Results of the online survey into the securing methods of pilot ladders

In december 2020, research was conducted into the securing methods of pilot ladders at intermediate length. Using an online survey, 486 observations have been received from pilots around the world, the majority of which came from Europe (78%).


It has been shown that a majority (51%) of pilot ladders is secured by means of D-shackles, when secured at intermediate length. Previous research  (Evans, 2020) has proven that this method has only about 50% of the strength of the pilot ladder when secured at full length (“double ended ladder”), or by means of the “endless-sling” method.

rolling hitch 5
rolling hitch 5
Rolling hitch knot (7) Pic: capt. Gary Clay

Rolling Hitch Knot (7)

The rolling hitch knot is used in 31% of the observations. When used correctly, this method is rated at only 39% of the strength of the ladder when secured at full length (“double ended ladder”), or by means of the “endless-sling” method.

Test Results of load tests on pilot ladders. From ” Strength of pilot ladders and intermediate securing of pilot ladders” by Evans, troy, 2020, Retrieved on december 1st from:

There is no correlation between ship’s types or geographical area and the securing methods in use. In other words, all identified methods are in use on all types of ships, worldwide. 

The use of D-shackles as a securing method is a very easy, user-friendly securing method for the ship’s crew. Also, many ships have been specifically designed to facilitate this method. 

The use of a rolling hitch knot is the most used alternative to the D-shackle. The frequent use of this method is probably caused by the fact that it is being promoted by pilots around the world, in publications and on social media. It is considered the least harmful method of securing to the integrity of the pilot ladder.  

From the survey, no relationship could be established between securing method and ship type or securing method and geographical area. In other words, all securing methods are in use on every ship type, worldwide. 


The two most frequently used methods of securing pilots at intermediate length are either demonstrably weaker than the total strength of the pilot ladder or are considered harmful to the integrity of the pilot ladder itself.  There is no legislation or standard of a securing method which is both of equal strength of the ladder, and harmless for the ladder’s structural integrity.   

Without accident statistics it is hard to describe the present-day practice of securing pilot ladders at intermediate length as “unsafe”. This research however shows that the most used methods of securing are not the most effective with regards to strength and the integrity of the pilot ladder. 

The nature of the embarkation and disembarkation is a critical process, meaning that serious injury or fatalities are the likely outcome as the result of accidents involving pilot ladders.

The fact that there is no proven design for the securing of a pilot ladder at intermediate length in a safe, convenient manner calls for innovative solutions to the ever-present danger of breaking of failing pilot ladders.


This report should serve as a reminder to maritime pilots, legislator and other stakeholders in the maritime industry that an industry wide problem exists: the regulatory gap regarding pilot ladders which are secured at intermediate length. Much work needs to be done to improve this situation.

  • The research conducted in this survey should be repeated regularly to identify trends and changes in the securing methods used for pilot ladders at intermediate length. IMPA could play an important role if they are willing to incorporate this research into their annual safety survey. 
  • A new innovative securing method for pilot ladders at intermediate length should be developed, Ideally, this process should involve ship designers, ship owners, pilot ladder manufacturers as well as maritime pilots. The design of the pilot ladder itself must be subject for reconsideration if needed. 
  • An industry standard should be developed regarding the securing of pilot ladders at intermediate length, involving all relevant stakeholders in the maritime industry.
  • A global database on pilot ladder incidents, accidents and near-miss database should be developed in order to generate much needed management information which can be used to improve safety of pilot ladders in general.


I want to thank all maritime pilots from around the world who have contributed to this survey by sending in their observations. Also, all colleagues who work tirelessly to improve pilot ladders safety on a daily basis should be commended. 

If you have any questions on this subject, or want more information on this survey , please contact me on

Stay Safe,

Herman Broers

Click on the link below to download the full report.

5 thoughts on “Results of the online survey into the securing methods of pilot ladders

  1. Excellent observation. During our training we have noted that many institute have D shackles as a securing method in their practicals. No wonder presence of D shackle is so rampant. There is no better way than putting this (the right method) in training institutes for teaching cadets, ratings etc. Ratings and cadets are front runners who actually do these things, rest of the staff on board has no time. Pilot ladder still remains to be most neglected equipment on board.

  2. The current pilot ladder by design does not lend itself to an intermediate length securing method. Surely a new ladder standard should be considered that incorporates the use of a simple intermediate securing method.

  3. Capt. Broers,
    Thank you for your continued efforts on this issue. The issue of intermediate lengths was glossed over in the regs, which has led us to a myriad of interpretations. The “easiest” solution becomes the dominant one as your survey indicates. Capt. Evans’s initial research strengthens what a lot of us in the piloting community thought to be true; shackles, deck tongues, etc. threaten the integrity of the ladder.
    A strop, or some other “clamping” device that seizes the side ropes without damaging them would appear to be a safe method of securing pilot ladders at intermediate lengths. Several vendors are working towards a solution. I remain hopeful this will happen soon.

  4. Sorry but how.many accidents happened due to improper securing of pilot ladder? Me as Master Mariner I strongly believe the majority of accidents happen due bad weather and commercial pressure , not due to crew and how they secure the pilot ladder.Of course if the vessel would be fitted with the nice “strop” or “clamping” we would gladly use it but since it is not mandatory, neither the ship owners are paying for it to be fitted in the shipyard.Make it mandatory and finish story.But some pilots will always find some irregularity.Many ports, straits , canals have very difficult pilot embarkation points in the open sea or with strong tidal currents.These conditions are out of ship’s or pilot’s control.In many cases you have a stressed Master and stressed Pilot who have to.”make it happen” somehow but obviously it s not easy.So some individuals handle it calmly and with profesionalism some not.It s valid for both sides Masters or Pilots.But some Pilots like to stress the Master and Crews and immediately identify irregularities even if not provided from shipyard with a specially designed securing method.They do this because they come.on board stressed and frustrated due to difficulty of theyr job.If you don t like it don t do it! While we followed on board the recomenation and changed from rolling hitch knot.method, we still receive complains.Industry has to force owners provide special securing method from.ship design phases and we as crew will use it!

  5. On most tankers with high free board there is also the issue of securing the combination ladder.At a high free board of 13-15 meters we have to lower the accomodation ladder up to abt 5 meters above sea level and put some people there to tie up the heavy acomodation ladder against ship’s side because it is not accepted by pilots to balance and hit the ship side while vessel is rolling, and everyone knows the crazy rolling of one crude or product tanker in ballast condition on a heavy swell. So now the Master has to find a way to put some people there and do this job in a safe way.He takes routes, puts the embarkation side to lee vessel rolling like crazy but hey….pilot is coming we have to do it…Finally we do it and when pulot comes alongside he aborts embarkation because it s not safe vesselrolling too much.For whoever does not understand to make a lee means for the vessel to take the waves and the swell from one side beam so it can become calm like the lake waters on the other side so that pilot can board. The problem is that some ships and among these are the so much used tankers , they are rolling heavily with the sea. From the beam.So irrespective of how good we tie up the ladders it is a dangerous situation for pilot to come on board unless he comes from an ocean tug or some other strong boat ( rarely happening). But everyone is screaming that operation has to be done Agents, Terminal, Charter, Owners etc…so there you have it…all conditiins for an accident are right there…finally guess.who is the blame if something goes wrong…

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