Mr. Pilot

Pilot-VTS Operator Relationship: Can VTS Operator advise to pilot?(*)

07 December 2016 - 17:44 - Update: 12 April 2017 - 12:08

Pilot-VTS Operator Relationship: Can VTS Operator advise to pilot? 



Captain-Pilot relationship can be called as classical as it comes through centuries and based on "trust". But, however, as the maritime technologies evolved and VTS started to be used as an effective risk reduction tool, another type of relationship also emerged. This is VTS and Pilot relationship. This is not an easy relationship as many conflicts having been experienced throughout the world between these two parties. The main base of conflict rises from providing of "advise" to the Captain; because the main role of the pilot is to advise the captain whereas one of the main tasks of VTS operator is to provide navigational assistance to the ships. IALA describes this service as follows: "The navigational assistance service is especially important in difficult navigational or meteorological circumstances or in case of defects or deficiencies. This service is normally rendered at the request of a vessel or by the VTS when deemed necessary." The demand of a vessel takes the priority here but, some cases VTS operator may find it necessary to give navigational assistance service (NAS) to the ship. No explanation is given with regard to the case when the pilot is onboard. But, the IMO VTS Guidelines clearly states that the use of navigational assistance service is "to assist on-board navigational decision-making and to monitor its effects". Therefore, advise is not an instruction to follow, instead the onboard team should take the final decision. On the other hand, same guidelines state that in such a situation "Care should be taken that VTS operations do not encroach upon the boatmaster’s responsibility for safe navigation, or disturb the traditional relationship between boatmaster and pilot, where applicable." Therefore, this paper brings into agenda and discusses that in cases where the pilot onboard the ship, VTS operator may provide information could provide information to the pilot within the scope of collaboration and cooperation and "advise" to the pilot unless asked. 

Keywords: Master-Pilot relationships, Pilot-VTS Operator relationship, VTS, Pilot


Pilotage is one of the oldest professions in the world. As old as maritime history. As soon as mankind started to use the sea for transportation, perils of the sea have been a major concern. A mariner’s boat sank, ran aground, hit invisible rocks or went adrift in unfamiliar waters. In the history of mankind, every profession has emerged because of a need. It was the same in the case of Pilots. Over time sailors navigating in unfamiliar waters used the guidance of local fishermen, local sailors or the natives of the region. Pilots in ancient times, just as they are today, were classified under two main groups - “deep sea pilots” and “coastal pilots”. Deep sea pilots used to pilot the boats from the start of the voyage until the end. They were responsible for navigation. We learn from ancient literature that pilots during those times were very good sailors and remained onboard for long periods. This further demonstrates that pilots, even in those ancient times, were expert navigators who piloted boats for the whole duration of a voyage most of the time. 

The maritime pilot's role is to assist the Master of a vessel during the ship's passage to and from a berth in a given pilotage area, by providing local knowledge of navigational and operational matters combined with specialist ship-handling experience [1]. The pilot is entirely familiar with the special regulatory requirements and unique conditions that exist in his specific pilotage area, and with which the Master of the vessel cannot be expected to be fully conversant. The pilot is wholly familiar with all the local factors that might affect the navigation of the ship. These may include strong tidal flows, recent shoaling, ferry activities, dredging operations and other hazards. The maritime pilot also provides an essential communications link with the port authorities, maritime traffic services (VTS), tugboats, boatmen and other ships. Maritime pilots not only supply pilotage to ships; but also provide a public service by contributing to the overall safety of maritime traffic and by ensuring the protection of the environment. Maritime pilots are one of the main elements for providing maritime safety in high risk marine environments.

Unlike the VTS system, which is positioned on-shore, pilots are positioned right on the target, carrying out their duty on the bridge of the ship, just at the very heart of operations. The basic advantage of a pilot being onboard of the ship is that a pilot feels the ship, her interaction with the sea; he/she has eye-to-eye contact with the ships’ navigational team, and sees the capabilities and possible incapability of the ship. These, in the author’s opinion, are what make a maritime pilot different from any other element in a high-risk marine environment.

On the other hand; VTS Services, in similar with pilotage services, have the ship as customer as well as the  public interests. But there is a major difference: pilot’s service location is the bridge of the ship, but VTS render it’s services from a remote location. This provide advantages and disadvantages to both parties; and forms the main  platform of conflicts between them, too. 

