In light of a recent survey conducted by Maritime New Zealand which focused on pilot boarding arrangements, a large number of findings indicated that pilot ladders were incorrectly secured to the ship.

Recently, New Zealand's High Court issued specific requirements for pilot licences according to which those wanting to train as Pilots in New Zealand must hold a Master certificate or the equivalent.

# Shortening pilot ladders #

A number of these reports are about the use of pilot ladders which are longer in comparison to the draught of the vessel, as shown in the photo below.

Credit: Maritime New Zealand

Consequently, the excessively long ladders require shortening up before being deployed for pilots to use when boarding. Pilot ladders that are too long for the ship's freeboard are commonly shortened by the use of D-shackles to choke the side ropes at the required height along the ladder’s length.

To shorten the ladder, the D-shackle is securely placed to a hard point on the deck, as the pad eye. Then, the rope of the ladder is threaded through the shackle.

Credit: Maritime New Zealand

However, this method of shortening a ladder causes the weight of the ladder to be taken up by the D-shackle. As a result, this heavily impacts the mechanical securing clamps which secure the ladder treads in place.

To avoid any accidents, Maritime New Zealand recommends that pilot ladders should be secured using the thimble at the rope ends.

Credit: Maritime New Zealand

# Challenges #

Ladders are designed based on the standards established by SOLAS V/23 and Res A 1045(27); If constructed accordingly, they will ensure the treads are secured in position using mechanical clamping devices (referred to as widgets). The widgets are held in place by seizing twine immediately above and below each tread.

In addition, using D-shackles to secure the ladder side ropes damages these widgets and the seizing twine. If both the equipment is damaged, this may conclude to adjacent treads becoming loose.

Moreover, the weight of the ladder on the widgets could also cause damage; The steps would no longer be held firmly in the horizontal position, meaning that the steps can become free to rotate underfoot as the pilots climb the ladder.

# Safety recommendations #

To prevent the conditions above and ensure safety, Maritime New Zealand recommends:

  1. Masters and senior officers should physically check the current method of securing the ship’s pilot ladder to ensure that crew are securing the ladder correctly.
  2. Refer to the ship’s construction drawings to ensure that the actual securing method is the same as the method given in the ship’s drawings, or approved safety management system.
  3. To avoid ships being delayed in port, where existing pilot ladders are too long for the expected range of freeboards, Masters must find an appropriate safe method for securing the ladder at the rope-end thimbles. If the existing arrangement cannot be shortened correctly, the Master should consider contacting their local port agent to obtain a shorter ladder for use on the New Zealand coast.

If you are unsure, talk to a Maritime Officer at your local port for guidance

... Maritime NZ concludes.