Master / Pilot Relationship

I’ve heard, and used, the term “Con” frequently and use it in my standing orders. It’s important that the OOW knows if you’re taking it and that your presence on the bridge doesn’t infer that you have it, therefore when I take the con I tell him and put it in the log book, likewise when I give him the con it also goes in the book.

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I’ve heard that taking the “con” is short for taking the confidence of the vessel.

In US ports a vessel subject to federal pilotage must be “under the direction and control” of an individual with a federal pilotage endorsement. 46 USC 8502

Most state laws mirror this requirement.

Obviously you are obligated as master to relieve someone who is intoxicated or incompetent. Given the level of federal and local oversight in US ports this situation would be extremely rare.

Well, maybe the use of the term “conn” is more widespread than I realized. As I said I don’t recall seeing or hearing it used on the merchant side. In the log I’ve seen “watch relived by …” or “master pilot exchange completed”.

I’ve always felt the the term was conspicuous by it’s absence on the merchant side.

In the Navy the term “conn” is defined (always with the double n) by Navy regulation. Is it in the cfr or law somewhere on the merchant side?

This was deliberately and directly translated from the Norwegian “neste korsvei” and nobody could be bordered to tell me it is wrong and should be “cross road”??

Are you slipping here??? I expected to be told in no uncertain terms that I do not understand English, but somehow is excused because it is my second language.

Ooops, OT AGAIN!!!

To further confuse things, the company I work for uses “watch conditions” which are to be logged when there is a change in the conn. Condition A for a mate on watch, Condition B for two officers on bridge (notating that the master is on the bridge or when he takes the conn), Condition C for three officers on the bridge (very rare), and Condition D for a pilot at the conn. It is part of the safety management system.

Yes, we use watch conditions as well.

I think if the terms used are either the traditionally used or defined somewhere, like in the SMS then no problem. My SMS does not use the term. I’d be very reluctant to just start using it on my own,

Googling “OICNW” and “conn” doesn’t turn up much.

Here’s a similar thread I started here: Responsibility and authority of OICNW

BTW the sea story I tell on that thread took place the during the same port stay the C/M asked me about long underwear I mentioned in the winter gear thread. We were in Adak.

My sister was stationed there for a while, met her husband there. Chilly place. Windy, too, I understand.

There is a Washington State law regarding that but I suppose it is better to break that law and keep your ship safe…

I agree. On reflection I should have clarified that the command remains with the master but the pilot has charge of the navigation. The Houston ship canal in particular being a case in point. Watching the pilot alter course towards a passing ship mere feet away is unnerving and while it is based on the physical effects of ships in a narrow channel it is not something that one has any practical experience.

“Conn” = Conning

Merriam Webster



\ˈkän \

variants: or less commonly con

conned; conning

Definition of conn

(Entry 1 of 3)

transitive verb

: to conduct or direct the steering of (a vessel, such as a ship)

To conn means to control or direct by rudder and engine order telegraph, the moments of a ship.

  • That’s from U.S. Navy’s Watch Officer’s Guide Ninth Edition. (1965, I bought it used some time ago)


(a) One and only one person can give orders to the wheel and to the engine order telegraph at one time.

(b) The identity of the person giving the orders must be known to the personnel on the bridge.

(c ) The Officer of the Deck may be relieved of the conn by another officer, but retains a considerable measure of responsibility for the ship’s safety.

The book mentions that the OOD watches that the conning officer’s orders are carried out and otherwise acts as lookout.

It goes on for a couple pages, it uses the term "two-intellect system, where one officer conns and the other monitors.

Does it count as conning if the mate is steering and running the thrusters while you yell at him that he’s doing it wrong? :grimacing:

Yes, But only if he/she had the entry, “E Pluribus Unum” made in the Deck Log

From a practical standpoint the legal status between pilot/master is almost entirely academic. Unless there is an incident what matters in the wheelhouse has almost entirely to do with the specific individuals involved and the situation.

The legal side apparently centers upon the question of from where the pilot derives his authority. On one hand the pilot’s status can be similar to when the mate is controlling the movements under supervision of the master and on the other extreme the Panama Canal (or inside a dry dock) where legally the pilot is not acting under the master’s authority but from some other outside authority.

In practice the key element in the master / pilot relationship is how closely the goals of each match up in any given situation.

There are two kinds of legal responsibilities here, the financial and the criminal.
The Pilot and his employer would most likely be able to escape financial responsibility in most jurisdictions, but the Pilot could be held criminally responsible for willful or grossly negligent acts that causes death, injuries or damages to public property. (??)

To win your criminal case, you will have to prove «without the shadow of a doubt» that the pilot acted like a drugged pilot-guided kamikaze that attempted deliberately to crash a vessel against another vessel or a crane! Good luck …

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The bar is not set quite that high…

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If you tried to claim compensation for damages in a civil court, I presume that could be the case, but I thought that criminal cases are something the legal authorities raise??
I see your point, though.

The pilot was charge under the Oil Pollution Act which prohibits from negligently discharging oil and the Migratory Bird Treaty that prohibits killing birds, offenses which do not require proof of criminal intent or of even recklessness or gross negligence. The pilot medical false statement to government officials did certainly not help his case …

They (the authorities) get you with whatever they can. Al Capone wasn’t convicted of murder, racketeering, prostitution or any of the other stuff he did…It was tax evasion that got him.