Here are some basic facts that forms the framework of this paper:

VTS, provides information related to the DYNAMIC factors of its responsible area. Information on STATIC factors already available to the traffic. VTS operations and shore based pilotage are different things. Shore Based Pilotage should be performed only under force-majeures and should be performed by maritime pilots. On the other hand, VTS operations aims more to provide necessary information rather than giving instructions regarding how to navigate the vessel. Pilots are open to new technologies as well as keeping up with the conventional nature of their profession coming legendarily throughout the centuries, which basicly relies on “knowledge, experience and reliability”. There are different types of VTS ; VTS can be provided by various providers, such as ports, harbours, and coast guard, and pilot organizations. Providing VTS by pilot organization is not a sine-qua-non, but it would effective and positioning a pilot in a VTS center is welcomed firmly by almost all authorities.

For ships navigating in the high seas, safekeeping the ship in a pre-decided course is the primary concern for the Operator on duty. Other concerns, meteorological changes and their effects on the ship, other ships in the vicinity and interaction with such traffic do not play a primary role in the ship’s navigation because there are usually not many ships around in the high seas. Ship’s deck officers take care of the navigation on the bridge and ship’s master manages his other important functions related to the ship.

But in some particular sea areas that order totally changes. In coastal waters, harbour approaches, congested sea areas, narrow waterways; which we can call “high risk marine environment” in general; safe navigation of the ship and interaction with the other traffic elements becomes extremely important.   Ship’s master is on the bridge in such areas; and most probably a local pilot accompanies him/her in providing safe navigation to the vessel in such areas. But; such internal sources need to work together with some external sources; and vessel traffic services play an important role in that regard.

Maritime pilots, are one of the basic elements that providing “maritime safety” in “high risk marine environments”. Unlike the VTS system which is positioned on the shore, pilots are positioned right on the target carrying out their duty on the bridge of ship; just at the heart-beat.  They feel the ship, contact eye-to-eye with the ships’ navigational team, and see the capabilities and possible incapabilities of the ship. And, I think, these are what makes a maritime pilot different from any other element   in a high-risk marine environment. Making this distinction at the beginning is, I think, extremely important, because, should not we do this, we can not get on the correct track and cannot appropriately assign the duties of elements providing service for safety and efficiency in any high risk marine environment. 

Pilots are also one of the units that use the service provided by a VTS.  And VTS use the reports and information provided by maritime pilots. This is clearly stated in IMO Resolution A.857(20): “The VTS Authority should consider, where appropriate, the participation of pilot both as a user and provider of information” 

In recent years, there has been a remarkable technologic advance in “remote-controlling” the vessels from the shore. “Shore-Based Pilotage”, “Advanced Navigational Assistance”, “Innovative Portable Pilot Assistance” came out to assist pilots and/or ships bridge personnel in navigating the ship safely.  These advances brought us up to a delicate point: are we involving in and relying on virtual world too much and blanking out real life conditions? Since the implementation of AIS in all ships in 2008, the philosophy of VTS has radically changed. In order to prevent wrong assumptions and to make a correct assessment, at this stage, we need to look at this issue from a wider perspective:  What is the importance of each element for others in a high-risk environment? How they see each-other, how (and why) they need each other and how the advance in technology will affect this relationship? In the safety chain, which starts from shore facilities and ends onboard the ship, or vice versa, ships bridge team and pilot play the most important role; we can say, they are the “vital safety link”. 

Every ship has her own information resources: Radar, ECDIS, VHF, various navigational publications, pilot books, guides to port entrances etc. As well as their advantages, all of these resources have the same weak point: they can not be expected to be updated to the very last moment. A VTS, as a dynamic source in the responsible area, is the most updated and dynamic source of information. This information may include the position and type of other ships in the area, meteorological or hydrological outlook, any malfunction of the navigational aids such as lights, light buoys etc. By the implementation of AIS system, all of these dynamic information and warnings will be available to all ships in a certain area and that will eliminate the voice communications burden on both sides. We can say that, in the near future, VTS systems will be almost “silent”; on the contrary to the actual conditions today.

