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Maritime pilot


Maritime pilot

Columbia River Bar pilot boat CHINOOK

A pilot is a mariner who manoeuvres ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors or river mouths, and completes the berthing / unberthing operation of the ships by controlling the ship's manoeuvrability directly and the tugs and shore linesmen through a radio. Pilots are expert shiphandlers who possess detailed knowledge of local waterways. They are transported by high speed pilot boats or helicopter from shore to an inbound ship and from an outbound ship back ashore. Most ports have compulsory pilotage.

Legally, the master has full responsibility for safe navigation of his vessel, even if a pilot is on board. If he has clear grounds that the pilot may jeopardise the safety of navigation, he can relieve him from his duties and ask for another pilot or, if not compulsory to have a pilot on board, navigate the vessel without one. Only in transit of the Panama Canal does the pilot have the full responsibility for the navigation of the vessel.

In English law, Section 742 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 defines a pilot as "any person not belonging to a ship who has the conduct thereof." In other words, someone other than a member of the crew who has control over the speed, direction, and movement of the ship. The current United Kingdom legislation governing pilotage is the Pilotage Act 1987.

Pilotage is one of the oldest professions, as old as sea travel, and it is one of the most important in maritime safety. The oldest recorded history dates back to about the 7th century BC.[1] The economic and environmental risk from today's large cargo ships makes the role of the pilot essential.


  • History 1
  • Duties involved 2
  • Compensation 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


New York Sandy Hook Pilot Boat Pet, No. 9.
A Nigerian pilot assists a U.S. Navy ship into the harbor at Lagos using nautical charts

The work functions of the pilot go back to Ancient Greece and Roman times, when locally experienced harbour captains, mainly local fishermen, were employed by incoming ships' captains to bring their trading vessels into port safely. Eventually, because the act of pilotage needed to be regulated and to ensure that pilots had adequate insurance, the harbours licensed pilots. The California Board of Pilot Commissioners was the first government agency created by California's legislature, in 1850.

Before harbour boards were established, pilots known as hobblers would compete with one another. The first to reach an incoming ship would navigate it to the docks and receive payment.[2] In Goodwin Sands.[5]

Although licensed by the harbour to operate within their jurisdiction, pilots were generally self-employed, and so had to have quick transport to get from the port to the incoming ships. As pilots were often still dual-employed, they used their own fishing boats to reach the incoming vessels. But fishing boats were heavy working boats, and filled with fishing equipment, hence a new type of boat was required.

Early boats were developed from single-masted cutters and twin-masted yawls, and later into the specialist pilot cutter. These were effectively light-weight and over-powered single masted boats with large steeply angled keels, making them deep draft under power and shallow draft in lighter sail. Joseph Henderson was an early American harbor pilot. He is well known for being a Sandy Hook Pilot for the New York harbor and along the Atlantic Coast during the Civil War.

Some historic pilot vessels are still sailing. 18 Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters are believed to survive worldwide (see the article on Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters for more information). In addition to them...

  • ... the German pilot schooner No. 5 Elbe was launched in 1883 and had a long history as pilot boat, as private yacht named Wander Bird and later as home to hippies in San Francisco, before returning to Germany and being restored as a traditional sailing boat.
  • ... the German pilot schooner Cuxhaven was launched in 1901 and survived as a sailing boat, renamed Atalanta and still active as a traditional sail training ship under that name.
  • ... the US motorboat USS California was completed in 1910 and served in World War I on harbor patrol duty.
  • ... the US two-masted gaff-rigged schooner Adventuress launched in 1913 also saw service as a pilot boat, and during World War II served with the United States Coast Guard.
  • ... the US two-masted gaff-rigged schooner Zodiac was built as a racing sailboat in 1924 and also named California after being acquired by the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association for use as a pilot boat.
  • ... the US schooner Roseway, built in 1925, owned by the Boston Pilot Association for thirty years until 1973, now a registered U.S. National Historic Landmark operating in Boston and St. Croix, USVI by World Ocean School, Camden, ME

The Zodiac and Adventuress are both listed with the National Register of Historic Places and are now cruising in Washington state after restorations.[6][7]

Four tows meeting in the Houston Ship Channel.
Boarding is tricky, as both vessels are moving and cannot afford to slow down
The pilot is leaving the ferry-boat "Ionian Sky" after guiding her out of the harbour of Brindisi in Italy
A pilot preparing to board a vessel by helicopter outside Durban Harbour in South Africa

In the Inland Brown Water Trade another type of pilots are known as trip pilots. Due to the shortage of qualified posted masters these independent contractors fill the holes in the manning schedule on inland push boats on various inland river routes.

