Case Study: Go around before going aground

A bulk carrier, loaded to 12.65 metres draft, arrived at its destination and took a pilot for port entry. The bridge team consisted of the Master, the pilot, and a helmsman. The OOW had left the bridge for other duties. When the pilot arrived on the bridge, there was a brief exchange of vessel information between the Master and the pilot. The pilot called for hard to starboard, as the vessel was too close to the pier and there would not be enough time for it to safely make its approach on the current heading.

However, he issued helm orders without communicating to other bridge team members his plans for an alternative approach to the pier. Because the tide was turning, the pilot initiated a circular manoeuvre that included numerous and varied course and speed alterations to position the vessel further to the east. This was intended to give the vessel more time and distance to set up its approach to the pier. Once the vessel had passed the apex of its circular manoeuvre, it was making good a course of 160 degrees.


The pilot’s priority was now to slow the vessel before making the approach to the northern pier. He ordered both attending tugs to make their lines fast fore and aft and begin slowing the vessel down while gradually turning to starboard. At this time, the vessel’s speed over ground was between 6 and 7 knots. The pilot was not monitoring the radars or ECDIS. Some minutes later the vessel ran aground while making about 3 knots. The bridge team did not realize immediately what had happened. Shortly thereafter, the pilot checked the radar for the first time and realized the vessel was aground.

The vessel was refloated at the next high tide with tug assistance. No damage to the vessel or pollution was reported. The official investigation found, among other things, that although there had been a brief exchange of basic vessel information (horsepower and stopping capability) between the Master and the pilot, there was no exchange of passage plans or discussion of the approach to the berth. The pilot did not discuss his intended circular manoeuvre to reposition the vessel for its approach to the port, and the Master did not ask about the pilot’s intentions.

Furthermore, the Master did not communicate with the pilot the information that he was gathering from the ECDIS and radar, including course, speed, and the rapidly approaching depth contour on which the vessel grounded. Information exchange throughout the pilotage operation was limited to the pilot’s helm orders. The pilot did not request feedback from the bridge team, and none was offered.

Lessons learned

  • Without electronic validation or input from other bridge team members, even an experienced navigator can make errors that can lead to bad outcomes if left uncorrected.
  • The ‘challenge’ is a key principle of good BRM. When one member of the bridge team sees a developing dangerous situation, it must be communicated to the person having the con.
  • In this case, the ECDIS shading was set to depict anything shallower than 20m in dark blue, to differentiate it from deeper waters, which were identified with light blue.
  • Had waters with a depth of 10 metres and less been shaded with dark blue and marked distinctly as a no-go zone, the vessel’s relatively rapid approach to the 10 metre depth contour would have been more apparent.

Press Release

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