What Are The Duties of Officer On Watch When Pilot is On Board Ship?


The pilot plays a crucial role in the safe navigation of the vessel to her destination. Expert in the local waters, a Pilot is imperative to the Bridge Team. Berthing/un-berthing, anchoring, transiting narrow channels etc. are very specialized operations and require expertise of a very objective manner that results in efficient planning, monitoring and execution of safe passage.


The ship’s master is undoubtedly conversant with the vessel and the crew, but might not be extremely well versed with certain port areas; the pilot’s localized knowledge is what compensates that aspect.

Nevertheless, seafarers will be aware that the quality of pilotage varies from country to country. A pilot at the port of Houston is extremely professional and knowledgeable, with state-of-the-art equipment to ensure proper procedure. However, a pilot at the port of Lagos might not be as well experienced and equipped. This is of concern to the Master, for a wrong move can jeopardize the safety of the vessel and her crew.


This said, the pilot’s presence on board is for added vigilance and not as a substitute. The pilot’s inclusion doesn’t exempt the OOW of his duties. As much of an expert as the pilot may be, the master remains the sole skipper and the last word on every matter. The master remains responsible for the vessel and her safe navigation and any incident doesn’t exonerate him from blame. When in doubt of the pilot’s efficiency, he may choose to take over the handling of the vessel. Therefore, it is important that the OOW assists the Master duly with the expected diligence and fulfills his duties, which include the following: 

Prior to pilot boarding

1. Determine the correct expected time of arrival (ETA) to pilot with the VTS on the VHF. There are numerous vessels (especially in high concentration areas, e.g., Istanbul) and they, almost always, require pilots. Hence it is important to know the exact time of arrival and adhere to schedule. Log all communications.

2. Rig pilot ladder, observing strict standards of safety. The VTS generally informs as to which side the pilot will be boarding from and the requirement of height above water; also, rig gangway (combination) if asked for. The pilot ladder should be arranged as per the instructions given with all safety measures on standby (life jackets, life buoy, handheld VHF etc.).

3. Check if all the required equipment are up and running. Synchronize clocks. Keep both radars ready and working. Put echo sounder on to constantly monitor the UKC. Adjust squelch and volume controls of the VHF for clear communication. Keep the appropriate (large scale) charts ready for plotting.

4. Mater/Pilot exchange forms prepared.

5.Inform the Engine Control Room (ECR) of the arrival time.

6. Unless extremely necessary and urgent, suspend all work on deck and designate crew for efficient pilotage. Get mooring equipments checked and ready. Advise crew of the time of arrival at port and to be on ‘stand by’.

7.Engage manual steering prior to arrival of the pilot and give time to the helmsman to get accustomed to it in his own way before he is instructed to maneuver.

8. Hoist the pilot flag.


Pilot Onboard

1. After ushering in the pilot, once pleasantries have been exchanged with the Master, it is generally the pilot who goes to instruct the helmsman about the course of action. Any specific operational requirement by the Pilot, so long as the Master approves, is to be provided for.

2. The OOW should be observant of the helmsman. The crew might be overworked/fatigued in which case the OOW should ensure that there is somebody else on stand by to relieve him.

3. All the important navigational marks should be noted down in the Ship Maneuvering Book correspondent to the chart or otherwise.

4. Ensure that the Pilot duly signs all the required forms. Needless to say, it is also required to get the Master’s signature on all of them.

5. The position of the vessel should be plotted on the chart as deemed necessary by the Master. If it is more than the OOW to handle all at once, he can always designate the Cadet to plot the position, if the Master approves of it.

6. If the vessel is proceeding to berth at the jetty, the OOW is to follow the Master’s instructions with regard to the maneuvering speed and such other orders. Relayed to the Master by the Pilot, those orders are immensely crucial to the safe berthing of the vessel. The OOW doesn’t have to be concerned about the stations unnecessarily for that aspect is duly taken care of. Read :Importance of Master-Pilot Relationship

Pilot Away

1. As a matter of extending courtesy, the pilot is ushered out as he’s ushered in. Once the forms are signed, and all other paperwork has been completed, the OOW should ensure that pilot exits safely. It is advisable to inform the crew a bit in advance so they may have the ladder/combination ladder rigged on the required side.

2. As is with boarding the vessel, all safety measures should be adhered to.

The entire process of pilot embarking and disembarking is rather simple yet risky. Risky for the crew, for rigging the pilot ladder and gangway is clear exposure to harm, especially in older vessels. The OOW should be vigilant that all safe working practices are strictly followed. Also, pilotage is a great experience for a cadet. If possible, and deemed appropriate by the Master, the cadet ought to be made a part of the operation.

The pilot might be part of the Bridge Team, however, it is imperative to remember that any error on behalf of the pilot doesn’t exonerate the Master from his responsibilities. The pilot is merely an addition to the team and not absolute in command. Therefore, the OOW should assist the Master in having a trouble free pilotage.