With Hand-Span of Water under the Keel

Pilots are experienced nautical officers who know their local waters like the back of their hands. They advise captains on ocean-going ships on their approach to coasts and ports. Even GPS and sea charts cannot replace their knowhow and experience. The reason? They are familiar with local conditions, prevailing currents, and the breadths and depths of the navigation channel in their area. That equips them to bring a ship safely into her destination port. For Elbe pilots, the estuary starts south of Heligoland and stretches around 170 kilometres to Bubendeyufer. Port pilots take over there. For the Elbe and the Port of Hamburg, taking on pilots is mandatory for all craft longer than 90 metres, or wider than 13 metres, but also for all tankers. Fishermen were already offering navigational aid on the Elbe back in the 14th century. Port pilots have been in service with the Hanseatic City of Hamburg since 1858. In 1981 they founded a pilots’ association. They have since organized their deployment independently as freelancers. Especially against the background of the ever-increasing size, breadth and required draft of ocean-going ships, pilots are constantly becoming more essential for the safety of ship traffic on the Elbe and in the port. 

Pilot VesselPilot Vessel

The Pilot Base Vessel ELBE PILOT

This pilot base vessel is stationed on the Elbe estuary as it reaches the German Bight. Elbe pilots start the great majority of their assignments here. The vessel offers accommodation for up to 34 crew members, each working in shifts of two weeks, and for about 50 pilots. When a pilot is required on board an incoming ocean-going vessel, a pilot transfer boat takes him from the station to the place of action. There the transfer boat positions itself on the lee side, away from the wind, of the ocean-going ship to enable the pilot to clamber on board via the pilots’ ladder and/or through a hatch in the ship’s side. All this happens as the ship is still moving. The sea pilot advises the ship’s master on navigating the ship until reaching the next pilot station off Brunsbüttel. There a change of pilots takes place and an Elbe pilot takes over the job of advising the captain on the bridge. The final change of pilots occurs as the Port of Hamburg is reached, level with Seemannshöft pilot station, opposite Teufelsbrück. Here port pilots specializing in the port basins take over until the ship safely reaches the quay wall to discharge and load her cargo.


Training to become a Pilot

Training as a pilot offers fine opportunities for pursuing a career in an international environment.  And fresh blood is needed! Anybody wishing to become a pilot has an exciting career ahead. The qualification required for training is the licence for “Ship’s masters in the Great Trades without Restrictions”. Those new or switching over to the job can gain this at a nautical school or university. In addition, a new pilot must have spent two years in a responsible post on an ocean-going ship. An eight-month training period in the area of his choice can then begin. This ends with a Federal Office for Waterways & Shipping (GDWS) exam. After five years of practical experience of ships of different sizes, the trainee pilot finally receives a licence as a pilot without restrictions regarding ship size.
For further information, click on www.bundeslotsenkammer.de