Task and impact of pilotage

Pilotage is a means of ensuring navigational safety and efficiency within Finland’s rocky fairways. As maritime traffic internationalises, the local expertise of pilots becomes even more essential. Anomaly observations and related reporting hold a key role in advancing the safety of pilotage activities.

The internationalising trend of maritime traffic calls for the best local expertise

Pilotage is an essential link within Finland’s chain of logistics. More than one third of the vessels that visit Finnish ports utilise the pilotage services of Finnpilot. In accordance with the Pilotage Act (940/2003), the services are provided in public fairways within Finnish waters and the part of the Saimaa Canal leased by Finland that are designated as merchant shipping fairways requiring pilotage. The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency, Traficom, determines the fairways requiring pilotage and the pilot boarding positions, and information about these can be found on Traficom’s website.

The largest customer base for the pilotage services provided by Finnpilot (more than 90% of the piloted vessels) is comprised of foreign shipping companies, whose vessels carry foreign officers and crews. These ships are used to the open sea and flowing waters, not narrow and rocky fairways and pack ice. They also may have a high turnover rate among their personnel. A pilot boarding one of these ships brings a certain level of expertise to the bridge that ensures that the ship will travel smoothly and safely into port or from port out to the open sea. All pilots have completed master mariner training and earned their pilot licence along multiple fairways. They also have extensive experience in the field of navigation. A pilot serves as the shipmaster’s right hand and advisor. In addition to fairway navigation, the pilot is also increasingly responsible for manoeuvring the ship within the port. As maritime traffic increasingly internationalises, the role of the pilot has become more essential from year to year.

Different roles and co-operation

Navigational efficiency is the result of collaboration between multiple parties. Finnpilot works closely with different actors in the field, such as

  • ports,
  • shipping companies,
  • shipbrokers and agents,
  • port operators,
  • industry,
  • charterers and
  • icebreakers as well as
  • with VTS Finland’s VTS (Vessel Traffic Service) Centres.

VTS and Finnpilot play their own different part in the assurance of navigational efficiency and safety. VTS guides the traffic flows and vessel traffic within Finland’s waterways from on-land sites. Finnpilot pilots operate aboard ship bridges to guide them, to navigate challenging fairways and, by the request of the shipmaster, often also to ensure the safe manoeuvring of the ship to or away from the quay.

Data from anomaly observations improve safety

The added safety that pilotage provides within Finland’s narrow archipelago fairways is pivotal in terms of preventing accidents. Finnpilot has been systematically compiling information about anomalies observed by pilots and the impact of pilotage since 2011. On the basis of anomaly analyses, the majority of prevented accidents and damage is related to technical problems with onboard systems and equipment or the lack of competence in the vessel’s personnel. The anomalies can also be caused by the activities of other operators handling, for example, the opening of bridges or docking of vessels.

The electronic reporting of anomaly observations facilitates real-time communications concerning the observed anomalies and risk factors, such as technical faults in vessels. The observations recorded in the system also make it possible to gain a consistently updated overall picture of the safety situation and development among maritime traffic within Finland’s fairways. Anomaly reporting has brought transparency to the safety observations of which only the pilots, pilot boat operators or pilot coordinators used to be aware and upon which they often base the predictions and pilotage risk management that is essential to their actions.