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Design and Management of a Pilotage Service: A Case Study of Port Belfast


This work aims at establishing the procedures involved in the design and management of appropriate pilotage services such as pilotage requirements and the standard criteria for expected ship status. It will also highlight the factors to be considered such as pilot boarding, info to be provided, anchorage area and departure notification as the major points. In this case the port of Belfast will be the sample port and an analytical design and management criteria will be established according to the situation of this port. Relevant and credible sources will be used to gain an in-depth understanding of pilotage systems.

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Harbour authorities are responsible for the provision of efficient pilotage services and the generation of new requirements and guidelines. They should strive to exercise control over the provision of the service, including the use of pilotage directions, examination and relevant training of the pilots to improve the quality of their services. Pilotage in general should be wholly integrated with other relevant port safety authorities.

Authorised pilots are accountable to the harbour authorities; the harbour authorities should sign contracts with authorised pilots which regulate the conditions under which they work including the procedures for resolving disputes. (MSMS Pilotage Manual, 2009)

Pilotage Policy

According to the Pilotage Act established in 1987, specific emphasis should be awarded based on the conditions in which pilotage occurs and the vessel dimensions for compulsory pilotage should also be outlined.

In order to meet the above requirements it should be ensured that the appropriate level of pilotage service is provided as follows:

  • The common qualification standard is the Pilotage Exemption Certificate (PEC).
  • Appropriate procedures to be used in assessing applicants should be established. The methods that are then adopted should be made public and records kept.
  • PEC certificates should then be issued to qualified mariners.

Design and Management

Requirements for pilotage

The pilotage requirements within the Port of Belfast are to be determined using risk assessment techniques, which form the basis for preparing the pilotage directions. Risk assessments like berthing risk possibilities and navigational risk possibilities are carried out. The analysis and findings are reviewed to give account to unseen changes in port operations and any variations in navigational practices within the port limits that pose as potential risks. The recommended period between each review is 36 months.

In order to have a revision done to the qualifications for pilotage, the Port of Belfast consults with ship owners who use the port, and those who conduct operations within the port, this including towage companies, pilot boat coxswains and their respective pilots. The process is undertaken through correspondence and arranged workshops. The feedback and findings are later retained for audit. (PMSC, 2010)

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In their work the pilots are governed by various conditions. For example, the pilots are liable to the master, even during the act of pilotage they are still responsible to the master of the vessel being piloted.

Criteria for Expected Ship Status

A pilot at times may need to have the master of the ship he/she is piloting to declare its specifications such as draught, length and beam, and any other relevant information. This information is necessary as it enables the pilot to carry out his pilot duties and ensure the safety of all crew members.

The ship master should inform the pilot of defects and any other issues pertaining to the ship, its mechanisms and equipment, which he is aware of and are likely to affect the navigation of the ship.

A certified pilot carrying out berthing and unberthing duties of a vessel in the United Kingdom, must inform the authorities so that they can assess the suitability of the pilot in carrying out such duties. Incase they come to the knowledge of shortcomings which may threaten the safety of the vessel, the crew or the environment the harbour authorities shall immediately inform the MCA. (IMPA, 1990)

Pilotage Procedures

Arrangement of a Pilot

The arrangement of a pilot should be co-ordinated by the VTS operator using the Marine Information System (MIS) at the Port of Belfast. The MIS holds the estimated arrival and departure times for all vessels entering, moving within and departing the port. This also contains the details and the characteristics of the vessel, its pilotage and towage requirements and whether pilotage is from the inner or outer pilot boarding/disembarking point. If a qualified pilot cannot be provided at provide the required point, the vessel is delayed until a pilot can be found.

A vessel that has not acquired a pilot is not permitted to move within the port limits without a pilot unless in exceptional circumstances under the direction of the harbour master. This is however a very unusual occurrence and is recorded in the harbour records.


Once allocated a vessel, the pilot is given the appropriate data to facilitate the act of pilotage. This information given is on the vessel, present defects or past recurring defects, the environmental conditions, intentions and requirements of the sailing mission.

