How a pilot gets off a ship

09.22.10 | 2 Comments

First off, one needs to know that big ships like the Cap Cleveland need to hire “pilots” to get in and out of every harbor. The pilot knows the currents, the depths and the bridges of the often times very intricate harbor entrances. Piloting can be required for a long time (6 hours in Philadelphia, 15+ hours for the Panama Canal transit, with multiple pilots) or a rather short time (about 1 hour in Balboa, Panama).

The pilot typically comes on when the ship is still docked and gets off soon before the open ocean. Sometimes they even get a “dock pilot” who specializes in getting ships out of their docks and turned the right direction, and then a “river pilot” to get the ship to the ocean.

So how does he come on and off? Well, like you’d see in movies… using a ladder on the side of the ship, dropped off and picked up by a pilot boat (which is often a form of tug-boat).

This procedure is so regulated that the ship has a laminated chart about what the requirements are for the pilot’s on/off-boarding.

I was able to capture the off-boarding process in Balboa. We were on our last straight line before getting to the open ocean, when on the port side, came the Pilot Boat towards us at a rather fast speed.

The boat gets really close and aligned with the ship, such that it comes against it.

Once positioned, the Pilot comes down the ladder on the side of the ship. Nothing else but his own hands are holding him on.

And hop he goes! Off the ladder, onto the pilot boat’s platform.

It’s like being James Bond as part of their job. Incredible! This one was pretty lucky… our pilot in Cartagena got completely soaked by a wave that came in between the boat and the ship as he was jumping off the ladder. I’m sure there are way worse scenarios than just getting soaked… I’ll have to ask the mates for stories.