A short history of pilotage in the Netherlands

The profession of the maritime pilot goes back hundreds of years.  According to some historians the word Pilot descends from the Dutch word Peillood, he who handles the lead, in order to gauge the depth. Some say the Dutch word Leytsagher is where it all began. Leyt means ” to lead” and sagher means ” to say” . He who leads the way by saying. The word lootsman can be found in the history books from 1389. In English there is a word called lodesman, which is supposed to come from terms like ladmann or ladmon . In the shipping laws of Oléron and Visby, dating back to the 12th and 13th century, reference is made to the profession of the pilot.  

The word Pilotage has been used in Dutch language since the beginning of the 17th century in the regulations governing the pilotage in The Netherlands. These regulations were the first attempt by the young Dutch “Republic of the seven provinces” to make arrangements for the profession, and more important, the pilot-dues. Every district had their own Ordonnantie.

In 1813, the French occupation had ended, and The Netherlands became a kingdom, under William the 1st. Pilotage was moved to the departement of the navy. In 1860 the Loodswet  or Pilot-Law came into force, which made all local regulations obsolete. Some cities, like Rotterdam and Schiedam opted for their own harbour pilot service for docking and undocking ships, the other pilots became civil servants of the state.  This situation lasted until 1988. The state pilots had moved from the ministry of defence to the ministry of transport, in 1980.

Influenced by the privatisations in the 1980’s, it was decided that the pilots would form their own independent company, called Loodswezen or Nederlands Loodswezen, the sole provider of pilot services in the country. This also meant that the sea pilots ( in service of the state) and river pilots ( in service of the municipality of Rotterdam) would have to merge into one company. In the Rotterdam district the vote for this privatisation was a close call. Only 51% of the pilots were in favour and the deal was done.

Het Loodswezen

” Loodswezen” is a Dutch term used for everything that has to do with pilotage. This name was chosen for the new pilot’s company in 1988 where all Duch pilots were united. Due to the nature of the job, pilots are not employed by this company, but have the status of independent professionals. There is a register, where all licensed pilots must register. Every pilot is a shareholder in the company Nederland Loodswezen B.V., who is the owner of the total infrastructure, ships and employees supporting the pilots. In short, Nederlands Loodswezen facilitates the independent maritime pilots.

The regulations regarding the profession, and the  arrangements surrounding the pilot service were laid down in the pilot-act or Loodsenwet 1988. There is one body overseeing the profession: Nederlandse Loodsencorporatie, NLC , ( that could be called the Netherlands Maritime Pilots Association ) and there are four regional pilot districts, North, IJmond, Rijnmond and Scheldemonden ). Every pilot is member of the NLC, and member of their own particular district association. The local district association ( Regionale Loodsencorporatie or RLC) governs the continuity and the quality of the pilot service provided in the region, as it is stated in the Loodsenwet. The local harbourmaster is the representative of the minister.  The minister of transport has the final say with regards to these matters.

Pilots tariffs are governed by the competition authority, ACM, who sets the pilot tariffs on behalf of the minister, based on a tariff proposal by the pilots at the end of each year. Consultation with national stakeholders is part of this process.

There are state regulations on which ships are required to take a pilot. The harbourmasters have a final say in this. It is also the harbourmaster who issues ship masters with a pilot exception certificate. (PEC). When a master has sufficient experience, and when he visits the port frequently he is entitled to obtain a PEC after training and examination under the harbourmaster’s authority. The pilots play a crucial role in this training. PEC’s are mainly issued to masters of ferries and shortsea ships.

Responsiblities of the pilot

Under the loodsenwet, or pilot-act, the pilot is the advisor to the ship’s master. He is to give independent advice regarding the safe navigation of the ship. The ship’s master is not supposed to give the command of his vessel to the pilot, he remains in charge at all times. As a result, the pilot can not be held responsible for any damages. However, when the pilot has the conduct of the ship, he is in fact a participant in the maritime traffic, and can be held responsible for violating (inland) traffic laws.

Move on to: The Fleet >>


Van Leytsaher tot Loods , A.M.Overwater 1980