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Old 02-25-2020, 10:04 PM
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How can a harbor pilot handle a ship they've never been on before?


Seen a few videos lately about ships pilots, or harbor pilots, or whatever youcall the guys that use their expert knowledge of the waterways in an area to help big ships navigate a particular port safely.

I'm not understanding how they actually direct the vessels they're guiding in. They'll be on several different ships each day, each with different handling characteristics, limitations, and the like. There's no way they can be as familiar with that ship as it's captain. Even if the ship is being moved mostly by tugs, doesn't the behavior vary from vessel to vessel (depending on draft, load, construction, etc.)?

Logically, I'd expect them to advise the ships captain on where to maneuver and what to look for, but in most of the videos they're actually directing the speed of the ship (possibly giving steering directions as well) or coordinating the tugs.
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Old 02-25-2020, 10:13 PM
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That's why they make the big dollars.
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Old 02-25-2020, 10:17 PM
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Compare to a valet parking attendant. He drives a different car every few minutes, and most valets rarely crash them.

Although I am not a sailor of any kind, I would imagine a harbor pilot would have a wide experience with ships, and a specialized knowledge of the specific harbor. Sounds like a good combination to me.
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Old 02-25-2020, 10:30 PM
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Also why it's a long apprenticeship to become a pilot. The question is reasonable. But between the ship's officers being familiar enough with the variations in each port and waterway worldwide, and pilots who are specialists in a particular port/waterway, it seems to have evolved as being preferable for the pilot to give actual rudder and engine orders, besides giving orders to the tugs and line crews, neither of which is the expertise of the ship's officers.

But speaking of being paid relatively well to take great responsibility, a captain is still generally responsible/liable if the pilot is intoxicated, negligent, makes an obvious mistake etc. and the captain does not say or do anything about it in time to avoid an accident, including taking back control of the vessel if necessary. This relationship can vary by waterway though. When a ship is actually in the locks of the Panama Canal the Canal Authority is specifically legally liable for damage caused by a mistake of the pilot. That's not true in general, and generally private pilot organizations are not 'deep pockets' to try to get to pay out damages anyway.
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Old 02-25-2020, 11:28 PM
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In Washington state, the pilot training is 3 YEARS. Before they can even start, they have to be a master of a certain vessel size and pass an exam.

After 3 years, I would hope they encounter most types of ships that need a pilot, such as container and cruise ships.
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Old 02-25-2020, 11:50 PM
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It is not that the pilots know the ship better than the captain of the boat, it is that they know the water better. The captains steer the ship only at sea. On the Columbia River near me a pilot boat takes the bar pilot out to meet the ship while it is still at sea. The bar pilot manages the steering of the ship over the Columbia River bar, a notoriously dangerous crossing, and into the river.

Once over the bar and inside the river, the boat goes to anchor at Astoria until a River pilot is available to take the ship up river to Longview, Portland, wherever. And later a river pilot takes the boat back down to Astoria, and a bar pilot takes is back out to sea, and then the captain of the boat resumes full control.
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Old 02-26-2020, 05:19 AM
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Steering a big ship is difficult: There is a very long lead time, they don't track like a car does, and they react to the shape of the channel (and to other boats or walls if you come close).

But they aren't as different one-to-another as they are different to walking/driving/riding.
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Old 02-26-2020, 08:51 AM
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The pilots at Bristol have an interesting history: https://bristolpilots.co.uk/pilots-history/

Originally they were fast sailing cutters as it was a race to each incoming boat to get the work.
Quote:
A price was agreed, the pilot transferred to the vessel and the inward passage begun.

The cutter, in the hands of the westernman and boy would follow.

