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Vessel on Master’s orders and Pilot’s advice

Solent Marine Consultant - tom fisk

Vessel on Master’s orders and Pilot’s advice

A common entry used in the bridge logbook when entering and leaving a port – but what does that mean and what is the legality if an incident takes place with pilot onboard?

The overview of the law;
SOLAS Chapter V regulation 34-1 states;
“The owner, the charterer, the company operating the ship as defined in regulation IX/1, or any other person SHALL NOT prevent or restrict the master of the ship from taking or executing any decision which, in the master’s professional judgement, is necessary for the safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment.”

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), in a recommendation, describes a navigational watch with a pilot on board as:
“Despite the duties and obligations of a pilot, his presence on board does not relieve the master or officer in charge of the watch from their duties and obligations for the safety of the ship. The master and the pilot shall exchange information regarding navigation procedures, local conditions and the ship’s characteristics. The master and officer of the watch shall co-operate closely with the pilot and maintain an accurate check of the ship’s position and movement at all times.

UK P&I clubs state the following;
The pilot, master and bridge personnel share a responsibility for good communications and mutual understanding of the other’s role for the safe conduct of the vessel in pilotage waters. They should also clarify their respective roles and responsibilities so that the pilot can be easily and successfully integrated into the normal bridge management team.

As has been stated in many court cases; The Master retains the ultimate responsibility for the safety of his ship.

Ship Inspection point of view, accessed online on 23.04.2021
“Except in the Panama Canal (see below), the pilot is an advisor to the master, without having command, navigational control or charge of the vessel. The pilot’s duty is restricted to advising the master of local conditions affecting safe navigation. The master has full responsibility for the navigation and maneuvering of his ship during all acts of pilotage. (Hence the bridge movement book term, “To Master’s Orders and Pilot’s Advice”

Pilot Capt. George A. Quick; point of view accessed online on 23.04.2021
It is generally recognized that managing and navigating a ship upon an ocean requires a different set of skills and experience than piloting in confined waterways.

Confusing the issue on checks and balances in the Master /Pilot relationship is the mistaken perception that the pilot is aboard in an advisory capacity. This is not true in actual practice in pilotage waters or in the law as applied in North America. The pilot “conducting” the ship gives all the directions concerning the ships movement and it is the master who may advise the pilot as to the capabilities of the ship or its equipment or crew. If the master was actually giving the directions with the pilot’s advice the ship would not be under pilotage and in compliance with the local laws.

There are very few jurisdictions where it is possible to make significant recoveries for loss, damage or liabilities incurred as a result of pilot error. The general principle is that when a pilot goes on board a vessel to provide pilotage services he becomes a servant of the vessel and its owner and operator, who therefore remain liable for damages arising as the result of the pilot’s negligence, notwithstanding that pilotage may be compulsory (Steamship Mutual, online).


There are contrary viewpoints and the law has its own standing when it comes to responsibilities and obligations when a ship is navigating under pilotage. The law varies significantly in different Port State Controls, State to State and the waters the ship is navigating. In the absence of clearly defined responsibilities and obligations, this issue will remain controversial.  

By: Munish Bhardwaj, Marine Consultant at Solent Marine Consultants Ltd.

Reference/Bibliography:, accessed on 23.04.2021., accessed, 23.04.2021., accessed 23.04.2021, accessed, 23.04.2021., accessed 23.04.2021.