VTS may reduce ship delays through better management of the traffic and this is one of the most important aspects of effectiveness that is expected from a VTS from the ship’s side.  


The IMO guidelines on VTS state that, "The competent authority is the authority made responsible, in whole or in part, by the Government for the safety, including environmental safety and efficiency of the vessel traffic and the protection of the environment." "The VTS Authority is the Authority with responsibility for the management, operations and co-ordination of the VTS, the interaction with participating vessels and the safe and effective provision of the service." 

Competent Authority of a Coastal State has the responsibility for the safety of navigation around the coastline of its jurisdiction. That responsibility is often delegated to a VTS or other Authority, which in turn is responsible for managing the coastline in the area or areas concerned. If the area is within territorial waters, and a risk assessment has determined that the volume of traffic or the degree of risk justifies such services, then a VTS can be established. It is important to note that, at present a VTS may only be made mandatory in sea areas within the territorial seas of a coastal State. If the area is in international waters, such as Straits for example, a Reporting System can be established and be subsequently adopted by the IMO, (Resolution A.851(20)) [2]. 

"The Government or Competent Authority should ensure that the VTS Authority is provided with sufficient staff, appropriately qualified, suitably trained and capable of performing the tasks required, taking into consideration the type and level of services to be provided and current IMO Guidelines on the recruitment and training of VTS operators. "A VTS Operator is an appropriately qualified person performing one or more tasks contributing to the services of the VTS." Since the adoption of Resolution A857(20), IALA have published the internationally accepted IALA Model Courses for VTS personnel. MSC Circ.1065 brings attention to all the IALA V103 Model Courses for training and qualifying VTS Operators (VTSOs). 

The IMO definition of VTS in Resolution A.857(20) states that, "Vessel traffic service (VTS) - a service implemented by a Competent Authority, designed to improve the safety and efficiency of vessel traffic and to protect the environment. The service should have the capability to interact with the traffic and to respond to traffic situations developing in the VTS area". So when a VTS is established it needs to have the capability to interact with vessel traffic and respond as and when necessary not only to developing traffic situations but prior to their development also. This means that VTSOs have a duty of care to monitor and look after the safety of navigation in their VTS area. 

SOLAS V regulation 11.6 states, "Any adopted ship reporting system shall have the capability of interaction and the ability to assist ships with information when necessary." Like a VTS, the authority managing the SRS also has the right to interact with vessel traffic, assisting with information as and when necessary. 

SOLAS V regulation 12.3 states that, "The use of VTS may only be made mandatory in sea areas within the territorial seas of a coastal State." Both a VTS and SRS contribute to safety of life at sea, safety and efficiency of navigation and/or protection of the marine environment. Both can interact with vessel traffic and both provide an Information Service. SOLAS V regulation 12.1 has additional wording, "... adjacent shore areas, work sites and offshore installations from possible adverse effects of maritime traffic." 

Resolution A.857(20) section 2.1.2 states that, "A clear distinction may need to be made between a Port or Harbour VTS and a Coastal VTS. A Port VTS is mainly concerned with vessel traffic to and from a port or harbour or harbours, while a Coastal VTS is mainly concerned with vessel traffic passing through the area. A VTS could also be a combination of both types. The type and level of service or services rendered could differ between both types of VTS; in a Port or Harbour VTS a navigational assistance service and/or a traffic organization service is usually provided for, while in a Coastal VTS usually only an information service is rendered."

Our point of interest here is the Navigational Assistance Service (NAS) and it’s appropriate application to ships having or not having a pilot on board. 

IMO Resolution A.857(20) already approves and currently only recognises, Navigational Assistance Service (NAS) as one of three types of service that a VTS can provide to vessel traffic. IMO have used carefully chosen words by stressing that, "when the VTS is authorized to issue instructions to vessels, these instructions should be result-oriented only, leaving the details of execution, such as course to be steered or engine manoeuvres to be executed, to the master or pilot on board the vessel." In other words, one should not instruct a ship what specific course to steer or what specific speed to proceed at. NAS itself can be provided through an Information Service (INS) using the correct terminology, being guided by Resolution A.918(22) 'Standard Marine Communication Phrases' (SMCP). Information provided by a VTS should at all times be based on fact whereas advice is based on a professional opinion [3]. 