Into the Avon they would come and await at Hung road for the hobblers to arrange passage into Bristol. Pill served its waiting seafarers well, a run ashore, an ale house or two and maybe news from home.
More recently the pilots in this tricky estuary
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are chosen on merit and are trained in the geographical intricacies of the Severn, Avon and the Bristol Channel. Their skills are honed over 10 years before they become an 'unrestricted pilot ' able to handle all size and manner of ships. The ship handling skills are primarily developed by training given by existing pilots and in this way, we follow in our historical forefathers footsteps and maintain a link with the past. Training has changed, simulator work, manned models, courses and lots of forms to fill in but the result is the same. A highly skilled mariner, knowledgeable and calm, a master and seaman into whose hands the visiting ships captain can confidently give over the 'conduct of navigation' into this weather beaten and tremendously tidal channel.
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Old 02-26-2020, 09:28 AM
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Steering a big ship is difficult: There is a very long lead time, they don't track like a car does, and they react to the shape of the channel (and to other boats or walls if you come close).

But they aren't as different one-to-another as they are different to walking/driving/riding.
This. A ship's captain may know how to safely cross an ocean, and may have some experience in shallow waters and tight quarters, but the harbor pilot is the expert in the latter category.

There is a school in France, the Port Revel Shiphandling Training Center, where sailors can go to learn how to handle very large vessels. Students train in scale models that are ballasted and powered in a way that simulates the handling characteristics of big ships on a smaller size and time scale, and they are positioned on these ships so that their eyes are where they would be positioned on a full-scale vessel so they get familiar with that perspective. There they learn how to deal with passage across sloped/shallow seabeds, overtaking other vessels, and other situations in which the ship behaves in unexpected ways. They have their own YouTube channel with videos showing various shiphandling scenarios. Here's a good example showing the movement of a moored ship as another one passes by in a narrow canal; the intent is to show that high-speed passage can actually break the mooring lines.
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Old 02-26-2020, 09:34 AM
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How on earth does anyone fall into that line of work? Is it mostly passed down, father to son or whatnot?
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Old 02-26-2020, 12:01 PM
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I did a two-week cruise up around the Norwegian fjords back in November and we paid to go on the behind the scenes tour of the ship. Expensive but well worth it as it was fascinating. The tour culminated with a trip to the bridge to meet the Captain who I asked about pilots. The reason I asked is because on our first night as we dined in the opulence of the restaurant, the Southampton pilot was being transferred back to a little boat right outside our window. It did not look like fun. His reply was that sometimes if he is familiar with the port (Southampton for example), the pilot will literally just observe with no other input. Other times, the pilot will take full control of the ship until it is safely moored. So it varies depending on circumstances.
The most amazing thing he told us was that in some well charted ports, he will routinely take the 76,000 tonne (actually the smallest ship in P&O's fleet) ship in with only a metre clearance beneath it
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Old 02-26-2020, 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by purplehorseshoe View Post
How on earth does anyone fall into that line of work? Is it mostly passed down, father to son or whatnot?
I asked this question a few years ago:

The career path of a container ship captain?

Short version: just like learning to fly large commercial aircraft, there are formal academies where you go to learn this stuff, followed by licensing, followed by working as an officer on a ship, and eventually (with enough training and relevant experience) getting promoted to the rank of Big Cheese.

Not sure about harbor pilots, but I expect it's not much different. There's a good article about the Port Revel school here.
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Old 02-26-2020, 12:20 PM
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Training, lots and lots of training. There are a couple of ways to get seamanship training in my area. Many people have got some of it by being in the Coast Guard, a part of the armed forces for those of you not in the US. But that is just a start.

The local Job Corps has a seamanship program that takes about two years of training, testing, more of both. That will get you on a boat. Then you need a certain amount of sea time, certifications, etc. I do not know the details. The community college has a program, the MERTS, Maritime and Environmental Research and Training, that is another way. So years of training just to get on the boat. It is kind of like an apprentice program and it really takes dedication to not get weeded out.

There are many maritime jobs and all require a lot of training. Tug boats, inland waterways, river barge traffic, etc. But the cream of the crop is the bar and river pilots. And it is a very lucrative job. You can almost go where you want to go and work when you want.
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Old 02-26-2020, 12:46 PM
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Here is a link about the Columbia River Bar Pilots.

https://www.columbiariverbarpilots.com/

The pilots have to transfer from the pilot boat to the larger ship out in the ocean, a very dangerous feat. Timing the grab to the ladder in less than perfect conditions, because the goods on the boat need to be delivered or picked up, you can’t wait for perfect. Old and out of shape doesn’t work. Sometimes they use the pilot boat, sometimes a helicopter.

