Accurate and real-time pilot movement information is vital for port communities and their customers, whether you are a ship operator planning an upcoming port call, a terminal operator planning the berth scheduling, or a port agent arranging cargo and husbandry services. By receiving timely updates of scheduled and actual vessel movements at port, this will allow each stakeholder to plan and execute their day-to-day operations accordingly.
A marine pilot is an experienced navigational officer who is very familiar with the local environment and regulations of a port, river or transit passage, to safely manoeuvre all types of vessels through narrow and congested waters.
Although the Master still retains complete authority on the vessel, the pilotage service provider who is licensed or authorised by a governmental authority and compulsory in many areas of the world, offers local navigational expertise and communication channels with local authorities and other local service providers. This enables the smooth operation and safe arrival of the vessel to its destination, from when the port agent or ship operator books the service until disembarkation of the pilot.
How does the pilotage operation work at the Port of Houston?
At the Port of Houston, one of the world’s largest ports, state legislation makes pilotage compulsory for all deep-sea vessels to help protect the environment, the economy, as well as the health and public safety of its citizens. However, there is often a high volume of vessel traffic, limited anchorage areas and delays due to unavailability of tug boats, berth congestion and channel closures, or restricted movement due to daylight restrictions or weather conditions such as fog, storms, wind gusts and currents. This leads to vessels frequently being requested to wait several hours or even days until the pilot is available to board and safely guide the vessel inward, outward or between berths within the port.
Upon a vessel’s arrival at the Galveston Bay Entrance Channel, the pilot or pilots, depending on various factors such as vessel type, weather conditions, time of service and destined location, will reach the vessel by launch boat and perform the dangerous task of boarding via a pilot ladder. Once aboard, the pilot’s duties include but are not limited to assessing the weather, traffic density and competency of officers whilst safely guiding the vessel on a four to eight-hour transit to the ordered berth. This includes coordinating with the towage and mooring service providers that will assist to manoeuvre and secure the vessel safely to the berth. Upon completion of the vessel’s cargo operations, the pilot will board once again, to transit to another berth within the port and/or out to the sea passage for the vessel to continue her voyage.
Throughout the entire process, constant and clear communication is an absolute necessity between the pilot’s dispatch centre, the on board pilot and all the stakeholders involved at port.
Achieving port call optimization with pilot movement information
Once you have a means to capture and make use of pilot movement information at port, the next step is using that data to make optimal operational decisions.
Let’s take the ship operators pre-arrival planning, for example. Upon receipt of firm voyage orders, the ship operator will plan the upcoming port call for a vessel which includes appointing a port agent and arranging nautical services such as bunkering, freshwater, tank/hold cleaning etc. Meanwhile, the ship owner/manager will plan any husbandry services such as crew changes, delivery of spare parts and provisions. Receiving prompt and accurate pilot updates doesn’t just give the ship operator insight in order to plan and coordinate any required services for the vessel upon arrival at the anchorage area or at the berth, but it also allows them to make decisions such as instructing the vessel to adjust sailing speed or deviate to an interim port (charter party permitting), if there is an earlier berthing window available or there are expected delays at port. This minimises waiting time upon arrival at port, saves bunker consumption and reduces CO2 emissions.
For a terminal operator, easy access to updated pilot movement information allows them to better plan and make optimal berth scheduling decisions with regards to vessels and cargoes at their berths, eliminating guesswork at times. This will, in turn, result in improved berth utilization and reduced idle time, thus capitalizing on dockage earnings, saving on costly demurrage and moving more towards all the benefits from just-in-time arrivals.
Nautical service providers such as bunkering, towage, mooring, stevedores, surveyors, port agents, ship supply and seafarer services companies will also benefit from pilot movement information. Extensive and up-to-date information in this regard will allow them to optimize the planning of their assets and resources for an upcoming job, whilst also using the data to trigger appropriate actions to coordinate and deliver their services in the most efficient and professional manner. Furthermore, it will also give them insight to analyze and benchmark their performance and service volumes against their competitors at port.
A digital platform that enables pilot data sharing
PortXchange has recently launched an application called PilotTracker, which is a pilot scheduling and vessel movement data sharing platform. In partnership with the Greater Houston Port Bureau and Houston Pilots, the Port of Houston has been added to the platform, and is integrated into the pilot’s booking system, which means that the pilot information is updated in real-time, directly from the source.
The platform includes features such as a detailed list of all vessel movements, port closure status updates, email notifications, booking agent information, extensive vessel information, terminal and berth restrictions, and an interactive map with live vessel tracking.
PortXchange is currently in the process of increasing the coverage of ports in the platform worldwide. If you are a pilot organization, port authority or marine exchange that owns the pilot data at a port, and are interested in joining the platform to easily share pilot movement information with your port community and its customers, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about PilotTracker, we invite you to click on the following link: https://port-xchange.com/pilottracker/