Pilot Ladder- Requirements, Construction, Rigging

Pilot Ladder is a specialised form of rope ladder, typically used on board cargo vessels for the purposes of embarking and disembarking pilots. The pilot ladders shall be located in a place clear from any possible ship discharges.  According to SOLAS Requirements the length shall be sufficient to reach water surface when the vessel in ballast condition has an adverse list of 15°C. Unfortunately such ladder is too long with steps on the deck of the pilot boat presenting a hazard to both the pilot and deckhand. In practice it would be better to have two additional ladders with length adjusted to prevailing draught conditions.

Pilot Ladders are required for Pilot Boarding Arrangements in accordance with SOLAS Regulation V/23 & IMO Resolution A.1045(27)

Construction of Pilot Ladder


The steps of the pilot ladders should comply with the following requirements:

  • shall be made of hardwood (Ash, Oak, Beech, Teak, and other hardwood having equivalent properties), they should be made in one piece, free of knots;
  • if made of material other than hardwood, they should be of equivalent strength, stiffness and durability to the satisfaction of the Administration;
  • the four lowest steps may be of rubber of sufficient strength and stiffness or other material to the satisfaction of the Administration;
  • should have an efficient non-slip surface;
  • should be not less than 400 mm between the side ropes, 115 mm wide and 25 mm in depth, excluding any non-slip device or grooving;
  • should be equally spaced not less than 310 mm or more than 350 mm apart; and;
  • should be secured in such a manner that each will remain horizontal.
  • The Pilot Ladder should NOT have more than two replacement steps which are secured in position by a method different from that used in the original construction of the ladder, and any steps so secured should be replaced as soon as reasonably practicable by steps secured in position by the method used in the original construction of the pilot ladder.
  • When any replacement step is secured to the side ropes of the pilot ladder by means of grooves in the sides of the step, such grooves should be in the longer sides of the step.
    Pilot ladders with more than five steps should have spreader steps not less than 1.8 m long provided at such intervals as will prevent the pilot ladder from twisting.
  • The lowest spreader step should be the fifth step from the bottom of the ladder and the interval between any spreader step and the next should not exceed nine steps.
  • When a retrieval line is considered necessary to ensure the safe rigging of a pilot ladder, the line should be fastened at or above the last spreader step and should lead
    forward. The retrieval line should not hinder the pilot nor obstruct the safe approach of the pilot boat.
  • A permanent marking should be provided at regular intervals (e.g. 1 m) throughout the length of the ladder consistent with ladder design, use and maintenance in order to facilitate the rigging of the ladder to the required height.


  • The Side Ropes of the pilot ladder should consist of two uncovered ropes not less than 18 mm in diameter on each side and should be continuous, with no joints and have a breaking strength of at least 24 kN per side rope.
  • The Side Ropes should each consist of one continuous length of rope, the midpoint half-length being located on a thimble large enough to accommodate at least two passes of side rope. Check ISO 799-1:2019 (E) for more detailed information
  • Each pair of side ropes should be secured together both above and below each step with a mechanical clamping device properly designed for this purpose, or seizing method with step fixtures (chocks or widgets), which holds each step level when the ladder is hanging freely. The preferred method is seizing.
  • Man Ropes should be on stand-by if required by the Pilot. Diameter should be minimum 28 mm and maximum 32 mm, without any knots in length. Made of Manila Rope or other  material which gives firm grip for climbing the ladder.

How to Rig a Pilot Ladder

  • A pilot ladder required to be capable of covering the whole length from the point of access to the water level.
  • The height from water level is informed to the bridge by the port control or the pilot himself depending on the height of the pilot vessel.
  • The top portion or head of the pilot ladders should be secured at the strongest point of the vessel.
  • The pilot ladder should be positioned and secured so that it is clear of any discharges from the ship, with a parallel body length of the ship and as far as practicable within the halfway length (mid-ship) of the ship.
  • All steps of the pilot ladder should rest firmly against the ship side. In certain ships, where constructional features such as fenders or rubbing band prevent the implementation of the above safety features, special arrangements are to be made for safe embarkation and disembarkation.
  • Two man ropes should be rigged along the side of the pilot ladder if requested.
  • During the night, the whole length of the pilot ladder, point access should be well illuminated.
    A life buoy with self-igniting light and a heaving line should be kept ready.
  • Proper communication between pilot station and bridge.
  • Proper lighting at pilot ladder.
  • Ladder must be properly secured with the ship side
    Pilot ladder rigged as per VTIS  or pilot instructions
  • Ladder should be oil or grease free
  • Lifebuoy with light must standby at pilot station

Combination Ladder

When ACCOMMODATION LADDERS USED IN CONJUNCTION WITH PILOT LADDERS, such arrangement is called as “Combination Ladder”. It may refer to either rig, where the lower platform of the accommodation ladder is fitted with a trapdoor to allow “through” rigging of the pilot ladder (thus permitting the pilot to safely transfer to the platform or to deck), or a more simple step over arrangement where the pilot ladder is rigged beside the lower platform.

This arrangement is only used when free-board is more than 9 meters.

While rigging a Combination Pilot Ladder make sure that:

  • The length of the accommodation ladder should be sufficient to ensure that its angle of slope does not exceed 45°. In ships with large draft ranges, several pilot ladder hanging positions may be provided, resulting in lesser angles of slope. The accommodation ladder should be at least 600 mm in width.
  • The lower platform of the accommodation ladder should be in a horizontal position and secured to the ship’s side when in use. The lower platform should be a minimum of 5 m above sea level.
  • Intermediate platforms, if fitted, should be self-levelling. Treads and steps of the accommodation ladder should be so designed that an adequate and safe foothold is given at the operative angles.
  • The ladder and platform should be equipped on both sides with stanchions and rigid handrails, but if hand-ropes are used they should be tight and properly secured. The vertical space between the handrail or hand-rope and the stringers of the ladder should be securely fenced.
  • The pilot ladder should be rigged immediately adjacent to the lower platform of the accommodation ladder and the upper end should extend at least 2 m above the lower platform.
  • The horizontal distance between the pilot ladder and the lower platform should be between 0.1 and 0.2 m.
  • Each stanchion should be rigidly secured to the ship’s structure at or near its base and also at a higher point, should be not less than 32 mm in diameter and should extend not less than 1.2 m above the top of the bulwarks. Stanchions or handrails should not be attached to the bulwark ladder.

Pilot Ladder Arrangement Diagram by IMPA