Master / Pilot Relationship


Unless I have inexplicably found myself in an alternate universe.

The Master or OOW retains responsibility for the vessel. Including the conduct of the vessel.
It may be a common practice for the Pilot to “ Conn” the vessel directly. While the Master or OOW moniters the situation. The Master or OOW retain responsibility and authority.

Some Masters or OOW. May put their minds in neutral and thumb up thier ass when the Pilot boards. Leaving everything to the Pilot. Which is fine and dandy till it goes wrong.
After which the Pilot. Gets his papers signed shakes the Capts hand and says “ Gee sorry about the dent” and leaves the Capt to deal with the paper work.

Some pilotage authorities may hold a pilot accountable after an incident and a report. Mostly not.

There are a lot of ships particularly those with more complex drive systems where the ship handling is done by ships Master or Officer.

Things may have changed it’s close to 30 years since I used a Pilots services. But not according to the Pilots I know.
If anything they are watched more closely now. Not less.

One area I might have questioned a pilot about on more than one occasion.
Collision Avoidance.

Most of the time when I was the OOW with a Pilot. I found the Pilot quite happy to tak with me. About all sorts of things. Obviously the best bars etc. But also where we were, what marks he was using. What the current was doing and why we were on a particular heading. They would happily point out transits, Clearing lines, talk about wheel over. Advance and transfer.
I also learned a lot of ship handeling from Pilots.
For me, It was a long time ago but I think most Pilots appreciated someone who was interested in what was going on. Today I do my own pilotage.
A new guy, you can tell pretty quick what type of experience he has and if they ever talked to the Pilot.


If I remember correctly the Master of the Zim Mexico had the shaft generator engaged while maneuvering (big no-no) so when the engine failed so did the power to the thruster. Without a second boat (which they didn’t have)there wasn’t much action for him to take that would have avoided hitting the crane.


As far as pilots accepting responsibility for their actions here is an example of their perspective on the subject. This is the flip side of a pilot ticket from sometime back that I saved. I have seen and signed many others with similar disclaimers.


Not a lawyer, and certainly not an admiralty lawyer – but I have a suspicion that that would fail in court. I have the impression that there’s precedent with regard to things like the disclaimer of responsibility printed on the back of parking tickets.


You are correct regarding the shaft generator except in the case of ships like the Zim Mexico the usual set up is two diesel alternators and the shaft generator. The bow thruster uses almost all the capacity of the two diesel auxiliaries and the set up is designed to use the shaft generator to power the bow thruster. The board is isolated from the shaft generator and both diesel auxiliaries are run while manoeuvring. I was master of a similar vessel and except for berthing in extreme conditions no tug assistance was engaged, the vessel being highly manoeuvrable with a Becker rudder.
I was a pilotage exempt master at all the ports I called at so I had complete knowledge of any deficiencies and could engage a tug if required.

I seem to recall that the master in the case of the Zim Mexico failed to advise the pilot of past deficiencies.


I did a number of trips up the Amazon which off some challengers to the accepted wisdom.
After crossing the bar and making your way the 170 miles up to Macapa on a British Admiralty chart , so far so good, you fall off the end of accepted hydrographic practice and BA coverage. The two pilots board for the 750 mile transit to Manus and supply Brazilian charts. There is no passage plan you’re already underway and the first chart has the latitude lines inclined at 45 degrees to the horizontal with the scale in the middle of the chart. The second mate who was a very talented young man when confronted with the chart understandably took a while to get a fix on the chart. As the voyage progressed the river deviated so much that we were occasionally steaming over land as shown on the chart. There is a degree of acceptance if there is a grounding. A colleague sailing with Blue Star in the past described one grounding as for some initially inexplicable reason everyone started to run towards the bridge windows.


I have once had to take over from a pilot and ask him to step out on the bridge wing. This was in the early days of local pilots in Singapore and with a small ship going in to Keppel Shipyard (not the present one) where pilotage was compulsory. The young pilot had a short career as 2nd Mate on a NOL Container ship and some few months training at Pu.Bukom tanker terminal.
He did not realise that a ship of 499 GT was very different from a 500000 DWT tanker in handling characteristics. When we approached the waiting berth outside the dock gate I had to take over as we headed for the still closed dock gate and he lost control.
I received a letter from the Marine Department asking me why I had taken Command from the Pilot. I replied that I had never relinquished Command to the pilot and referred to the British Navigation Act of 1893 that still governed maritime affairs in Singapore at the time. No more were said and no damages caused.



Rather then “take over” why didn’t you just stop taking his advice?

The fact that a pilot has been given control of the ship for navigational purposes does not mean that the pilot has superseded the master. The master is, and remains, in command; he is the authority on board. He may, and does, delegate part of this authority to subordinates and to outside assistants whom he employs to navigate his ship - i.e., pilots. A delegation of power is not an abandonment of authority but one way of exercising authority.

Master/Pilot Relationship - The Pilot’s View


Isn’t that much the same; “stopped taking pilot’s advice and took over the conn”
(as you Americans like to call it)

When you are about to hit a dock gate (or anything else) is not the time to split hairs over terminology.


I’ve never heard a merchant mariner use the term “conn” Not only do they not use the term but evidently the concept of “having the conn” does not exist. This is part of the reason this thread is up to 30 posts. The concept has to be spelled out, like this:

The fact that a pilot has been given control of the ship for navigational purposes does not mean that the pilot has superseded the master. The master is, and remains, in command; he is the authority on board. He may, and does, delegate part of this authority to subordinates and to outside assistants whom he employs to navigate his ship - i.e., pilots. A delegation of power is not an abandonment of authority but one way of exercising authority.

I don’t think explaining that the pilot does not take command of the vessel is telling anyone here anything they don’t already know.


Obviously some time somebody use the term “conn”, even if they are real mariners, not in the Navy, or Hollywood actors.


I learned the term from being the the Coast Guard for four years. I have not heard it used by a merchant mariner, as I said. I used it here but I also gave a definition for those not familiar.


OK let’s call it quits while we still have some hairs to split at the next crossway.


I use the term “Conn” quite frequently in the logbook and bell book to denote who is controlling the ship and will typically announce to the mate when the pilot has “taken it” so it is recorded verbally as well as on paper. I guess I was taught that way and was never in the navy.


Maybe some ex-navy instructors at your school?

I don’t recall seeing or hearing it on the merchant side. On the military side it’s announced for everyone to hear each time.

I have to remember not to call it “after steering”


The verb «conn», also spelled «con», is first known to have appeared in English in the 1600s. It is an alteration of «cond» which is an alteration of Middle English «condien» or «conduen» meaning «to conduct».

As a master, you better not land aground while you have taken the conn over a pilot. You never take over the conn from a pilot unless he shows obvious willful misconduct, gross negligence or evident sign of intoxication. In case of doubt… it is much smarter to adopt BMR principia; «it is not because the master handles the controls (EOT, rudder, thruster,…) that he took over from the pilot». The technique is for the master to handle or order the controls while the pilot advises where he judges the best vessel’s position to be, appreciated from moment to moment. In other words, the pilot advises the master where he wants the ship to be while the master, who knows how his ship could be sluggish, maneuvers to bring the vessel at the required position and speed.


What I meant to say was the merchant marine appears not to have a term for what the navy calls “the conn”.

Nor does the MM have a term for “the deck”. I’m not sure the the mate on watch has the same authority as does the OOD in the Navy.


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.


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.