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This is co-ordinated with the operator of the VTS who makes a sign checklist to confirm that all systems will be in place when required. Only then is the vessel allowed to enter port limits, otherwise, it is delayed. The vessel may also be delayed if by any chance the pilot is uncomfortable about the proposed operation. In such an occasion a review is held in consultation with the harbour master to find the best solution. This process is recorded on an IRIMS report.

Whereas in instances when a pilot is required to move one ship close or next to another, the VTS operator will plan the operation and issue the pilot with the required details for the manoeuver. If critical information cannot be acquired, the vessel is delayed until the pilot has all the required information.

Pilot Boarding and Disembarking Points

The allocated disembarking and boarding points on the Port of Belfast are seaward of beacon 12 and 1 mile east of the fairway buoy. These points are reviewed as part of the planning for each act of pilotage and if considered inappropriate for any reason the pilot will arrange an alternative boarding point through consultation with the harbour master and the vessel’s master. This process is reported by the VTS using the IRIMS report and forwarded to the harbour master.

Pilot Boarding Position

The pilot should always board in a position of a minimum of 1 mile east of the fairway buoy, at this point there is sufficient sea room for maneuver, relatively suitable and steady water conditions, the area is also sheltered from the harsh elements of predominant winds and weather.

Pilot boarding will be arranged between the vessel and the VTS. It should be however noted, and taken into consideration, that vessels may not be able to give an effective lee when in the channel at no.12 beacon.

The Pilot and the master should ensure that vessels have enough water, compared to their draught, to make passage to their berth, always taking into account any adjustments for squat. All vessels will have a minimal clearance under 10% their size or 1m depending on whichever is the greater. However, some azipod vessels usually require a larger under keel clearance. Some cruise liners have been recorded to require up to 1.8m, if not passing in on arrival, congestion, tidal or any other operational constraints. (Solas, 2004)

Factors to Be Considered

Pilot boarding

Pilots will board the incoming vessels within an area of up to two nautical miles south of the harbour entrance. Depending on the vessel, they will board from four hours before high water noting that tidal conditions after high water make the entry of vessels unsafe.

A pilot ladder shall be rigged around 1 metre from the water, as far as can be attained on the vessel’s parallel body and on the agreed lee side.

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Information to be provided

The vessel master, is meant to provide the pilot with information that he requires to carry out his duties. The master should provide the pilot with all the data the pilot requires to complete the mandatory master/pilot exchange form. In particular the master must declare any defect or deficiency that affects the vessel’s normal ability to navigate and/or manoeuvre or its ability to comply with all the requirements of the COLREGS and/or STCW regulations.

Anchorage area

The usual anchorage area for vessels is approximately 1.5 to 2 nautical miles offshore in sand and shingle. In chalk and clay the depths are usually approximately 7 metres. It is up to the master to decide on the conditions of anchoring and an efficient anchor watch must be maintained at all times.

Departure notification

An outward pilot should be called upon in not less than 90 minutes before the planned time of departure from the berth. Earlier bookings may expedite departure and avoid delays.

Pilot disembarkation

Pilots disembark from the vessel only when it has safely arrived the harbour entrance and as it leaves the pilotage area. In adverse weather conditions, the pilot may deem it unsafe to disembark outside the breakwaters. In such a case while taking into account the conditions of the time it may be agreed with the master for the pilot to disembark the vessel within the harbour, in the vicinity of middle pier.

Other factors include

  • The vessel,
  • The environmental conditions,
  • Intentions and requirements,
  • The forecast,


The design of a pilotage mechanism is an intricate procedure that requires careful analysis and decision making. It also depends on the port site and is unique to every scenario. This calls for a theoretical and practical understanding of marine systems for one to be able to come up with an appropriate solution.

Works Cited

‘Personal protective Equipment and clothings for marine pilot’. United Kingdom pilots association website. UKPA, 2010. Web.

United Nations. International convention for safety of life at sea. New York: United Nations, 2004. Print

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