Feb 052010

A transfer uysing the pilot ladder could be heading for a fall. Image: IMPA

Transferring from a smaller vessel to a bigger one is an inherently hazardous act even under the best conditions. Climbing a pilot ladder without appropriate precautions has led to the deaths and injuries of crew as well as pilots. At the same time, even rigging or adjusting a pilot ladder has resulted in loss of lives.

Denmark’s Maritime Authority, DMA, is currently investigating an incident during a transfer in the roads of Copenhagen on 1 February 2010. The crewman fell into the water and was lost. The crewmember was boarding the ship from a small transport vessel by means of the pilot ladder. The details of the accident are still unknown, but they are being examined by the Division for Investigation of Maritime Accidents.

The DMA has issued a safety advisory to clarify “some important measures to be taken when persons are being transferred at sea.

“If you observe these measures, you help ensure that the transfer is carried out in a safe and secure way. At the same time, it is important to stress that the necessary safety equipment must be in proper order and be used during the transfer.

The Danish Maritime Authority has drawn up the following list of conditions that should, as a minimum, be considered every time a person is to be transferred at sea.


Emergency responders do it carefully. Image: MIRG


  • Is it necessary to carry out the operation at sea?
  • Is the crewmember physically and mentally capable of carrying out the transfer?
  • Are the conditions of weather and wind suitable for a safe transfer?
  • Is the operation and the way it is carried out agreed and understood in every necessary detail by those involved on board both the transport vessel and the embarked/disembarked ship?
  • Is it possible to position the ship appropriately so that it provides shelter during the transfer?
  • Is the transport vessel suitable for the task; is it, for example, fitted with a fixed platform with railings where the person can be accommodated safely and from where the embarkation can take place without any risk that the person falls into the water or gets jammed between the two ships?

The uneven steps on this ladder may have led to an incident

Practical carrying out:

  • Does the conning position in the transport vessel provide a sufficient view of the area from where the transfer is to be made?
  • Is the area from where the transfer is to be made sufficiently lit?
  • Does the ship use a ladder, gangway, etc. suitable for the purpose and have they been fitted correctly?
  • imageAre gangways used at passages exceeding 9 metres?
  • Are lifebuoys located in an easily accessible position at the place of transfer in both the transport vessel and the ship?
  • Are crewmembers ready to provide assistance, both on board the transport vessel and the ship? Are the crewmembers on board the transport vessel who provide assistance during the transfer fitted with a suitable working lifejacket, and has it been considered whether they should also be fitted with a suitable immersion suit or protective suit, in consideration of the season and other conditions?image
  • Has it been considered whether assisting crewmembers should be secured by means of a safety line, in consideration of the arrangement of the working vessel, the conditions of the transfer and the conditions of weather and wind, etc.?
  • Is the person transferred fitted with a lifejacket, and has it been considered – especially in connection with low water temperatures – whether he should also be wearing an immersion suit or protective suit of a type making a safe transfer possible?
  • Has it – depending on the conditions – been considered fitting the person to be transferred with a safety line?
  • Has it been agreed that luggage is transferred separately by means of a crane, line, etc.?

Emergency preparedness:

  • Does the crew of the transport vessel have a size making it possible for it to both manoeuvre the vessel and rescue a person fallen overboard?
  • Are the crewmembers on the transport vessel able to supplement each other and, if so, can they take over each other’s tasks?
  • Are suitable technical facilities available on board the transport vessel for rescuing persons fallen overboard and is the crew trained in the use of these?
  • Is the crew on board the transport vessel and the ship aware of – and trained in – the alerting of local authorities and other ships in the area in case a person has fallen overboard?

Source: Be in control of safety when transferring persons at sea

Relevant Accident Reports

HMS Westminster/Princess Rose: A naval officer fell from a pilot ladder into the water while attempting to transfer from a small vessel top HMS  Westminster. Casualty wet but injured.

Jolbos: The ladder’s suspension wire failed, allowing the ladder to swing down and throw one of the seamen into the water. He was recovered by a nearby tug but, in spite of efforts to resuscitate him, was later declared dead in hospital.

Atlantic Erie: While the pilot was disembarking off Sydney, during the hours of darkness and in inclement weather, a sudden movement of the pilot ladder caused the pilot to lose his grip on the ladder and fall onto the deck of the pilot boat, landing heavily and sustaining injuries.

Cable Laying Vessel Tycom Reliance: Boatswain fell overboard whilst rigging the pilot ladder. Contrary to normal procedures he was not wearing a working life vest and, although recovered from the water within 9 minutes he died from drowning.

Formosa 13: Seafarer when MOB while unlashing a pilot ladder in rough seas.

The International Maritime Pilots Association has published guidance on rigging pilot ladders that could also apply to other transfer operations:

Guidance on The Rigging of Ladders for Pilot Transfer

Produced by the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA) in collaboration with the International Chamber of Shipping, ICS, and the International Shipping Federation, ISF.

IMPA Safety Campaign 2007

click here to download.

IMPA’s Proposed Changes to Ladders

Improving the Safety of Pilot Transfer Arrangements – submitted by USA, Brazil and IMPA

click here to download.

Submission by Correspondence Group on Pilot Transfer Arrangements

click here to download.


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.