According to Captain Terry Hughes, who is a VTS expert with IALA accreditation; “there is much confusion over the term 'Navigational Assistance Service', with different interpretations on what it actually means including, dare I say, Shore Based Pilotage (SBP). When NAS is provided by a Pilot from a VTS centre it is NOT SBP, as an act of pilotage can only be carried out by a Pilot on board a ship itself. How NAS is provided, who provides it and when, is up to the VTS Authority, the ship's Master or both. It is a service to assist onboard navigational decision- making and to monitor its effects. The key words here are assist and monitor”.

Captain Terry Hughes emphasizes the distinction between Shore Based Pilotage and Navigational Assistance Service. NAS is something else than SBP, but in the practical world, VTS operators, o most cases, can not easily make this distinction. 

Navigational Assistance Service is also authorized by regulations issued by the Government of Turkey. Article 6 of “The Regulation on the Establishment and Operational Procedures of Vessel Traffic Services” states the following: “Navigational Assistance Service will be rendered under difficult navigational or meteorological conditions or in the case of defect or deficiencies upon demand by the shipmaster or when deemed necessary by the VTS Operator. Navigational assistance service will be on advisory basis and result-oriented. VTS Operator will assist the Shipmaster in decision-making by providing following information within the VTS service area:  information on speed over ground and course being steered; reports on the position, identity and intentions of other traffic; notifications to the ships and any other factors that may influence the vessel’s transit.” 

The description in the Turkish regulation is more clear than the one that was made n IMO A.857(20). It sets the duty of VTS Operator by assisting the “Shipmaster” in “decision making process” and “providing information” is the method in doing so. Advisory basis and being result-oriented also underlined. No reference made to the Master-Pilot relationship as VTS Operator is not authorized to give advice to the Pilot onboard by the Turkish Regulation. 

The same article 6 of Turkish Regulation mentioned above also states the following:

“The beginning and termination of the Navigational Assistance Service (Date and time) will be recorded in the log book by the agreement between ship and the VTS Center.”

The Navigational Assistance Service is a grey area at which IALA seems to have issued conflicting statements in their latest Guideline (1089) on the Provision of Vessel Traffic Services. IALA’s text tends to directly command to the vessel but still emphasizes to “assist the decision-making process of bridge team” which, in practical terms, has little or no value. Let’s go through the lines from above mentioned Guideline: 

“A Navigational Assistance Service is a service that provides essential and timely navigational information to assist in the on board navigational decision-making process and to monitor its effects. It may also involve the provision of navigational advice and/or instruction.”

“The Navigational Assistance Service is especially important in difficult navigational or meteorological circumstances or in case of defects or deficiencies.”

“A Navigational Assistance Service is an important supplement to the provision of other navigational services, such as pilotage. Navigational Assistance Service may be provided at the request of a vessel, irrespective of whether a pilot is on board, or when a navigational situation is observed and intervention by the VTS is deemed necessary.”

The scope and method of this assistance when the pilot is onboard requiring more detail as VTS and Pilotage are mostly overlapping in their respective service areas. From this perspective, the IALA document has no description on the method in which professional judgement of pilots to be supported by the VTS Operator, and how. Many VTS Operators interpret this kind of text as they are entitled to give “advice or instruction” to the pilot as well. 

Figure 1. Example of VHF communication with Message Markers between VTS and ship during NAVIGATIONAL ASSISTANCE SERVICE (IALA Guide 1089)

IMO Guidelines on VTS, the Resolution A.857(20) associated with SOLAS regulation V/8-2 and describe the principles and general operational provisions for the operation of a vessel traffic service (VTS) and participating vessels and states the following:

“When the VTS is authorized to issue instructions to vessels, these instructions should be result-oriented only, leaving the details of execution, such as course to be steered or engine manoeuvres to be executed, to the master or pilot on board the vessel. Care should be taken that VTS operations do not encroach upon the master's responsibility for safe navigation, or disturb the traditional relationship between master and pilot.”

