Marine Pilot Service

Acher believes the traditional pilot boat that has been around for hundreds of years now has a limited and very costly future in all but the smallest harbours around the world. Reducing costs of helicopter operations and helicopter purchase costs combined with exceptional safety and multifunctional capability dictate that the multi engine helicopter will inevitably take over this pilot boat role.


The prospect of a complete change to a three hundred year old tradition is, on occasions, initially viewed with a jaundiced eye by mariners. This view is based on natural perceived personal and business concerns. Tradition in the maritime industry is very strong.

Acher has established that these concerns can be overcome. This is an idea whose time has come and there is inevitability about the introduction of this concept. Howard Hill, ex President of the New York Pilots summed it up when he said “In the next five years all owners will change the way they build ships to accommodate receiving pilots by helicopter”.

It is inevitable that a revolutionary change to this tradition of boarding and disembarking harbours pilots must take place. The traditional means of getting a harbour pilot on and off a vessel by pilot boat is slow, tedious and often very dangerous. The pilot boat has changed little in the past fifty years other than massive increases in purchase costs in the past ten years. Improved engines, electronics and navigation systems have not dealt with the major issues requiring attention and the move into the 21st century. The pilot boat has reached the end of its evolutionary potential.

In the interests of brevity only some key matters and issues relating to the introduction of helicopters are presented.

  • The ability of a ship to de-ballast prior to port entry (no problems with pilot ladder lengths by helicopter) provides dramatically reduced berth times. Conservationists love it
  • The ability of a ship to continue to burn their heavy fuel oil and conserve their normal usage of diesel fuels used for slow speed and manoeuvring is made possible by using a helicopter service. Some ship’s Masters advis ethat just this saving pays for the service provided
  • Pilot groups recognise the massive improvement in safety, quality of life and speed benefits
  • Harbour authorities welcome better service and increased berth efficiency
  • Steam-ship companies/shipping agents become more efficient in meeting their principal’s requirements
  • State authorities see this as an improvement in service to shipping thus making their harbours more attractive to trade with
  • New ISPS legislation can easily be accommodated. In fact the helicopter contributes to security when required to do so
  • It is difficult and time consuming to expand a harbour’s available facilities. With the extra speed empty berth space is reduced to a minimum and the best possible use is made of existing resources
  • Ships agents have the ability to prepare a vessel for port entry. Surveyors and chemists are happy to travel by helicopter. When the vessel berths, discharging/loading can commence immediately
  • Time wasted in pilot car travel and or sitting waiting out at sea on a Bay Boat become things of the past
  • Physical harbour space is running out. Infrastructure around many harbours has prohibited further expansion of berth space. Authorities have to look for ways of increasing productivity without the cost of capital expansion programs
  • Bulk carriers dominate World trade. The hull design of the new ‘Panamax’ container carriers, makes the use of pilot boats, even in moderate sea states, very difficult and dangerous
  • There is no such thing as a ‘sub standard’ pilot ladder ever. On the helicopter program, aviation legislation and compulsory maintenance procedures ensure the hoist remains in 100% condition at all times

2012.01.30 Bow hoisting 5These are just some of the advantages that the helicopter service offers. A professional helicopter marine pilot service program provided by Acher Aviation is a one way journey. Once established, there is no turning back. Marine pilot groups, harbour authorities and ship owners flying with Acher Aviation would not permit a return to pilot boats excepting under the direst circumstances. Acher had set operational, technical, administrative and safety standards that are the envy of many. Acher Aviation is internationally audited by ‘Shell Aviation International’ (London) and ‘Chevron’ (Houston). These organisations set very high standards that are generally internationally accepted worldwide by the offshore oil industry.

The existence of any one or more of the following situations at a port would indicate the viability of a Helicopter Harbour Pilot Service

  • Harbours handling in excess of 200 vessels per month
  • A pilotage distance in excess of 10 n.m
  • Harbours experiencing severe sea/wind state conditions
  • Harbours handling bulk carriers and VLCC’s
  • Pilot services having to support two or more harbours up to 20 n.m. apart
  • Harbour pilot services employing more than 2 pilot boats
  • Pilot services which have to make use of bay / mother boats
  • Harbours on traditional shipping routes
  • Any pilot service experiencing safety or injury problems
  • Any pilot service about to increase pilot boat numbers
  • Excessive time wasted in pilot cars
  • Bunching of arrival/departing vessels causing pilot delays

The selection of helicopter to be used is important. Special selection needs to take place when considering any form of maritime activity. Acher Aviation with years of experience in this field of activity will assist. A comprehensive study has already been undertaken and is constantly updated in line with changes by manufacturers and international legislation or recommendations. It is Acher’s firm belief that all marine pilot and offshore activity in support of international maritime trade should be conducted in a twin turbine engine helicopter capable of what is referred to in the aviation industry as ‘Category A’ or ‘Class 1’ performance. This essentially requires that in the event of a single engine failure during any stage of the flight regime nobody gets hurt. There is a separate page/link you can study for the technical detail on this if interested.

HoistingThe biggest single change that takes place with the introduction of helicopters is a complete change in operating philosophy. Planning vessel movements becomes a priority. The ability for planners to be able to quickly lift a pilot to a vessel ready to sail while also calling the next on that berth to lift anchor and get under way becomes possible with a single marine pilot. Generally speaking a planner can respond to any pilot demand within six to eight minutes. Tug boat crews have to ‘pull their socks up’ as vessels arrive and depart quickly. On the other hand the pilot’s wardroom becomes a more relaxed place. The dangers associated with boarding/disembarking are removed, the dangers associated with pilot cars are removed, transfers are relaxed. No more gang planks and no more time wasted doing nothing. With the helicopter and good pilot planning, the next weakest link in the harbours service delivery chain will inevitably be exposed.

To a large extent the discussion above assumes a pilotage distance of six to ten miles. Obviously a pilotage distance greater than this, renders the helicopter an even more desirable requirement.