Digitising pilotage peer learning

Clive SheardClive Sheard is a  Senior Marine Consultant at the ABL Group. The ABL Group recently launched a new digital service to compliment marine pilot training.


Pilotage related accidents/incidents can have enormous financial implications as was demonstrated in the Ever Given Suez Canal incident. Even a collision with a single gantry crane can result in claims in ex excess of USD 20 million.

A recent internal survey, interviewing marine pilots from all over the world, revealed a consensus that an average of 80% of a marine pilots training was made through learning from peers whilst on board a vessel observing a trained pilot.

This methodology of training is thought to have been in existence since marine pilotage began, hundreds of years ago and, to date, little has changed in on board peer learning.

Drone video and sound technology has however now offered an opportunity to archive imagery and sound of a trained pilot at work via operational videos.  The trainee pilots can therefore watch these videos and ask questions at their leisure.

This will also enable trainee pilots to commence on board and simulator training having already witnessed and assessed experienced pilots conning ships in and out of a port where they, will soon commence their training.

Compiling the operational videos

The training videos for each individual port are filmed under instruction from the port/terminal. Typically, the port will be expected to order videos for pilotage operations that are difficult due to e.g.  berth space, currents, swell, vessel, wind, vessel propulsion, vessel draft or vessel size.

Once the menu is established the video shooting commences. The pilot is fitted with a high-fidelity recording device that captures all the dialogue from the pilot, tugs, VTS and the vessels bridge team.

A Go Pro camera is also placed in the wheelhouse to capture the “bridge wing” view or the vessels manoeuvring data so that comparisons between the arial view and the wheelhouse view can be made.  Data from the pilots PPU is also collected and converted into a video format. The Go Pro and PPU imagery are include in the drone video as insets.

The drone imagery is captured via a drone flying at 120 meters above the vessel, mostly from behind the funnel and in line with the foremast.  This positioning allows the viewer to follow the fore and aft line of the vessel as it is steered through a channel and into the inner basin of the port.  The viewer therefore has a real time arial view of the vessel whilst at the same hearing all the pilots’ commands.  The PPU imagery, the view from the wheelhouse and all the other dialogue from the wheelhouse also enhance the learning process.

The deliverable:

The completed videos are vetted by the port and when approved are uploaded into a “log in and log out” secure APP with filters allowing the viewer to select various criteria in order to view the most appropriate video for the particular training need.

The APP auto records what videos have been watched and by whom. The APP also allows comments to be made against certain clips…that all identified by run time of the video.  This allows the pilot training system at the port to monitor the “top hits” by individual pilots and any comments that the viewing pilot has left.


The drone pilot training APP adds a new dimension to marine pilot peer learning. The videos enhance the opportunity for the training pilot to methodically analyse how a senior and experienced pilot manoeuvres a ship in the port taking into account the different variables that he or she may soon experience. This knowledge can then create a solid base of understanding before the physical onboard training, has even started.

Other advantages are:

  • A solid video history of good practice and training should an incident ever cause the ports marine operations to be challenged. The video history can also be used to defend a port’s “safe port” tag, which can be extremely attractive to charterers.
  • The skills of senior and experienced pilots need are not lost to the “new generation” when retirements occur.
  • Training can be speeded up where vessel numbers are low at certain terminals resulting in a slow turnover of terminal specific licence training.

Clive has 42 years of marine experience with a wide range of “hands on” and management experience in providing assurance and consultancy services to the off-shore industry and marine industries. Clive has worked for leading marine assurance companies after time at sea on a range of vessels and having worked both in ports and shipyards in marine operations roles. Clive is an accredited SOMWS, International Standard for Pilot Organizations (ISPO) and OVID surveyor.
Clive Sheard holds a PhD Degree in Marine Law, Cape Town University. He also holds a Masters Mariner Class 1 certificate and Post Grad Dip in Marketing Management. Contact Clive via email Clive.sheard@abl-group.com