Accordingly, retractable pilothouses offer towing vessel operators great flexibility in meeting the many operational demands facing inland navigation including improved field of view when raised, thus improving an operator’s situational awareness.

Yet, they hide many risks during operations; Firstly, when a pilothouse is being lowered down there is a high possibility it could fall to individuals below. Secondly, some pilothouses operate in an "emergency mode", which increases the rate of descent and consequently provides less time for workers to recognize the danger and avoid the pilothouse and associated movable gear while it is being lowered.


USCG notes that some pilothouses may lack alarms concerning an emergency mode operation, increasing the potential risk for the personnel. Similarly, lack of fail-safe mechanism, failure of the hydraulic cylinder or other system component may not provide sufficient time for a crewmember to recognize the imminent hazard, safely exit the danger zone and avoid a catastrophe.

Therefore, in light of the above the USCG recommends that towing vessel owners and operators that utilize retractable pilothouses should:

  1. Ensure pilothouses are installed with mechanisms capable of returning the pilothouse to a fail-safe locked condition in case of a failure or malfunction;
  2. Ensure the pilothouses are equipped to sound an audible and visual alarm during all modes of pilothouse hydraulic movement;
  3. Instruct operators to confirm personnel are clear of the danger zone before moving the pilothouse;
  4. Instruct all personnel to never position themselves under the retractable pilothouse, even temporarily;
  5. Clearly mark and place physical barriers around the perimeter of the pilothouse danger zone and discourage unauthorized personnel movement under the pilothouse;
  6. Incorporate into the Towing Safety Management System the company/vessel’s policy and procedures, information about the potential dangers, audible and visual alarms, and safety considerations regarding operation of the pilothouses;
  7. Ensure new crewmembers receive proper training regarding the dangers and that all personnel receive annual refresher training.