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A white hat and a red nose

by Mike

25 February 2014 • Most ships have to take a pilot to enter a port. It is normal: a captain can impossibly know all the places in the world. He needs somebody local to assist him: the pilot.

When being on a cruise ship or a ferry it is always nice to see the pilot launch approaching at full speed before she’s doing an elegant touch and go.

If you want to see the pilot step on the ladder, you need to be fast. It’s done in no time.

How to recognize a pilot vessel? It is quite simple. Either you see the word “Pilots” on the hull of the launch, or the official pilot flag in the mast, which is the white and red flag as below. This flag is the letter “H” in the maritime flag alphabet, and simply means “Pilot on board”. Once the pilot is on the bridge of the large vessel a crewmember will hoist the “H” flag on the forward mast. 

The "H" flag means "Pilot on board"

During night time you have to look at the top lights of a boat: if it is a white light with below a red one, than it is indeed the pilot. How to remember? A white hat and a red nose…

Taken from my cabin on COSTA MAGICA, the picture shows clearly the top white/red pilot lights

Now it is time for some photos of close encounters with pilots. I love to take photos of these fast small craft who make such a fine sight seen from ten decks high.

To keep it simple I’ve just put everything in alphabetical order. First the name of the ship, then the place where the picture has been taken.

Enjoy the pilot ship parade!


AZAMARA QUEST, LisbonAZAMARA QUEST, Saint Jean de Luz, FranceBLEU DE FRANCE, Mahon, MenorcaNORWEGIAN BREAKAWAY, New YorkCENTURY, Alesund, NorwayLOUIS CRISTAL, Izmir, TurkeyLOUIS CRISTAL, IstanbulCRUISE ROMA, Civitavecchia, ItalyCRYSTAL SERENITY, Bonifacio, Corsica (for once I was on board the pilot boat)CRYSTAL SERENITY, Halifax, CanadaAnd off he goesCELEBRITY EQUINOX, The NetherlandsEUROPA 2, Solent, Southampton, UKFUNCHAL, Portimao, PortugalFUNCHAL, Portimao, PortugalLE BOREAL, River Weser Estuary, bound for Bremerhaven LE SOLEAL, Glengariff, IrelandThe Glengariff harbour master's boat. Cute!LE SOLEAL, Heimaey, IcelandLE SOLEAL, Killybegs, IrelandMOBY FANTASY, Bastia, CorsicaMSC SPLENDIDA, Genoa, ItalyMSC SPLENDIDA, MarseilleMSC SPLENDIDA. The mistral is too strong. We can't enter Marseille, says the pilotA view from NORWEGIAN GEM, LivornoNORMAN VOYAGER, Le Havre, FranceRouen pilots also operate in Le Havre. Logic, it's the River Seine estuary.SPL PRINCESS ANASTASIA, Tallinn, EstoniaRUBY PRINCESS, Piraeus, GreeceSAGA PEARL II, Halmstad, Sweden. I was on the lifeboat.SEVEN SEAS VOYAGER, Cartagena, Spain