Pilot Ladders Update

Further to last quarter’s report on London pilot Jon Stafford’s fall from a pilot ladder there is very good news from the IMO in the form of Resolution A1045 which was formally adopted on 30th November last year.

The Resolution includes specifications for the following:

Step construction

Step fixing to the sideropes

Location of spreaders

distance between steps

Side ropes

Combination ladders

Ladders from deck reels

Deck access

Ships gate openings


The maximum permitted width of the gate openings under this Resolution would almost certainly have prevented Jon’s accident.

However, although a very welcome document, A1045 fails to address one aspect of the ladder which has caused many accidents and near misses and that is the fixing of the ladder to the deck and the point where the ladder passes over the bulwarks. In the last few months the UKMPA has received two reports of pilot ladders failing due to the fraying of the side ropes where they pass over a sharp bulwark lip such as is found on tankers. One of these resulted in an injury to the pilot.

The potential danger posed by a sharp bulwark is enhanced by the possibility of the cutter jamming against the bottom steps on a rolling ship. In response to Jon’s article, I received a letter from a UK pilot who suffered injury a few years ago as a result of the severing of the  side ropes due to such jamming. In that case the pilot was disembarking on a brand new ladder and as the ship rolled away from the cutter he recalls that “I couldn’t believe it, it was like a slow motion film. I saw the strands parting one by one and knew that I was going to fall! I fell down the ships side onto the deck of the cutter about 5 metres”. Properly trained cutter cox’ns and AB’s should never allow this to happen and pilots shouldn’t get on the ladder until they are sure that there isn’t any risk of the ladder being trapped between the cutter and the hull.

Another aspect of pilot ladders causing increasing concern is the securing  method. The method of using ropes to secure the ladder to pad eyes welded onto the deck is being replaced by all sorts of “innovative” arrangements. The most common of these is shackling the side ropes to the deck. Given the experiences of the pilot of the USS Howard above it could be argued that today’s seaman might be more competent at doing up a shackle than tying a knot but how safe is it?

The other new unregulated practice is the welding of a plate on deck where the steps can be hooked over. This is quick and simple but it places a severe stress on the step and unless fitted with a locking mechanism the step could jump out of the bracket. The followiing photo shows just such an arrangement that Dave Williamson found on deck after a 9m climb!

A1045 is a great achievement for IMPA after years of work. We now need IMO to start addressing the deck securing and access arrangements. Meanwhile, any pilot coming across a dangerous access should photograph it and send it to the T&TC and IMPA.             JCB

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