Sydney's Marine Pilots Boost Safety for 225 Years

By The Maritime Executive 02-08-2018 05:14:00

Marine pilots have been helping ships navigate safely through Sydney Harbour for 225 years.

Image: A Port Authority cutter vessel used to transfer marine pilot to ships in Sydney Harbour

A pilot needs to have an in-depth knowledge of the safe channels and approaches; the depths of the waters; the speed of the currents; the direction of the wind; and the times of the tides.

It would be impossible for a captain to know such detailed information about every port they may visit.

Image: A cutter vessel approaching a cargo ship in choppy seas

The pilot’s role is to head out to see and transfer to the ship — easier said than done in stormy water or at night. They then head to the bridge to guide and advise the captain and crew on how to navigate the waters and get the ship safely to port.

Image: A Port Authority pilot transfers from a cutter vessel to a ship by ladder

Pilotage is an ancient profession that has been essential to shipping since Ancient Greece. In Sydney Harbour, pilots have been guiding ships into Port Jackson since 1792 and have played a significant role into helping Sydney develop into the city it is today.

Robert Watson, a British sailor and quartermaster of H.M.S. Sirius of the First Fleet, became one of Sydney’s first official pilots in 1811. Watson, who would later go on to become harbor master, gave his name to Watson’s Bay, which became the location of Sydney’s first permanent pilot station in 1960.

In the early days, pilots reached arriving ships by oar-powered whaling boats. As Sydney developed, trade increased and ships became larger, there was a need for tighter legislation.

Image: The Thetis, the first dedicated pilot vessel in Sydney

By 1833, all vessels entering and leaving the harbour had to engage the services of a pilot and by 1875, Sydney had its first dedicated pilot vessel, the steamer ship Thetis.

Pilots are now transferred to ships by fast cutter vessels or, in the case of Newcastle, by helicopter. While the equipment may have changed, the role of the pilot remains the same and is still essential to maritime safety.

Image: A Port Authority pilot gets ready to board a cruise ship out at sea

Each year, Port Authority pilots and cutter crew perform thousands of transfers each year, helping to bring cruise ships, cargo ships and tankers safely into port and carrying on a 225-year-old service that’s almost as old as the city itself.

Image: A Port Authority of New South Wales pilot vessel passes by the Sydney Opera House

Today, Port Authority of New South Wales manages pilotage across Sydney Harbour and Port Botany, as well as in Port Kembla, Newcastle, Eden and Yamba.