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Are flyboards the future for port harbor pilots?

PortandTerminal.com, August 5, 2019

The risks that America’s 1,000 or so port harbor pilots take daily are at times remarkable and sometimes deadly. Has a French daredevil and inventor just given us a brief glimpse into the future and a better way?

A French jet-ski champion successfully crossed the English Channel last week on his self-made “flyboard,” just 10 days after a failed first attempt ended with him up to his neck in water. The inventor, Franky Zapata, made the 21-mile crossing on his flyboard in just 25 minutes. In doing so, has Mr Zapata given us a glimpse into a safer future for America’s 1,000 or so harbor pilots?

Harbor Pilots: A very dangerous job

Responsible for helping to guide ships into the port, a pilot boat will take the harbor pilot out about six to seven miles offshore to meet a ship that he needs to board. From there, the boat captain will pull the boat alongside the vessel to be boarded and the pilot will jump onto a rope ladder that’s been deployed by the incoming ship. It’s at this point the pilot must climb up the side of the ship. It’s not for the fainthearted.

The average salary of harbor pilots nationwide is more than $400,000. But the highly-skilled pilots earn every dollar on a job that is often treacherous and unpredictable.

Ships can easily smash into pilot boats, and being so much larger can roll them over which is all too common.  Equipment failure and human error can and do kill even experienced harbor pilots. Falls from the boarding ladders that the harbor pilots use is one of the most common causes of accidents and fatalities.

Tragedy

Capt. Robert Louis Adams, an experienced harbor pilot in Corpus Christi, was killed after the gangway collapsed as he was trying to board a vessel

In 2018 Capt. Robert Louis Adams, an experienced harbor pilot in Corpus Christi, was killed after the gangway collapsed as he was trying to board a vessel.

“He was reportedly about one step away when the whole thing collapsed”

Capt. Adams was reportedly a few steps from boarding the 475-foot tanker BTS Sabina when the gangway gave out, dropping him and his son Robert about 20 feet into La Quinta Channel. First responders struggled to reach the men, and a good Samaritan vessel ultimately pulled them from the water. Adam’s died in the tragedy. His son survived with minor injuries.

Hawaii Port Pilot veteran, Dave Lyman was lacerated by his own pilot boat’s propellers and died in a horrific accident in 2007

On January 29, 2007, another horrific accident occurred when thirty-year Hawaii Port Pilot veteran, Dave Lyman, fell into the ocean after disembarking from the passenger liner the Island Princess while departing Nawiliwili, Kauai. Lyman was lacerated by his own pilot boat’s propellers. 

A glimpse into the future?

What if one-day harbor pilots could simply fly out to meet their vessels, land safely on deck and thereby avoid the dangerous boarding of the vessel by rope ladders and gangways?

While the idea may seem far-fetched today, it is probably no more farfetched than the thought of landing a helicopter on a moving vessel was a long time go.

Perhaps Frances “flyboard” inventor Mr Zapata has given the maritime industry a glimpse into a safer future for harbor pilots to do their job.

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