Pilotage Planning

pilotage planning

What is Pilotage?

Inshore navigation using visual references to find your way; in / out of a harbour, river or somewhere else inshore.. 

Why make a Pilotage Plan?

There are potentially alot more hazards when close to shore or in harbours and rivers than when you are out at sea, so making a plan is essential not only to get you safely from A to B but also to ensure you're taking the correct route and don't get lost ! Using a range of reference points i.e. bearing, landmark etc gives you a far greater chance of success. 

What you need to prepare a Pilotage Plan?

Up to date Chart of the area:

A pretty much 'required' asset in your boating toolbox.. learn more about charts by clicking here

Tide Table & Information:

this information can also be found for free on EasyTide

Local Information Guides or access to the internet:

Items like a Poole Harbour Guide can be viewed online for free.. 

Pencil & Paper

Ready to draw / write your pilotage plan

Considerations when creating a Pilotage Plan:

Shipping Channels

If you don't need to be in a main shipping channel then try to avoid these.

Small Craft Channels

If there is a small craft channel available, use it! 

Local Byelaws

Where are you 'allowed' to go, Speed Limits etc - Check out an Almanac, local Harbour Guide, Pilot Book or do some research online


Check out a local tide table, tidal diamonds on the chart and/or tidal stream atlas so you can know what to expect before you get there. Things can look very different between High Water and Low Water. 

Landmarks & Features

Familiarise yourself with local land marks and features so you know what to look out for on your route. 

Shallow areas

Shallow areas are often covered by water so can't be seen from your vessel. Check a chart & local tide table so you know its deep enough & keep an eye on the depth sounder (if you have one). 


There can be many local hazards such as wrecks, rocks, chain ferries etc. Check an Almanac, local Harbour Guide or the internet when making your plan. 

How to make a Pilotage Plan?

Trace a chart or hand draw a sketch of the area you're going. (if you have the ability to print off the relevant  section of a chart or a large (close up) scale chart you could draw directly onto it. 

Bearings (if there is no buoyage to follow)

Bearings to a buoy or easily identifiable landmark - See How to take a bearing off a chart by clicking here

Back Bearings - when theres nothing ahead to work of

Clearing Bearing - to keep you clear of hazards / obstructions

Distance & Time to Travel (if there is no buoyage to follow)

Distance - taking note of your distance allows you to recalculate if your speed needs to be adjusted. See 'Measuring Distance' Tutorial

Time to travel - check the local speed limits & calculate accordingly or if this doesn't apply then fix a speed that makes navigation realistic. See calculating time tutorial


Tide Times & Heights for the day you've planned to go. 

How to locating yourself?

Contours - If there isn't much in the way of buoyage then consider using contours to find your location & ensure you don't get too close to shore. 

Land Marks - Pick land marks that will be clear & obvious on your route.

Buoys - Note the type, name / number of relevant buoys on your route. 

Transits - Use two charted objects (in line) to help locate yourself or simply so you know you're on the right track. 

GPS / Chart Plotter

If you have a GPS/ Chart Plotter onboard theres nothing to stop you using it as an aid to navigation but we weary of it being your sole means of navigation

Useful Information

VHF Channels, Shipping etc

Example of a basic Pilotage plan in Poole Harbour:

Before you set off / use your Pilotage Plan:

Safety Equipment

Check out our Powerboat Safety Equipment Post for more info 

Make sure you know where you are going

It sounds so obvious but... 


Check the weather forecast before you set off to ensure it is appropriate and doesn't give you any unexpected surprises.. See 'Weather to go' for more info

GPS / Chart Plotter

Input your Waypoints and Set up your route before you depart

Brief your crew

Explain your plan (along with a safety briefing) to everyone onboard and ensure they know their duties. 

Consider making a 'check-list' so you don't forget anything important. 


If you're heading to a new marina, make sure you have contacted them first to check availability. Take a note of their VHF channel & phone number so you can contact them when you're near arrival to get your Berth allocation

learn more via an rya online course:

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