I thought those interested might like this.
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Old 02-26-2020, 12:54 PM
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Compare to a valet parking attendant. He drives a different car every few minutes, and most valets rarely crash them.
I don't know that that's a great analogy, as almost all cars that valets drive operate within pretty narrow parameters. There's a lot more range in ships.

Try giving an 18-wheeler or a tracked vehicle to a valet and I bet they'd have a lot more trouble.
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Old 02-26-2020, 01:09 PM
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There is a school in France, the Port Revel Shiphandling Training Center, where sailors can go to learn how to handle very large vessels. Students train in scale models that are ballasted and powered in a way that simulates the handling characteristics of big ships on a smaller size and time scale, and they are positioned on these ships so that their eyes are where they would be positioned on a full-scale vessel so they get familiar with that perspective.
I definitely saw that on the "Accidental Wes Anderson" Reddit at some point.
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Old 02-26-2020, 01:16 PM
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How on earth does anyone fall into that line of work? Is it mostly passed down, father to son or whatnot?
The traditional way is that your father tasks your nursery maid with arranging an apprenticeship for you with an existing pilot. Just make sure her hearing is good.

Also, carefully read your apprenticeship papers if you happen to be born on February 29...
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Old 02-26-2020, 02:09 PM
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I was the guest in the house of a retired harbor pilot for Colb, Ireland. He recounted how he “drove” the Queen Mary and USS Nimitz back in the Sixties. I imagined at the time that meant he was at the helm steering, but on later reflection realized he was talking about the way you “drive” livestock with gestures and verbal commands, not the way you “drive” a vehicle.
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Old 02-26-2020, 02:51 PM
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He recounted how he “drove” the Queen Mary and USS Nimitz back in the Sixties. I imagined at the time that meant he was at the helm steering, but on later reflection realized he was talking about the way you “drive” livestock with gestures and verbal commands, not the way you “drive” a vehicle.
I’ve noticed that people with certain “impressive” credentials tend to describe their work in the most reductive terms possible. Your pilot-host might have been using “drive” in this sense.

I work with a number of ex-USAF people, and one, a former fighter pilot, says he was a “Viper driver.” To me, this phrase exemplifies the laconic self-assurance stereotypically attributed to fighter pilots: “Viper” is (well-known) USAF slang for an F-16, and of course, “driver” is much less exciting that “fighter pilot.” But anyone who describes themselves as “a fighter pilot flying F-16s” is performing for an easily-impressed audience. “Viper driver” tells those in the know that (a) you’ve got a fancy job and (b) you’re secure enough in your own competence to underplay that.

If you ask a Harvard grad where they went to school, you’ll sometimes get the coy response, “Boston.” Yeah, some people react strongly to “Harvard” and it can cause an annoying fuss. But the cognoscenti (especially others with fancy educations) will know exactly what that answer means. If humblebragging had a torrid affair with in-group signaling, their offspring might look like this.

I can think of many other examples, but you get the point. Do you now think that Irish pilot used “drive” this way, or am I off the mark?
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Old 02-26-2020, 03:07 PM
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I’ve noticed that people with certain “impressive” credentials tend to describe their work in the most reductive terms possible. Your pilot-host might have been using “drive” in this sense.

