Pilot ladders- a quick guide to their specifications


The last post covered the pilot boarding arrangements required by SOLAS V, this post delves a bit deeper into the detail with a summary of some of the specifications and dimensions of pilot ladders.

Where can the requirements for pilot ladders be found?

The IMO Resolution A.1045(27) contains the specializations for pilot ladders. This is available online from the IMO. Click here to download>

ISO 799:2004, Ships and marine technology – Pilot ladders

SOLAS also requires compliance with this International Standards Orginisation standard.

“ISO 799:2004 specifies requirements for a ship’s pilot ladder which is provided to enable a maritime pilot to embark and disembark a ship safely along a vertical portion of the ship’s hull. It is applicable to merchant ships which embark and disembark maritime pilots with the ship underway. National maritime safety administrations are urged to accept ladders complying with ISO 799:2004 on their ships, as complying fully with the requirements of the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), as amended.” ISO Website

Click here for a summary of the standard on the ISO website> 

Click here to buy ISO 799:2004 on Amazon>

What are the requirements of Pilot Ladder steps?


  • If made of hardwood, they should be made in one piece, free of knots
  • If made of material other than hardwood, they should be of equivalent strength, stiffness and durability to the satisfaction of the Administration
  • The four lowest steps may be of rubber of sufficient strength and stiffness or other material to the satisfaction of the Administration
  • They should have an efficient non-slip surface


  • They should be not less than 400 mm between the side ropes, 115 mm wide and 25 mm in depth, excluding any non-slip device or grooving
  • They should be equally spaced not less than 310 mm or more than 350 mm apart
  • They should be secured in such a manner that each will remain horizontal

Replacement steps

  • No pilot ladder should have more than two replacement steps which are secured in position by a method different from that used in the original construction of the ladder
  •  Any steps so secured should be replaced as soon as reasonably practicable by steps secured in position by the method used in the original construction of the pilot ladder
  •  When any replacement step is secured to the side ropes of the pilot ladder by means of grooves in the sides of the step, such grooves should be in the longer sides of the step


  • Pilot ladders with more than five steps should have spreader steps not less than 1.8 m long provided at such intervals as will prevent the pilot ladder from twisting
  • The lowest spreader step should be the fifth step from the bottom of the ladder and the interval between any spreader step and the next should not exceed nine steps

What are the requirements for pilot ladder ropes and lines?

Retrieval line

  • When a retrieval line is considered necessary, the line should be fastened at or above the last spreader step and should lead forward. The retrieval line should not hinder the pilot nor obstruct the safe approach of the pilot boat
  • A permanent marking should be provided at regular intervals  throughout the length of the ladder in order to assist in the rigging of the ladder to the required height


  • The side ropes of the pilot ladder should consist of two uncovered ropes not less than 18 mm in diameter on each side and should be continuous, with no joints and have a breaking strength of at least 24 Kilo Newtons per side rope
  •  The two side ropes should each consist of one continuous length of rope, the midpoint half-length being located on a thimble large enough to accommodate at least two passes of side rope
  • Side ropes should be made of manila or other material of equivalent strength, durability, elongation characteristics and grip which has been protected against  degradation and is satisfactory to the Administration
  •  Each pair of side ropes should be secured together both above and below each step with a mechanical clamping device properly designed for this purpose, or seizing method with step fixtures (chocks or widgets), which holds each step level when the ladder is hanging freely. The preferred method is seizing


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