As Captain on merchant ships one thing I did not see all that often was the use of Manropes by Pilots. While it was seen occasionally in South Africa and a few other ports around the world it certainly was not the norm. This low tech way of disembarking from ships is the norm on the Columbia River Bar and deserves a second look.
The Columbia River Bar is unique in the problem of boarding ships in the ocean with no lee except the ships hull, and a large Pacific swell to contend with. The pilot boat rises and falls with the swell sometimes as much as 30 feet, and timing the transfer for the top of the swell is a challenge. By using manropes the pilot can time that “magic moment”, when the pilot boat peaks while staying high enough on the ladder to avoid being crushed by the boat. Swinging out on the rope and sliding down using gloves as brakes and legs as shock absorbers has been very successful for over 160 years.
Whether to use one rope or two is an individual decision, I prefer two as it gives me a backup line, but the possibility of getting entangled in the bight of the second line is always a problem. Three inch manila rope that has been dragged behind the ship to get the wax off is the prescribed style of line best suited for manropes. Synthetic manropes are very slippery and just don’t work very well, particularly when they are wet. The only knots allowed are at the very bottom of the lines and those should be a “monkeys fist” knot with weight to hold the line and act as a final stop should the line be to short.
Training in the use of manropes requires a pilot ladder rigged on the side of a building and two manropes secured at the top. Getting the timing down so that the pilot can catch the boat at the top of the swell is just a matter of depth perception and gradually moving from small to large swell. The use of those spring loaded grip strengtheners really helps in building up the “brakes” for stopping the slide. My method of keeping the timing up is to use the ropes both for the inside launch as well as the outside pilot boat, this allows for training year around and is particularly helpful when we use the helicopter as the primary means of transport.
Manropes have been around “forever”, but their use in many ports is a rarity. They really have their place even on less rigorous grounds than the Columbia River Bar and should be considered. It reduces the time of vulnerability of the pilot on the ladder, makes the transfer much quicker, and helps to reduce the chance of injury should the boat rise unexpectedly. In this time when the accident rate for pilots has been particularly high it may be time to reexamine this method of disembarking to see if it may help increase the safety of ship pilots.