Is 30 months too long for pilot ladders?
For vessels carrying an ISO 799 pilot ladder the standard interval between load tests performed by the manufacturer is 30 months. The 30-month retest for pilot ladders is mentioned in the context provided from the ISO 799-2:2021 document. Specifically, in Clause 7, Table A.3, which states that if a pilot ladder has been in service for more than 30 months, it should be re-certified. Checking the age of your pilot ladder forms part of every pre-inspection and the three-monthly inspection requirements to ensure the safety and serviceability of pilot ladders.
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But is 30 months simply too long for a pilot ladder to be in service? Well that depends on a number of factors including
1. The quality of the pilot ladder purchased.
2. The number of times the pilot ladder has been used.
3. The method of storage of the ladder and the vessel type.
4. The quality of the inspection and maintenance regime.
5. The areas the vessel is operating in.
The Quality of The Pilot Ladder Purchased
Not all ladders are born equal. The quality of pilot ladders can vary considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer. The souring of the rope, the treatment of steps, the robustness of the fixtures all have an impact on the quality of the final product. You can find out the difference between good quality and cheap pilot ladders by clicking the link.
The Number Of Times A Pilot Ladder Has Been Used
Again not all pilot ladders are equal here, a coaster running short sea might be entering port twice or three times a week giving 4-6 uses a week. A Bulk Carrier, VLCC, VLCS or VLGC running between continents might rig the pilot ladder once or twice a month. Obviously, the greater amount of use the quicker that ladder will deteriorate.
The Method Of Storage And The Vessel Type
The different methods of ladder storage can impact on the lifespan of the pilot ladder. We are always looking to store the ladder clear of the deck, under cover but able to breathe. This may be on a winch drum under cover, on a raised bed or pallet under cover on deck or for smaller ladders hung in a ventilated storage locker. However each has it’s issues.
First of all ladders can be damaged when used on a winch with a small diameter spindle. Such winches can crush the top part of the pilot ladder damaging the plastic wedges that hold the steps level.
Deck stored ladders can still be soaked if the vessel is shipping a considerable amount of water.
Ladders stored in lockers can be damaged with the constant movement back and forth to the pilot embarkation point.
Vessel type can also be an issue. Bulk carriers commonly have cargo deposited on deck during cargo operations. Cargoes such as coal and iron ore can end up on ladders depending on how they are stored, and lead to premature deterioration of the pilot ladder.
The Quality of The Pilot Ladder Inspection And Maintenance Regime
Inspection is an essential part of pilot ladder health, since you can only change what you can measure. It is essential a responsible officer checks the ladder prior to use and post use for damage, wear and to ensure the ladder is still in date. A senior officer should perform a thorough inspection of all ladders (including the spare ladder(s)) every 3 months and the flag or delegated classification society should inspect every 12 months.
Having a structured quality pilot ladder inspection regime means that damage is quickly identified and can be dealt with, that the vessels officers are aware of the age of the ladders and that given these inspections everyone on board treats the ladder with proper care and attention.
The Areas The Vessel Is Operating In
Obviously the amount of abuse a ladder receives can be greatly influenced by the areas in which the vessel operates, so a vessel operating in the North Sea in Winter will be somewhat different to on operating in the Mediterranean and the possibility of damage caused by the heavy landing of the pilot boat, increased amounts of sea spray and the vessel shipping seas can all shorten a pilot ladders life.
So Is 30 Months Too Old For A Pilot Ladder?
As can be seen there are several factors that can influence the amount of wear and tear a pilot ladder suffers however when regulators make regulations and standards they must always do so for the lowest common denominator. It is impossible to predict what sort of a life a pilot ladder might have so they must pick a reasonable mid-ground. There are MANY vessels whereby 30 months is two long. We’ve seen ladders that need retiring at 18 months use due to heavy use and improper storage. We’ve also seen ladders that have been a vessel’s spare and seen no active service during their 30 months, have been stored impeccably and are in great condition.
In the maritime community there is a general push toward reducing the pilot ladder retest period to 24 months in an attempt to eliminate the prevalence of dangerous pilot ladders, however such regulation change only has an effect when the vessel’s officers are conducting appropriate inspections and are aware of their ladders age.
Australia’s Flinders Ports, Darwin Port and Port Authority of New South Wales decided from their experience that 30 months was to long and in January 2022 introduced a 24 month maximum age for a pilot ladder along with a host of other additional requirements.
In November 2023 Australia’s mid-west port of Geraldton introduced a maximum age of manropes of 12 months following a spate of incidents involving failing manropes during pilot transfer but kept the 30 month limit on Pilot Ladders.
Fathom Safety take a prudent view of changing ladders at 24 months on our pilot ladder managed vessels. But the difficulty of different ports setting different standards can mean some operators fall foul of local regulations whilst still being totally compliant with SOLAS, ISO and their own ISM documentation. Our database can advise vessel operators of ports that have stricter limitations to ensure they do not find themselves in a position where their vessel is refused entry into port.