November 2019: Securing pilot ladders

This update is issued to raise awareness of potential risk of using improperly secured pilot ladders, it looks at the safety of boarding arrangements and the methods used to secure pilot ladders.

This safety update is for

  • New Zealand and foreign ship owners and operators
  • Maritime NZ recognised surveyors and recognised organisations
  • Maritime NZ Maritime Officers, Investigators and Technical Advisors
  • Maritime Pilots


Pilot ladders

Maritime Rules Part 53 provides for pilot transfer arrangements. It sets the standards for construction of pilot ladders. It also sets the position, reach and securing arrangements for pilot ladders. The rule gives effect to SOLAS requirements and related standards adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).


Shortening pilot ladders which are too long for the ship’s freeboard

Recently Maritime NZ carried out a focused campaign on pilot boarding arrangements. During this campaign a large number of reports received from NZ pilots and the New Zealand Maritime Pilots Association indicated that pilot ladders were incorrectly secured to the ship.

Pilot Ladders 3
Maritime New Zealand
Figure 1 – This ladder is too long for the freeboard

Many of these reports relate to the use of pilot ladders which are too long relative to the draught of the ship (see Figure 1). As a result, the excessively long ladders require shortening up before being deployed for pilots to use when boarding.

Pilot ladders that are too long for the ship’s freeboard are often shortened by the use of D-shackles to choke the side ropes at the required height along the ladder’s length.

To do this, the D-shackle is first secured to a hard point on the deck (see Figure 2), such as a pad eye. The ladder’s rope is then threaded through the shackle.

Pilot Ladders 1
Maritime New Zealand
Figure 2 – Pilot ladder incorrectly secured to the deck using D-shackles to choke the side ropes.

Shortening ladders using this method causes the weight of the ladder to be taken up by the D-shackle. This directly impacts against the mechanical securing clamps which secure the ladder treads in place.

Pilot ladders should be secured using the thimble at the rope ends as shown in Figure 3.

Pilot Ladders 2
Maritime New Zealand
Figure 3 – Pilot ladder showing the strong thimbles at the end of each rope which should be used to correctly secure the ladder.

What are the risks to safety?

Ladders constructed according to the standards established by SOLAS V/23 and Res A 1045(27) will ensure the treads are secured in position using mechanical clamping devices (referred to as widgets). The widgets are held in place by seizing twine immediately above and below each tread.

Using D-shackles to choke pilot ladder side ropes can eventually damage these widgets and also destroy the seizing twine. When the seizing twine is destroyed or the widget is damaged, this can lead to adjacent treads becoming loose.

The weight of the ladder being taken on to the widgets can also cause damage. This leads to the steps no longer being held firmly in the horizontal position. This in turn means that the steps can become free to rotate underfoot as the pilots climb the ladder.

What should you do?

The following advice will help you to make sure the pilot ladder is safe.

  • Masters and senior officers should physically check the current method of securing the ship’s pilot ladder to ensure that crew are securing the ladder correctly.
  • Refer to the ship’s construction drawings to ensure that the actual securing method is the same as the method given in the ship’s drawings, or approved safety management system.
  • To avoid ships being delayed in port, where existing pilot ladders are too long for the expected range of freeboards, Masters must find an appropriate safe method for securing the ladder at the rope-end thimbles. If the existing arrangement cannot be shortened correctly, the Master should consider contacting their local port agent to obtain a shorter ladder for use on the New Zealand coast.

If you are unsure, talk to a Maritime Officer at your local port for guidance.

Further information is also available in the NZ Maritime Pilots Association Healthy and safe transfer of maritime pilots good practice guide. This is available on the Maritime NZ website on the Ports and Harbours page.


Contact us for more help

If you have any questions about this safety bulletin, please contact our Wellington office.


New Zealand (toll free):
0508 225 522

Tell us what you need help with and remember to include your contact details (email address and phone numbers).