Despite the guidance status of IALA 1089 Guidelines, the IMO Resolution does have binding force as it has the reference of a mandatory Convention, the SOLAS. Still, IMO document selects more careful language regarding the rendering of NAS especially in cases when a pilot is on board, whereas the IALA is not following this attitude. The IALA Document (1089) is, in fact, expected to be a more detailed version of A.857 and in parts delivers on this purpose but; no reference made regarding the non-disturbance principle to the traditional relationship between master and pilot in the NAS section. It is interesting to see IALA takes a different path on this part. 

IMO is well clear on what was  intended in this proposition. Master and pilot have a relationship coming throughout the centuries and based on expertise and trust. F.F.Weeks from the University of Plymouth describes the VTS Operator and Pilot from the place where shipmasters sit as follows [4]:

“To the captain, VTS is a shore organisation which is trying to tell him what to do, using unqualified personnel to do it. It wants to control him and his ship, but take no responsibility or liability for doing it. Remote and not friendly like those nice pilots”. 

 In my professional life, I heard this kind of complaints on many occasions from the ship masters. Most of the time masters’ complaint was the VTS Operator not assessing properly the situation their ships were in. This is an accepted argument also by IMO which resulted in leaving the decision-making process and last word to say to the bridge team. 

IALA has identified that IMO Recommendation A.857 (20) is in urgent need of amendment and has set out a roadmap towards an update to be presented to IMO. This includes recognition that ‘The types of services need to be more clearly defined as they currently are a source for continuous debate’. It is expected that IALA will ask for amendments in accordance with their document 1089, which makes no reference to traditional relationship between the Master and the Pilot. 



Pilot’s definition and duties are put forward mostly in National regulations rather than International. The main international document on Pilots is the famous A.960(23), which has two annexes: Annex One is on the “Training and Certification” and Annex II is on the “Operational Procedures of Pilots”, other than Deep Sea Pilots. 

Despite the specific paragraph in the Annex II titled “Duties of master, bridge officers and pilot” the IMO document does not make any definition on the main duties of the Pilot and his “reason d’etre” on the bridge. Even the statement made at the first paragraph of Annex I cannot meet this need: 

“It is recognised that pilotage requires specialised knowledge and experience of a specific area and that States with many diverse waterways and ports have found it appropriate to administer pilotage on a regional or local basis.”

Despite the fact that being the main role of Pilot to professionally advice to master, the word “Advice” or any type of synonym is not used throughout the IMO Resolution. 

The Regulation on Pilots enforced by the Turkish Government, entitled as “Regulations of Competencies, Trainings, Certifications and Working Standards of Maritime Pilots” defines the “Duties of Pilot” in Article 22 as follows:

“Pilot advises the Master on the navigation of the vessel by using his professional knowledge and experience. In forcing conditions Pilot can provide this advice from another ship or from the shore. But, if the navigating waters fall within the authorization of a VTS, the advices given to other ships or manoeuvring agreements between the vessels they piloted done under the information of this VTS.”

The role of pilot to “Advise and Assist” to Master, and, Pilot’s enforcement by the “Competent Maritime Pilot License” is clearly defined in the Turkish Regulation. 

The German Pilotage Act, as amended in 2010, also, begins with the “Definition of Pilot” at the first article, which is, as follows:

“A maritime pilot is an officially licensed professional adviser with the necessary local and nautical skills to guide ships outside ports on the maritime waterways and over the sea. The maritime pilot does not belong to the ship’s crew.”

The following articles are also from the German Act regarding the “advice duty” of Pilot:

“The maritime pilot shall advise the master in respect of the vessel’s navigation. The advice may also be rendered from another ship or from shore.” 

“The master remains responsible for the vessel’s navigation even if he allows direct orders of the maritime pilot in respect of the vessel’s navigation.”

“In the case of more than one maritime pilot assisting only one of them shall advise the master. The others shall assist the advising pilot. The master shall be informed prior to the pilotage, who will act as advising pilot.”