I work with a number of ex-USAF people, and one, a former fighter pilot, says he was a “Viper driver.” To me, this phrase exemplifies the laconic self-assurance stereotypically attributed to fighter pilots: “Viper” is (well-known) USAF slang for an F-16, and of course, “driver” is much less exciting that “fighter pilot.” But anyone who describes themselves as “a fighter pilot flying F-16s” is performing for an easily-impressed audience. “Viper driver” tells those in the know that (a) you’ve got a fancy job and (b) you’re secure enough in your own competence to underplay that.
Reminds me of SR-71 pilots, who called themselves "sled drivers."
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Old 02-26-2020, 03:54 PM
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I can think of many other examples, but you get the point. Do you now think that Irish pilot used “drive” this way, or am I off the mark?
Your interpretation was my original thought, until I remembered (from where I don’t know) that pilots don’t actually take over for the helmsman. My understanding is that pilots are pretty much just consultants that the ship’s master or captain relies on for local knowledge. The master may brief the pilot on the ship’s maneuvering characteristics but it is ultimately the master’s knowledge that dictates how the ship moves. Where, when, and how fast are in the pilot’s wheelhouse (pun intended).
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Old 02-26-2020, 10:16 PM
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One of the cruise discussion forums I frequent has several merchant Mariners, retired USCG officers, other deck officers and a proficient poster who is a chief engineer on a tanker, if I recall, and formerly an engineer on Norwegian Cruise Lines.

When the subject of pilots comes up he will post that the pilot will advise, monitor and suggest, but only will assume the helm if invited by the captain to do so. Otherwise the captain or designated ship's officer is at the helm.

He further posts the only time a pilot will automatically assume the helm is during a Panama Canal transit.

CB
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Old 02-26-2020, 11:58 PM
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I was the guest in the house of a retired harbor pilot for Colb, Ireland.
Colb, Ireland ? I'm guessing this was either Cobh or Cork ?
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Old 02-27-2020, 05:06 AM
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...a proficient poster...
He was good at posting?

Or did you maybe mean prolific?
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Old 02-27-2020, 05:28 AM
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Here is a link about the Columbia River Bar Pilots.

https://www.columbiariverbarpilots.com/

The pilots have to transfer from the pilot boat to the larger ship out in the ocean, a very dangerous feat. Timing the grab to the ladder in less than perfect conditions, because the goods on the boat need to be delivered or picked up, you can’t wait for perfect. Old and out of shape doesn’t work. Sometimes they use the pilot boat, sometimes a helicopter.

I thought those interested might like this.
This bought back a memory of an old film I saw on TV a while ago. Set in the early 20th century, the coastguard does a daring rescue and crossing the 'bar' is a major feature. Can anyone else remember it?
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Old 02-27-2020, 06:17 AM
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They don't need to be familiar with each individual ship, only with a representative sample of ships. Get to know enough, and you can understand the ship you're on by comparison with other ships you've been on that are similar in whatever the key traits are.
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Old 02-27-2020, 06:37 AM
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He further posts the only time a pilot will automatically assume the helm is during a Panama Canal transit.
This also happens when transiting the Kiel Canal.

And typically, it isn't the pilot - it's the pilot's assistant, known as a helmsman.

Last edited by Xema; 02-27-2020 at 06:41 AM.
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Old 02-27-2020, 07:42 AM
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They don't need to be familiar with each individual ship, only with a representative sample of ships.
This.

A ship's handling qualities will vary with its size and loading, so a pilot will need experience with these. But the behavior of various ships of roughly the same size and loading will not vary wildly.
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Old 02-28-2020, 10:49 PM
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How on earth does anyone fall into that line of work? Is it mostly passed down, father to son or whatnot?
Quite often it is a family history with the Merchant Marine. I am the son of a Marine Engineer and from him I heard stories about sailing and heard about the Maritime academy. But a few of my class mates took the entrance exam to the maritime academy in response to a radio advertisement. When the applied they did not know the difference between the engine department and the deck department. some of my class mates failed the exam to enter as a deck Midshipman and were asked if they wanted to become an engineer instead.

I had several classmates with fathers as either deck or engineers, 1 the son of an ABS, one than on who parent worked or owned a ship yard.
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Old 02-28-2020, 11:00 PM
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Seen a few videos lately about ships pilots, or harbor pilots, or whatever youcall the guys that use their expert knowledge of the waterways in an area to help big ships navigate a particular port safely.

