Running short-handed. Cadet at the pilot ladder etc

Regarding cadets at the top of the ladder … as long as he/she has a radio (most always do in my experience), I’m fine with that. Reality today is, given the small crews (minimum manning) its amazing there is an officer to greet me, even if they wanted to.

How about when you get to the bridge and the only person there is the Master??? Steering, on the radio, and lookout …all by himself!


Thats how dive boats run the GOM on DP with divers down…

We always had a mate at the ladder but I can see situations where you could get away with using a cadet. Say for example if the ship returned often to the same port and the pilots knew and trusted the captain.

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On Dutch ships it was the third officers job, except when he was on watch, to meet the pilot but above all to see that the boarding gear was ship shape and properly tied up and fastened. The idea was that so the safety of the pilot was assured by a responsible officer. We had no cadets but apprentice mates which is probably comparable. In case of an pilot accident while boarding with a cadet in attendance hell would probably break loose at the office. Supposedly claims could be expected.

Well, that was back in the day, nowadays the captain’s a$$ is hanging out no matter what.

If the two junior mates are working 6 and 6 and the C/M is working 18 hour days for two weeks straight who are you going to call out? Like I said we always used a mate but there were a few times working C/M trying to catch a little sleep between ports seemed like that early call out for the pilot would about kill me.

Either way there’s risk involved. The old “what if something happens” ; as if it’s somehow possible for the captain to escape an incident unscathed.


Good point sir. As you know, I didn’t run ships but still ran a large underpowered vessel with reduced crew as many of them do. Had a fairly regular run and was on good terms with the pilots. They never questioned who met them at the ladder or jumping over the stern. Luckily, they knew us and we knew them. Made great efforts to ensure their safety while boarding and departing. Never had a complaint in 30 years or so regarding how many stripes the assistant helping them had. I just can’t wrap my head around that “Disrespect” thing.

Where I work, that’s exactly the case. Half our jobs are repeat liner service runs.

If they’re DP boats with “divers down” that implies they are NOT making way? Or even underway to pick up a Pilot?? Different situation, yes?

A Captain standing on the bridge all alone on a ship inbound through the waters of a Pilot Station Boarding area, trying to manage manual steering, voice comms on handheld radios to the rest of the deck crew, engine controls, lookout duty with surrounding traffic in the boarding area, comms with the Pilot Boat coming alongside … and maybe the poor guy is a foreigner where english is a second language … even in broad daylight and everything is working perfectly … is a recipe for disaster. Common sense of any minimally educated/trained mariner will tell you, that is NOT a safe practice.

Now throw in an alarm or two, for some innocuous thing, a faulty smoke detector maybe … or something significant? A main engine control alarm? That’ll make things even more exciting, eh?

The response of “We have always done that” doesn’t hold much water these days either.

I’ve walked on the bridge on small feeder box ships and found myself standing in the dark, wondering where the Captain is (anyone, really?) while the ship is plodding along towards the sea buoy on her own. Suddenly a man jumps out from behind the curtain of the chart table and begins to speak in broken english to me. I find that situation incredible. Sadly, it’s NOT unusual.

Given the minimum manning “requirements” of various flag states, it’s no wonder we have as many accidents at sea as we do. Its about bottom line profits. The ‘Safety Management System’ of many ship operators is simply another piece of paper to file and box to check on a form. Thats all.

DP boat under way and or making way, good question and different countries have different ideas when dealing with DP

Making way definition is props engaged, thats being in DP isnt it?

I was pointing out like you have, the lack of bridge crew.

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It was even worse than you might have imagined. As an exempt master of a 400 TEU Feeder vessel with two mates 6 and 6 in port leaving the wharf I was alone on the bridge wing until the helmsman arrived from the poop after letting go the lines. Did I like it - no. Did I need a job -yes. If a video had been made of the one man bridge having just dropped the lines having a water skier appear around the corner of the wharf then fall off. Apart from racing around like a blue arsed fly the language may well have precluded more general release because of a strong tidal stream which set the vessel towards rocks that I needed the bow thruster to avoid while not chopping the water skier up for cat food.

Could I have redirected manpower to avoid this - well the cook was still available but the galley caught fire on a vessel when this was pursued.
Two of the ports had a transit time from sea buoy to wharf of more than an hour and a half and keeping the 8 to 12 as well as frequent port calls made me appreciative of having three watch keepers when I moved on.


I have chatted with Captains doing North Sea feeder ships, 10 days on no sleep, 10 days off all sleep.

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I know you have often spoke of the cooperation of your cook with mooring ops but here the bridge was 6 decks above the galley and things had moved along way past burnt toast before you would have noticed that something was amiss.
We had a win now and then, send me lucky captains.

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Ever since covid, seeing what “normal” jobs are like through the magic of seeing my friends ashore “working from home”, I’ve realized that the manning is very short and the hours insane in pretty much any vessel and trade. This is objectively a very demanding, shorthanded, overworked job, at the best of times.


As a cadet, it was quite common for me to be sent down with a radio to oversee bringing the pilot aboard. No complaints from several US state and international pilot associations about “disrespect”.

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If something does, and your on-scene man is a cadet, you better have a good lawyer. It would be worth asking your Union lawyer if you, as the master, can also be held personally liable. Just saying….

I already said twice on this thread that we always had a mate meet the pilot.

That said it’s fully understood that a ship captain faces legal risks and operation risk also.

Wrt the “what if something happens” argument can always be used.

In the example of a ship picking up a pilot say three option exist.

  1. Captain can call out a mate, mate exceeds work/rest - incident occurs = legal problems
  2. Captain stay in the wheel house alone - incident occurs = legal problems
  3. Captain sends cadet - incident occurs = legal problems.
  1. Have cadet relieve Mate and send the Mate down. (If you have a cadet)

I always sent a mate to meet the pilot. My point is I don’t think the argument “what if something goes wrong” is very good one.

Not to mention somewhat annoying, how many mariners with decades of going to sea are unaware that there is risk and that things sometime go wrong?