Cruise Ship Going Down a Narrow Pathway Hofmann & SchweitzerOvercrowded or narrow waterways can be extremely tricky to navigate, especially if a ship’s pilot is unfamiliar with the local area. For this reason, cruise ships, barges, tankers, and cargo vessels are usually brought into and out of these areas by highly-trained pilots who specialize in navigating one specific river or harbor. Although harbor and river pilots are crucial to the safety of the vessel and its passengers, the pilot himself is at risk of suffering debilitating or even fatal accidents on each journey.

Common Injuries Suffered by River and Harbor Pilots

River and harbor pilots, commonly called bar pilots, are transported to docking vessels via a pilot boat or helicopter. Pilots may be injured after they are finished bringing the ship into or out of the port, during the course of the journey, or even before they are brought onto the vessel.

Due to the nature of the job, bar pilots face an overwhelming risk of injuries such as:

Slips and falls.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), falls are the number one factor in severe river and bar pilot injuries. In these instances, bone fractures are the most common injuries sustained in falls. Pilots may suffer falls while climbing up or down ladders to the pilot boat, slipping on decks, tripping over unsecured cargo or lines, or falling through open hatches on an unfamiliar vessel.

Overboard injuries.

Most fatal injuries to harbor pilots involve a fall overboard during transportation on or off the ship. Pilots who are transferred to large vessels via pilot ladders or being lowered down from a helicopter may lose their footing, falling into the water or between two vessels. If rescue attempts are not undertaken immediately, pilots may drown or suffer severe hypothermia.


Bar pilots work areas of heavy traffic, including busy ports, rivers, and piers packed with large vessels. Even a small error can send the vessel into the path of another ship or into a dock, resulting in head and back injuries and other serious trauma.

Grounding or capsizing.

Poor weather conditions, fast-flowing currents, and changing water levels can make it even more difficult to bring a ship safely into the harbor. Coming into port too quickly or striking an object below the water line may cause the ship to ground or even overturn.

Crush injuries.

Pilots routinely assume command of vessels that may be packed with cargo, equipment, and machinery that can crush workers if not secured properly. Pilots may suffer the loss of fingers, amputation of a limb, or even full-body compression due to being trapped between vessels or objects on board.

How Negligence Leads to Harbor Pilot Injuries and Deaths

Bar pilots often have difficulty getting compensation for an injury because they could be covered under a variety of maritime injury laws, including the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, or general maritime law. If the incident proved fatal for a loved one, family members may be owed compensation under the Death on the High Seas Act. It may take the help of an experienced maritime attorney to determine whose negligence caused your injury.

In many cases, harbor pilots suffer injuries as a result of:

Unseaworthy vessels.

Jones Act seamen have the right to pursue an injury case if the vessel was unseaworthy. Although most pilots work on vessels but are not typically assigned to one ship, Jones Act eligibility may or may not apply.

Lack of safety equipment.

All sailors have the right to functional safety equipment aboard their vessels, including life vests, beacons, and man-overboard-retrieval systems.

Improper crew training.

Adequate safety training can save lives, especially man-overboard drills. A crew may be considered unseaworthy if its members do not have the training and experience needed to complete the journey safely.

Have You Been injured In A Maritime Accident?

If you've been hurt in a maritime accident you need to speak with an experienced maritime attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our New York City office directly at 212.465.8840 to schedule your free consultation.

You can also download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights today.


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.