IMO & Pilotage

The importance of employing qualified pilots in approaches to ports and other areas where specialized local knowledge is required has been formally recognized by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) since 1968.

Pilots with local knowledge are employed on board ships to safely guide them into or out of port or wherever navigation may be considered hazardous, particularly when a master and bridge team are unfamiliar with the area.

In addition to local knowledge and expertise, pilots are able to provide effective communication with the shore and with tugs, often in the local language. This enhances both the safety and efficiency of berthing and unberthing but also supports effective emergency responses, for example, in the event of a machinery breakdown.

The importance of employing qualified pilots in approaches to ports and other areas where specialized local knowledge is required was formally recognized by IMO (then the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organization) in 1968 and communicated in Resolution A.159 (ES. IV).

The IMO recommends that Governments organize pilotage services where they would be likely to prove more effective than other possible measures and to define the ships and classes of ships for which employment of a pilot would be mandatory. 


IMO has decided not to become involved with either the certification or the licensing of pilots, or with the systems of pilotage practised in various States. However, in 2003, the IMO adopted its Recommendations on training and certification and operational procedures for maritime pilots other than deep-sea pilots (Resolution A.960(23)).

These recommendations reflect the IMO’s:

  • Belief that maintaining a proper working relationship between the pilot, the master and the bridge team is important in ensuring the safety of shipping.
  • Recognition of the need to maintain the high standards of pilotage services already established in many States.
  • Consideration that in those States that are developing pilotage services, the establishment of practical minimum training standards, certification requirements and operational procedures, contributes to maritime safety. 


One of the persistent challenges encountered by pilots in the course of their work is that of getting on board the ship. This is particularly true when the weather conditions are difficult, or the ship is very large.

Requirements to make this easier are contained in SOLAS regulation 23 (Pilot Transfer Arrangements).

The regulation was last amended in 2012, but the 106th session of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee agreed in November 2022 to look again at the provisions of the regulation and its associated instruments:

IMPA will be providing technical and operational advice to the IMO in its work to amend SOLAS regulation 23 and associated instruments.

The International Standards Organization (ISO), with the participation of IMPA, has also recently revised its standards for pilot transfer arrangements relevant to the work of the IMO:

  • ISO 799-1:2019 — Ships and marine technology — Pilot ladders — Part 1:Design and specification.
  • ISO 799-2:2021 — Ships and marine technology — Pilot ladders — Part 2: Maintenance, use, survey, and inspection.
  • ISO 799-3:2022 — Ships and marine technology — Pilot ladders — Part 3: Attachments and associated equipment. 


IMO Resolutions encouraging the use of pilots on board ships in certain areas include:

  • Resolution A.1081(28) (adopted in 2013) recommends the use of qualified deep-sea pilots in the Baltic and Resolution MSC.138(76) (adopted 2002) recommends that ships with a draught of 11 metres or more should use the pilotage services established by Coastal States in the entrances to the Baltic Sea.
  • Resolution A.1080(28) (adopted 2013) recommends the use of deep-sea pilots in the North Sea, English Channel and Skagerrak.
  • Resolution MSC.138(76) (adopted 2002) recommends that loaded oil tankers with a draught of 7 m or more, loaded chemical tankers and gas carriers, irrespective of size, and ships carrying a shipment of irradiated nuclear fuel, plutonium and high-level radioactive wastes (INF-cargoes) using the Sound (which separates Sweden and Denmark) should use pilotage services.
  • Resolution A.827(19) (adopted 1995) on Ships’ Routeing includes in Annex 2 Rules and Recommendations on Navigation through the Strait of Istanbul, the Strait of Çanakkale and the Marmara Sea the recommendation that “Masters of vessels passing through the Straits are strongly recommended to avail themselves of the services of a qualified pilot in order to comply with the requirements of safe navigation.”
  • Resolution A.710(17) (adopted 1991) recommends ships of over 70 metres in length and all loaded oil tankers, chemical tankers or liquefied gas carriers, irrespective of size, in the area of the Torres Strait and Great North East Channel, off Australia, to use pilotage services.
  • Resolution A.668(16) (adopted 1989) recommends the use of pilotage services in the Euro-Channel and IJ-Channel (in the Netherlands). 


IMPA is the international non-governmental organization in consultative status representing maritime pilotage at the IMO.

The Association delivers technical, operational and human element input to the work of the IMO in the fields of navigation, navigation technology, bridge procedures, port entry, ship-handling, mooring and towing, vessel traffic services (VTS), aids to navigation, hydrography and relevant aspects of ship design and construction.

IMPA is a frequent and respected participant in the work for IMO bodies, including but not limited to:

  • Maritime Safety Committee (MSC).
  • Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).
  • Facilitation Committee (FAL).
  • Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR).
  • Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW).
  • Sub-Committee on Implementation of IMO Instruments (III).
  • Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Construction (SDC).

IMPA is required to report to the IMO on its contribution to the work of the Organization every two years.