What is it like to be a Bristol marine pilot?

Katherine Lovell
PR & Communications Executive | The Bristol Port Company
15th June 2017
Member roleInitiative member

With 2,600 acres across Bristol Port, there are 7,500 employees across the site all playing an important role in keeping the Port running smoothly. Including Martin Greenslade, Chairman of the Bristol Pilots who also plays the role of Senior Pilot, bringing in the mighty vessels in Bristol Port. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a pilot? Well wait no more as Martin explains all below:

What is your full title?

A Marine Pilot

What is the main principle of your role?

Marine pilots posses a specialised and detailed knowledge of the port, its approaches and geographical area as well as the prevailing tidal and weather conditions. They are also expert and highly specialised ship handlers. Marine pilots have a responsibility to maintain and ensure national and international standards by observing, reporting and, if needs be taking action to mitigate risk to shipping and the environment.

What is the first thing you do when you get into work?

When we are ordered by the shipowners agent to pilot a vessel into Avonmouth or Royal Portbury Docks we will make our way to our outpost in Barry well in advance of our Pilot Order time. We are then transferred to the ship by the Pilot Cutter, Bristol Interceptor, and will embark the vessel by a rope Pilot Ladder rigged by the Ships Crew.

We will then make our way up to meet the Captain on the Navigational Bridge. The first thing we do is to have a briefing to discuss the passage plan with the Captain which is the foundation between what is called the Master Pilot Exchange of Information.

How long is a standard day?

For a Bristol Pilot there isn't such a thing as a standard day. A Pilot spends 2 weeks on duty within a roster of up to 8 pilots. Each Pilot Order is allocated to a Pilot in turn. Once he has completed the Act of Pilotage they will go to the back of the rota. When the Port is busy he may pilot a vessel on each of the 2 tides in the day. A Pilot is away from home on average 6 hours per Act.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about being a Bristol Pilot is the satisfaction of being part of a team responsible for safely conning a merchant ship into Port and into doing so in one of the more challenging marine environments of the World. 

What is the worst thing about your job?

It has to be facing the rough weather aboard the Bristol Interceptor in the middle of winter in the dark and stormy Severn Estuary. Then to be faced with climbing upto a height of 9 metres on a rope ladder onto a wet deck.

Any interesting stories/most interesting thing that’s happened in your role?

A pilot prefers the non interesting as that means all is well. I always recall a pilot with a wicked sense of humour offering sweets to a fully Japanese manned Car Ship. Too polite to turn the offer down each popped a Fishermans Friend, an acquired taste, into their mouths. Watching each face turn puse and sheepishly making their excuses to send it into the Channel was amusing and memorable to say the least!

What did you want to do when you were a child?

When I was a child I still harboured hopes of playing for Liverpool only to be curtailed harshly by lack of talent! It wasn't until I attended a Merchant Navy Open Day did I even think of a life at sea.

Any other comments or stories you would like to share?

In my role as the current Chairman of Bristol Pilots, I am charged with moving the service forward in pace with modern technology in terms of tools for the job, training and professional development. As part of informing people about the role we play on the Bristol Channel, we have launched our new website www.bristolpilots.co.uk

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