the relevant port or pilotage authority with basic information regarding their arrival intentions and ship characteristics, such as draught and dimensions, as required by the port or other statutory obligations. This should be completed well in advance of the planned arrival and in accordance with local requirements.
  • In acknowledging receipt of this information, the appropriate port or pilotage authority should pass relevant information back to the ship (either directly or via agents) as soon as it becomes available. Such information should include as a minimum: the pilot boarding point; reporting and communications procedures; and sufficient details of the prospective berth, anchorage and routing information to enable the master to prepare a provisional passage plan to the berth prior to his arrival. However, masters should recognise that not all of this information may be available in sufficient detail to complete the passage plan until the pilot has boarded the ship.

          3. Master pilot information exchange

  • The pilot and the master should exchange information regarding the pilot’s intentions, the ship’s characteristics and operational parameters as soon as possible after the pilot has boarded the ship. The ICS Master/Pilot Exchange Forms (Annexes A1 and A2 of the ICS Bridge Procedures Guide) or the company equivalent format, should be completed by both the master and pilot to help ensure ready availability of the information and that nothing is omitted in error.
  • The exchange of information regarding pilotage and the passage plan should include clarification of:
    • roles and responsibilities of the master, pilot and other members of the bridge management team
    • navigational intentions
    • local conditions including navigational or traffic constraints
    • tidal and current information
    • berthing plan and mooring boat use
    • proposed use of tugs
    • expected weather conditions

After taking this information into account and comparing the pilot’s suggested plan with that initially developed on board, the pilot and master should

agree an overall final plan early in the passage before the ship is committed. The master should not commit his ship to the passage until satisfied with the plan. All parties should be aware that elements of the plan may change.

  • Contingency plans should also be made which should be followed in the event of a malfunction or a shipboard emergency, identifying possible abort points and safe grounding areas. These should be discussed and agreed between pilot and master.

          4. Duties and responsibilities

  • The pilot, master and bridge personnel share a responsibility for good communications and mutual understanding of the other’s role for the safe conduct of the ship in pilotage waters. They should also clarify their respective roles and responsibilities so that the pilot can be easily and successfully integrated into the normal bridge management team.
  • The pilot’s primary duty is to provide accurate information to ensure the safe navigation of the ship. In practice, the pilot will often con the ship on the master’s behalf.
  • The master retains the ultimate responsibility for the safety of his ship. He and his bridge personnel have a duty to support the pilot and to monitor his actions. This should include querying any actions or omissions by the pilot (or any other member of the bridge management team) if inconsistent with the passage plan or if the safety of the ship is in any doubt.


         5. Preparation for pilotage

  • The pilot should:
    • ensure he is adequately rested prior to an act of pilotage, in good physical and mental fitness and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol
    • prepare information for incorporation into the ship’s passage plan by keeping up to date with navigational, hydrographic and meteorological information as well as traffic movements within the pilotage area
    • establish communication with the ship to make arrangements for boarding
  • In supporting the pilot, the master and bridge personnel should:
    • ensure they are adequately rested prior to an act of pilotage, in good physical and mental fitness and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol
    • draw upon the preliminary information supplied by the relevant port or pilotage authority along with published data (for example, charts, tide tables, light lists, sailing directions and radio lists) in order to develop a provisional passage plan prior to the ship’s arrival
    • prepare suitable equipment and provide sufficient personnel for embarking the pilot in a safe and expedient manner
    • establish communications with the pilot station to confirm boarding details

         6. Pilot boarding

  • The boarding position for pilots should be located, where practicable, at a great enough distance from the port so as to allow sufficient time for a comprehensive face-to-face exchange of information and agreement of the final pilotage passage plan. The position chosen should allow sufficient sea-room to ensure that the ship’s safety is not put in danger, before, during or directly after such discussions; neither should it impede the passage of other ships.
  • The pilot should:
    • take all necessary personal safety precautions, including using or wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment and ensuring items are properly maintained
    • check that boarding equipment appears properly rigged and manned
    • liaise with the master so that the ship is positioned and manoeuvred to permit safe boarding
  • In supporting the pilot, the master and ship’s personnel should:
    • ensure that the means of pilot embarkation and disembarkation are properly positioned, rigged, maintained and manned in accordance with IMO recommendations and, where applicable, other port requirements
    • the master should liaise with the pilot station/transfer craft so that the ship is positioned and manoeuvred to ensure safe boarding

         7. Conduct of passage in pilotage waters

  • It is essential that a face-to-face master/pilot exchange (MPX) described in section 3.1 results in clear and effective communication and the willingness of the pilot, master and bridge personnel to work together as part of a bridge management team. English language or a mutually agreed common language or the IMO Standard Marine Communication Phrases should be used, and all members of the team share a responsibility to highlight any perceived errors or omissions by other team members, for clarification.
  • The master and bridge personnel should:
    • within the bridge management team, interact with the pilot providing confirmation of his directions and feed back when they have been complied with
    • monitor at all times the ship’s speed and position as well as dynamic factors affecting the ship (for example, weather conditions, manoeuvring responses and density of traffic)
    • confirm on the chart at appropriate intervals the ship’s position and the positions of navigational aids, alerting the pilot to any perceived inconsistencies
  • The pilot should:
    • ensure that the master is able to participate in any discussions when one pilot relinquishes his duty to another pilot
    • report to the relevant authority any irregularity within the passage, including deficiencies concerning the operation, manning, or equipment of the ship

          8. Berthing and unberthing

  • The necessity of co-operation and a close working relationship between the master and pilot during berthing and unberthing operations is extremely important to the safety of the ship. In particular, both the pilot and the master should discuss and agree which one of them will be responsible for operating key equipment and controls (such as main engine, helm and thrusters).
  • The pilot should:
    • co-ordinate the efforts of all parties engaged in the berthing or unberthing operation (for example, tug crews, linesmen, ship’s crew). His intentions and actions should be explained immediately to the bridge management team, in the previously agreed appropriate language
  • In supporting the pilot, the master and bridge personnel should:
    • ensure that the pilot’s directions are conveyed to the ship’s crew and are correctly implemented
    • ensure that the ship’s crew provide the bridge management team with relevant feedback information
    • advise the pilot once his directions have been complied with, where an omission has occurred or if a potential problem exists

          9. Other matters

  • The pilot should:
    • assist interested parties such as port authorities, national authorities and flag administrations in reporting and investigating incidents involving ships whilst under pilotage, subject to the laws and regulations of the relevant authorities
    • in observing the recommendations within this document pilots should meet or exceed the requirements set down in IMO Assembly Resolution A.485(XII) and its annexes
    • should report to the appropriate authority anything observed which may affect safety of navigation or pollution prevention, including any incident that may have occurred to the piloted ship
    • refuse pilotage when the ship to be piloted is believed to pose a danger to the safety of navigation or to the environment. Any such refusal, together with the reason, should immediately be reported to the appropriate authority for further action.

1 Comment

  1. The last item that pilot should do, in many case is hard to enforce. Hopefully we can become a maritime nation that maintain maritime safety as the main basis of maritime policy.

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