Pilots welcome new international rules to enhance safety of boarding ladders

New international standards for pilot ladders and related gear should make the most dangerous part of a pilot’s job a bit safer.

The new rules, which took effect July 1, were originally adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2010 as revisions to SOLAS, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.

John Gormley

Capt. Dave Germond of the Portland Pilots ascends the pilot ladder and prepares to transfer to the accommodation ladder on an asphalt tanker arriving in Portland, Maine, for bunkering.

In a newsletter to its members, the American Pilots’ Association summarized some of the most significant changes:
• Mechanical hoists are now banned.

• Accommodation ladders used with pilot ladders must be secured to the side of the ship to prevent the ladder from swinging.

• Pilot ladders must be certified by the manufacturer as complying with international standards.

• Records of ladder inspections and maintenance must be kept.

• Pilot transfer gear must be inspected as part of the ship’s safety equipment and no safety inspection certificate can be issued or renewed if the equipment has not been inspected.

Capt. Henry Mahlmann, the New York president of the Sandy Hook Pilots, said he welcomed the changes but hinted that more could be done to protect pilots when they are going up or down the ship’s side.

He said that the International Maritime Pilots’ Association had worked very hard with the IMO to get these changes, but noted that there is always an opportunity to improve safety. “The changes are enough, until they are not,” he said.

The most significant change, Mahlmann said, is the requirement that accommodation ladders be secured to the side of the ship. He said that having a railing or hand hold on trap-door platforms at the end of the gangway will also save lives. On many platforms the ladder simply comes up through the platform opening without anything to grab onto.

Another key improvement he pointed out is the requirement that any door on the side of the hull open inward.

“Opening outward is very dangerous. It could hit the pilot or clip the launch,” he said.

Capt. Brian Hope, a member of the Association of Maryland Pilots since 1970, said he has seen all manner of boarding gear during his career: “We board in all conditions and I have even boarded ladders with nothing but chain to hang on to.”  Hope said that one of the biggest improvements to safety mandated by the new requirements has been the installation of secure stanchions at the top of the bulwarks.

“Without stanchions, there is nothing to grab onto as you come over the rail. It is even worse going down the ladder because you have to step over the rail with nothing to grab,” he said.

The revised requirements do not call for any additional equipment or retrofitting of existing ships, but do provide guidelines for correcting especially hazardous arrangements.

The International Maritime Pilots’ Association, in cooperation with the International Chamber of Shipping and other industry groups, has prepared a five-page brochure outlining the new requirements. The brochure is published by Marisec Publications, based in London, and an electronic version is available free of charge at: www.marisec.org/pilotladders and www.impahq.org/downloads.cfm.

By Professional Mariner Staff