Duties involved

Their size and mass makes large ships very difficult to manoeuvre; the stopping distance of a supertanker is typically measured in miles/kilometers and even a slight error in judgment can cause millions of dollars in damage. For this reason, many years of experience in an operating area are required to qualify as a pilot. For example, the California Board of Pilot Commissioners requires that pilot trainees must have a master's license, two years command experience on tugs or deep draft vessels, and pass a written exam and simulator exercise, followed by a period of up to three years training gaining experience with all types of vessel and docking facilities. Following licensing, pilots are required to engage in extensive continuing educational programs.[8]

By far the most challenging part of any ship's voyage is the passage through the narrow waterways that lead to port and the final docking of the ship. The pilot brings to the ship expertise in handling large vessels in confined waterways and expert local knowledge of the port. In addition to bringing local maritime expertise on board, unlike the vessel's captain the pilot is insulated from the economic pressures (e.g., getting the ship from point A to point B on time, regardless of weather conditions, traffic, or other navigation issues) that can compromise safety. Instead of being part of the ship's crew, pilots are employed locally and therefore act on behalf of the public rather than of the shipowners.

Normally, the pilot joins an incoming ship prior to the ship's entry into the shallow water at the designated "Pilot boarding area" via helicopter or pilot boat and climbs a pilot ladder sometimes up to 40 feet (~12 metres) to the deck of the largest container and tanker ships. Climbing the pilot ladder can be dangerous, even more so in rough seas considering that both the ship to be piloted and the pilot's own vessel are usually both moving. With outgoing vessels, a pilot boat returns the pilot to land after the ship has successfully negotiated coastal waters.[9]

Pilots specifically use pilotage techniques relying on nearby visual reference points and local knowledge of tides, swells, currents, depths and shoals that might not be readily identifiable on nautical charts without first hand experience in the waters in question.

Beyond the experience and training of regular ships' captains, pilots also receive special, ongoing training to stay on top of their profession. Pilots are required by law in most major sea ports of the world for large ships.. In every case, it is correct to remember that, the pilot during the time passed aboard for operation, will remains under the Master's authority and remains always out of "ship's command chain". In other most clear terms the pilot remains aboard as an important and indispensable -Consultant of the Master-.

However, in some countries, Masters (and sometimes other ranks too) of ships that call at only a few ports and so have strong local knowledge and experience of navigating in those ports, such as a ferry, may be issued with a pilotage exemption certificate, which relieves them of the need to take a pilot on board.[10]


Because maritime pilots have advanced to the top of the maritime profession and are responsible for the most dangerous part of a voyage, they are generally well compensated.

The Florida Alliance of Maritime Organizations reported that Florida pilots salaries range from US$100,000 to US$400,000 annually. This was similar to other US states with large ports.[11] Columbia River bar pilots earn about US$180,000 per year.[12] A 2008 review of pilot salary in the United States showed that pay ranged from about US$250,000 to over US$500,000 per year.[13] Pilot compensation has been controversial in many ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, especially regarding pilots who are employed by public agencies instead of acting as independent contractors.[14][15] Compensation varies in other nations. In New Zealand, according to the government career service, pilots earn NZ$90,000-120,000.[16]

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ "Be a marine pilot" Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  2. ^ "Hobblers – who were they?". On-line Journal of Research on Irish Maritime History. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Quilter, V. "Sailing History". Hobbling Disaster. DúnLaoghaire Harbour Company. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Bathurst, Bella (2005). The Wreckers. HarperCollins. pp. 42–50. 
  5. ^ Gattie, George Byng (1890). Memorials of the Goodwin Sands, and their surroundings, legendary and historical. London: J J Keliher & Co. pp. 92–107. Retrieved Jun 26, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Schooner ''Zodiac'' History". Retrieved 2012-02-18. 
  7. ^ "Schooner Adventuress National Historic Landmark Study". National Park Service. 1989-04-11. 
  8. ^ Pilot commission - overview (PDF), Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suisun, 7 October 2011, retrieved 3 December 2011 
  9. ^ "Pilot Transfer Arrangements" International Maritime Pilots’ Association 2012. Accessed: 7 October 2013.
  10. ^ "Pilotage Act 1987".  
  11. ^ Peterson, Patrick (1 March 2010). "Harbor pilots steer clear of rule change". Melbourne, Florida:  
  12. ^ Jacklet, Ben (2004-10-19; updated 2009-10-30). "Columbia pilot pay attracts port’s eye".  
  13. ^ Dibner, Brent (December 8, 2008). "Review and Analysis of Harbor Pilot Net Revenues and Salary Levels" (PDF). West Gulf Maritime Association. Retrieved September 18, 2010. 
  14. ^ Palmeri, Christopher; Yap, Rodney (1 December 2011). "Los Angeles Port Pilots Steer for $374,000 a Year While Long Beach Profits". New York, New York:  
  15. ^ History of Loodswezen about organized marine pilots in the Netherlands. Visited 3 April, 2013.
  16. ^ "Harbour Pilot/Kaiurungi Aka". Career Services/Rapuara. Retrieved September 18, 2010. 

Harry Hignett, 21 Centuries of Marine Pilotage. London, March 2013.

External links

  • International Maritime Pilots Association
  • Hart Marine - Builder of the ORC Pilot Boat
  • American Pilots Association
  • NY & NJ Sandy Hook Pilots Association
  • U.S. Coast Guard
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