The duties of pilot to advice is defined as many national legislations throughout the world. According to George Quick, this is not the case in North America, as he makes the following statement: 

“Confusing the issue on checks and balances in the relationship is the mistaken perception that the pilot is aboard in an advisory capacity. This is not true in actual practice in pilotage waters or in the law as applied in North America. The pilot "conducting" the ship gives all the directions concerning the ships movement and it is the master who may advise the pilot as to the capabilities of the ship or its equipment or crew. If the master was actually giving the directions with the pilot’s advice the ship would not be under pilotage and in compliance with the local laws The distinction is important because if the pilot were merely an advisor whose assessment could be accepted or rejected at will he could not fulfil his role as an independent judge of acceptable risks. He might be persuaded to go along contrary to his personal judgment under the belief that the master would have the final or ultimate responsibility for accepting the pilot’s advice in the event of an accident.Although no American legal decision has ever held that compulsory pilotage was advisory in nature, confusion on this issue could undermine the pilot’s perception of his role. The "pilot as advisor" myth persists reinforced by the entry in some log books "Proceeding to master's orders and pilots advice" that could have its basis outside our legal system in some decisions of the courts in Continental Europe” [5].

The term in resolution A.857 mentioning the “Traditional relation between the Master and Pilot” needs clarification, and in doing so, the term mentioned above by Capt. Quick “Proceeding to master's orders and pilot’s advice”  might be a good point to begin with. The actual scenario in most pilotage performance is so that the pilot takes the “con” of the ship. The legal description of this is so that pilot gives the advice and master –if in agreement- passes this to as an order. The advice to be converted to order is mostly a route to be steered or an engine command, which is directly related to safe conduct of a vessel. This important cooperation led master a pilot to a relationship based on trust and confidence which has in years become traditional. But, how this can be “disturbed” by NAS provided by a VTS? 

The wording of IALA 1089 paper giving us some hints. In the whole text of paper there is no cooperation with the Pilot onboard is being mentioned. It remains in question whether there is adequate –if not any- cooperation between the international body of pilots, the IMPA and the producer of the paper, IALA.


A VTS providing Navigational Assistance Service needs further clarification and distinction and this issue has already been accepted by the main actors. On the other hand; concentrating more on NAS increasingly cause more and more VTS services around the world evolve towards a direction in which the main task of a VTS, “providing information” is being taking out the common practice. 

In the daily practice, any ashore listener of radio communications between the ship and VTS would have the impression that the Ship is the information provider and VTS is providing less –if any- information to the ship but mostly instructing the ship on what to do; most of the time without the message marker of Advice or Instruction being used. 

This might be due to evolving of reliable information sources other than VTS made available to decision makers on the bridge which has the capacity to convert the future VTS to a silent one. 

Most VTS operators tend to advice to ships even if the pilot is on board. In a cooperative climate this could be an acceptable situation by the master and the pilot; but human relations has its own importance and manner gains importance here.  

There is an apparent conflict between the pilot’s task to provide “advice” to the master and the VTS Operator’s task to provide advice or instruction to the pilot or master-especially in cases when this is not requested by the latter. 

In most cases of conflict providing information could be enough; but at sea, the word “safety” is very broad as a concept. How VTS operator will decide if the situation requires an information provision or an advice or an instruction? In the restricted waters or ports where VTS’s and pilots usually operate, any situation-with a short consequence- can lead to a dangerous situation and there is much difficulty for the VTS operator to make a precise assessment on the course of action: an information, advise or instruction? To get rid of the responsibility, the latter might be preferred in most cases. 

From the pilot’s perspective; most interventions by the VTS are not based on sound necessity. Pilots usually welcome the provision of information but same could not be said when it comes to receiving advice or instruction; as they are the professionals officially authorized by the Government to provide advice.  

Looking at the IALA Guide of 1089 for a further clarification; the following lines worth noted: 

“When the VTS observes a developing situation (e.g. a vessel deviating from a recommended route) and deems it necessary to intervene, it is likely that, under such circumstances, the immediate priority will be placed on providing the necessary assistance before attempting to formally negotiate the commencement of navigational assistance. However, once the immediate situation has been resolved, the continuation or completion of the service should be subsequently clarified and the use of the checklist considered.”

Here, IALA proposes a “direct intervention” of VTS Operator to the ship’s “decision making” which is by-passing the initial formalities -such as the commencement of the procedure- due to the time limitation. A direct intervention in an ‘instruction’ format will bring the questioning of the quality of this instruction; there could be cases it helps the maritime safety but there could also be cases that it might lead to a VTS assisted accident. The liability issue also, needs to be visited here after a concrete intervention of shore to the ship. 