I'm not understanding how they actually direct the vessels they're guiding in. They'll be on several different ships each day, each with different handling characteristics, limitations, and the like. There's no way they can be as familiar with that ship as it's captain. Even if the ship is being moved mostly by tugs, doesn't the behavior vary from vessel to vessel (depending on draft, load, construction, etc.)?

Logically, I'd expect them to advise the ships captain on where to maneuver and what to look for, but in most of the videos they're actually directing the speed of the ship (possibly giving steering directions as well) or coordinating the tugs.
The requirement for most pilots is 1st a Unlimited Masters license. Thorough knowledge of the waters they are piloting through. They are experienced in handling ships. They operate almost all the same. Larger will require larger turning circles, heaver longer stopping times. They are not operating the ship directly but giving orders to the crew. If the pilot is giving orders that are unsafe the Captain will override him. When they get to the bridge they will be informed of how many turns (RPM) the different bells will be and the corisponding speed will be. They will be informed of the type of engines and the difference between ahead and astern bells. They will also be given any other information about the ships handling necessary.
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Old 02-28-2020, 11:06 PM
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I’ve noticed that people with certain “impressive” credentials tend to describe their work in the most reductive terms possible. Your pilot-host might have been using “drive” in this sense.

I work with a number of ex-USAF people, and one, a former fighter pilot, says he was a “Viper driver.” To me, this phrase exemplifies the laconic self-assurance stereotypically attributed to fighter pilots....
In The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger wrote that the most a Coast Guard pararescue diver would say about a terrifyingly mountainous sea that he had to dive into at night was that it was... "sporty."

That really stuck with me. Sporty!
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Old 02-28-2020, 11:09 PM
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I asked this question a few years ago:

The career path of a container ship captain?

Short version: just like learning to fly large commercial aircraft, there are formal academies where you go to learn this stuff, followed by licensing, followed by working as an officer on a ship, and eventually (with enough training and relevant experience) getting promoted to the rank of Big Cheese.

Not sure about harbor pilots, but I expect it's not much different. There's a good article about the Port Revel school here.
The fastest you can get to the big cheese in 6+years. 3 unlicensed, 1 as a 3rd, 1 as a 2nd, 1 as a 1st. 4 tests will have to be taken and passed before each of the officer levels. Each test harder than the one before. And the 3rds can take a week to take and pass. 3 Mate unlimited test has 7 sections, 3rd Assistant Engineer unlimited has 8 sections.
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Old 03-02-2020, 11:50 PM
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When the subject of pilots comes up he will post that the pilot will advise, monitor and suggest, but only will assume the helm if invited by the captain to do so. Otherwise the captain or designated ship's officer is at the helm.

He further posts the only time a pilot will automatically assume the helm is during a Panama Canal transit.

CB
Okay, that makes perfect sense. Sort of like how the passenger in a car might help their out-of-town friend in the drivers seat.

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Originally Posted by Snnipe 70E View Post
The requirement for most pilots is 1st a Unlimited Masters license. Thorough knowledge of the waters they are piloting through. They are experienced in handling ships. They operate almost all the same. Larger will require larger turning circles, heaver longer stopping times. They are not operating the ship directly but giving orders to the crew. If the pilot is giving orders that are unsafe the Captain will override him. When they get to the bridge they will be informed of how many turns (RPM) the different bells will be and the corisponding speed will be. They will be informed of the type of engines and the difference between ahead and astern bells. They will also be given any other information about the ships handling necessary.
Thank you. That's one of the things I'd expect to be quite different between even ships of the same/similar size. A container ship built for maximum cost efficiency won't handle the same as one made to carry cargo that is fragile, large, and/or oddly-shaped. I know some ships (like some of the cheap-as-possible freighters) rely on a rudder and fixed props for manuevering while others have multiple steerable drive pods.
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Old 03-03-2020, 04:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Marvin the Martian View Post
The traditional way is that your father tasks your nursery maid with arranging an apprenticeship for you with an existing pilot. Just make sure her hearing is good.

Also, carefully read your apprenticeship papers if you happen to be born on February 29...
Well, sure - but that doesn't happen very often.
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