We have recently moved to Takapuna and enjoy watching the ships going in and out of the harbour. We often see the pilot boat helping to bring in big ships. Can you tell us a little about what the pilot does, which boats he brings in, how he gets on and off the ship, how you train to be a harbour pilot - things like that?
Bob Jefferson, Takapuna.
The inestimable Leigh Robins of Ports of Auckland has come to my aid here, because the pilots are employed and trained by Ports of Auckland. Just as an aside, Ports of Auckland is probably one of the few ports who own and operate the pilot service, tug service and lines gangs. In some ports the pilot service and tugs are owned and operated by a separate company.
The requirement for a pilot is a maritime rule that was set in conjunction with Ports of Auckland, Maritime NZ and the Harbourmaster after risk assessments of the harbour and berthing at the wharves was undertaken.
For all vessels over 500 gross tonnes it is compulsory for a pilot to be on board to navigate safely into the harbour and port. This can differ between ports; for example, in Tauranga any vessel over 100 gross tonnes requires a pilot. Nautical charts indicate an "imaginary line" that shows where the Auckland pilotage area starts and the pilot boards the ship one to two nautical miles north of the Rangitoto Beacon.
The pilot boat takes the pilot out to the ship which generally takes around 30-40 minutes from leaving its berth within the port. It also goes out to collect a pilot off a departing ship. The pilot boards a vessel using a pilot ladder from one of the ship's doors, generally 2-3 meters above the waterline.
Ports of Auckland have nine pilots qualified for the Waitemata Harbour and currently has three pilots able to work on the Manukau Harbour.
Training to become a pilot is quite intense and takes as long as necessary to have conducted the required number of jobs and knowledge to sit the exam. However in order to be considered for a pilot position or to start training you must hold a current masters ticket which can only be obtained from time at sea and working your way up through the officers' ranks.