Another aspect is the appropriateness of remote decision making.  In A.857 (20) it was clearly put forward that the authority of decision making belongs to the Ship’s bridge team. What VTS does provide –in any format of NAS- was classified in assistance to decision making. The new IALA proposal in Guide 1089 goes one step forward and leaves very little or no margin to decision making on the bridge. 

Having submitted a paper to IALA’s VTS Committee on it’s 41st session, Commodore Barry Goldman, a etired Royal navy officer, proposes another solution. Suggesting the removal of “Navigational Assistance” from the list of services which VTS provide, Goldman states the following: 

 “The lack of consistency between ports in service declaration is evidence that the current terminology gives rise to confusion between a ‘Navigational Assistance Service’ as a VTS procedure providing navigational assistance as defined and recognised by IALA, and a ‘Remote Pilotage Service’ as a pilotage service providing navigational assistance as locally authorised by national pilotage regulations. Looking to the future, this confusion could be much more elegantly overcome by removing the term Navigational Assistance Service from the IMO Recommendation on VTS as a type of service altogether leaving ‘Traffic Organisation Service’ and ‘Information Service’ as the two main types of service that a VTS Authority might provide. The provision of navigational assistance (again, no capitals) at the request of a vessel or by the VTS when deemed necessary should still be recognised within IMO and IALA doctrine, but simply as a VTS technique or procedure that any VTS Centre should be prepared to deliver under such circumstances. Redefining navigational assistance in the IMO Resolution should require that training in navigational assistance continues to be given to all VTS Operators, but that it is a ‘procedure’ rather than a ‘service’.”

“IALA has identified that IMO Recommendation A.857 (20) is in urgent need of amendment and has set out a roadmap towards an update to be presented to IMO. This includes recognition that ‘The types of services need to be more clearly defined as they currently are a source for continuous debate’. A redraft offers a timely and golden opportunity to remove NAS as a VTS ‘Service’, thus simplifying service provision and removing the current terminological confusion over NAS in the minds of many mariners, VTS Operators, VTS Authorities and even Competent Authorities” [6].

In a paper submitted to IALA by International Harbour Masters’ Association also favoured the removal of NAS from the Services of VTS.  In their paper the following statement was made: 

“Current VTS service provision is mandated by the IMO within Resolution A.857(20). The need to update this Resolution has been recognised and a task to update the Resolution forms part of the current work plan. The recently issued IALA Strategy Paper recognises that confusion exists over service provision and identifies at its Annex B that “The types of services need to be more clearly defined as they currently are a source for continuous debate”. IALA has also invited the IMO Sub- Committee to note that “some IMO Member States, co-sponsored by IALA, may consider a submission to the Maritime Safety Committee with a proposal for the review of resolution A.857(20)”. The current task of submitting a proposal for an update to Resolution A.857(20) to IMO is, therefore, a unique opportunity to address the confusion over NAS.”

In conclusion, it can be said that there is a wide consensus amongst the stakeholders in the sector that the navigational assistance service provided by VTS is not clearly defined and leads to confusion. 

It further creates conflicts and has the potential to disturb the traditional relationship between the master and the pilot. 

This paper aimed to assist the review efforts of A.857 (20) in the light of current practices. 




[1]  European Maritime Pilots’ Association (EMPA), Accessed on: 11 July 2016, 

[2]  Capt. Terry Hughes, “When is a VTS not a VTS?”,  Accessed on: 11 July 2016,

[3]  Hughes; Same document, Anonymous.

[4]  Weeks, F F., 1998, “Strategic, Practical and Operational Considerations of Traffic Routes”, of the book “Ship Collision Analysis” edited by  Gluver&Olsen, Accessed via Google Books, Rotterdam, pp.174.

[5]  George A. Quick; “The Role of Pilot in Risk Management”, International Maritime Pilots’ Association Accessed on: 12 July 2016, 

[6]  Commodore Barry Goodman; “Navigational Assistance of VTS: Service or Procedure?” IALA VTS Committe, VTS41-8.4.3


* This paper was accepted and submitted at the Second Global Conference on Innovation in Marine Technology and  Future of Maritime Transportation, Bodrum, 22-24 October 2016

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