A Pilot is a highly trained expert in ship handling and local waters navigation that takes the conduct of large commercial or naval vessels to carefully guide and manoeuvre them to and from a berth. This is to ensure the protection of port and community infrastructure, preservation of the environment, and perpetuation of trade. Essentially the Pilot is a very cost effective and practical form of insurance for the ship’s owner, the port and the wider community.
A fully licensed Fremantle Pilot undergoes a longer training period than a medical specialist: four years at a maritime college, followed by at least 8 years (often more) at sea as a senior officer or Master. During this period they undertake intermittent examinations, and then gain experience and training as a Pilot at another port apart from Fremantle for at least 3 years. Finally, they will undergo up to two more years as a trainee in Fremantle, which involves being out on the water 6 days a week at all hours and in all weathers making literally hundreds of trips under the supervision of Senior Pilots. During this time the trainee Pilot undergoes a formal detailed port exam which includes knowledge of every depth, contour, bank, current, tidal pattern, navigational hazards, beacon and buoy characteristic, berth construction, operational procedures and guidelines etc. etc., and then is assessed and tested at ever increasing levels until that Pilot is fully qualified for any size and/or type of vessel. This process may appear laborious, intensive and demanding and it is purposely so, as this ensures that any new Pilot is able to meet the demands and responsibilities expected of a Fremantle Pilot.
As part of their duties and with specific regards to recreational vessels, the Pilot will continuously scan the waters in front of and around the ship, all the while keeping an ear to the VHF. The Pilot will also step out to the wings on either side of the bridge to observe traffic around the vessel. The Pilot is generally supported by the two or three members of the ship’s crew including the Captain, who alternate between chart and navigational duties, checking the radar, and keeping alert for any changes in surrounding traffic conditions.