Today’s Illustration: When A Pilot Is Required . . . .

Image result for maritime pilots  The Man Who KNOWS The Harbor!

On This Day: February 25, 1850 – official formation of the “California Board of Pilot Commissioners”

If you have been on a cruise ship or even a cargo vessel, you may have wondered what that “little” boat, speeding along, pulling alongside of the ship, with the word “pilot” on it was there for or is doing.

That boat was delivering a “maritime pilot” who knows that port like the back of his hand and is able to safely navigate the large passenger or cargo ship safely into port.

 “A maritime pilot, also known as a marine pilot, harbor pilot or bar pilot and sometimes simply called a pilot, is a sailor who maneuvers ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors or river mouths. They are normally a former ship captain and a highly experienced shiphandler possessing detailed knowledge of the particular waterway, e.g. actual depth, direction and strength of the wind, current and tide at any time of the day. The pilot is a navigational expert for the port of call.” – wikipedia

A maritime port pilot will pull along side of the ship and climb a ladder up the side of the ship.  When aboard, he will climb the stairs up to the piloting room and either give directions or actually steer the ship himself.

“Boarding ships by rope ladder comes from a time of wooden ships and iron men, a time when men were sent aloft to furl sails in storms, and when injury and death were considered part of the job for seamen.

Boarding ships using the system that is still used by most pilot groups is a leap of faith — faith in the knots tied by unknown crewmen, faith in the strength of the pilot ladder, faith in the ability of the pilot boat operator to match the speed of the ship and to rescue the pilot should he miss the jump and fall into the sea.” — Professional Mariner – October 2007

Pilotage is one of the oldest maritime professions because of the need for the safe arrival of precious cargo to port.  After days and months of shipping cargo across the oceans, the final arrival of the goods in port could be jeopardized by failing to know where the sandbars, rocks were and being carried by unknown currents into them, sinking the ship.


Facts & Information:

The first navigation pilots were Native Americans in canoes guiding ships on the Hudson River.

Minimum of two years as a ship master required.

Knowledgeable about the port’s tides, currents, weather, shipping traffic, and contour and properties of the navigation channel.

“The license issued to a maritime pilot is specific to the area where the pilot usually works.” — Marine Insight

“There are some ships that do not require the assistance of a marine pilot. Such ships have a certificate known as the ‘pilot exemption certificate.’ The reason that these ships have such a certificate is because they visit limited number of ports and harbours which is why the captain of the ship is more than adequate to handle the ship.” — Marine Insight


  • The pilot typically seeks to board the ship at the first buoy marker into the port.
  • A small boat is brought alongside the ship while still underway.
  • Then, the boat aims to match the speed of the pilot boat with that of the ship.
  • The pilot then jumps from the small boat to the ladder on the side of the ship.
  • The pilot then climbs the ladder, which is held by suction cups or magnets,  boards the ship, and then takes command of the ship as it travels into port.


The job typically pays between $100,000 – $400,000 a year.

“It’s a job that requires constant vigilance,” Johnson said, adding that pilots are trained to immediately recognize any irregularities in a boat’s operation or its surrounding environment.

“We’re always thinking two to three miles ahead … and we’re constantly countering the weather before we even get to the weather.”

Simply navigating a 100-foot wide ship in a 600-foot shipping channel can be a nerve-wracking experience, he said. But the weather presents the largest challenge, especially in the winter.”


In many of the major ports (such as Columbia River Bar), seventy-percent of the port pilots are delivered by helicopter and thirty percent by a specially designed boat which pulls along side of the shipping vessel.

There are approximately 1,000 pilots in the United States working as “port pilots.”

In the United States, 5 “port pilots” died in 2007 (latest statistic) using the pilot boat and ladder system — 20 throughout the world.

“Pilot falls to his death while boarding a ship at entrance to Delaware Bay
Mar 28, 2007 12:00 AM– A pilot with more than 30 years experience was killed when he plunged into the Atlantic Ocean after falling from a ladder he had been climbing to board a coal ship.” — Professional Mariner – March 2007

Modern Alternatives:

“The first experimental use of the helicopter by the bar pilots was in 1997”

“Since 1996 there has been a reliable helicopter transfer system going on at the Columbia River Bar, with over 70 percent of the transfers being made by helicopter.”

Then in 1999, following years of tests, the next “radical” change for the bar pilots arrived in the form of a helicopter transport system. It was the first of its kind to be used in the United States.” — Shane Powell


“The Columbia River Bar Pilots report using helicopters for 70% of all transfers with no injuries or deaths with between 2200 and 3000 helicopter transfers per annum. The conditions at the mouth of the Columbia River where the pilots operate are reportedly difficult with heavy swells, confused seas and high winds .” — Captain Stephen Rabbi

Because of dangerous weather conditions, helicopters are not always able to transfer the pilot to the ship and the use of a boat is still required.  One of the newest and most innovative pilot boats has been designed and made by the Hart Marine Corporation.

  • Cost: $2.5 million
  • Build Time: 10 months by 70 builders
  • Features: state of the art infrared camera to help with water rescues and identifying smaller boats, automatic self righting in event of capsizing, state of the art wave piercing beak bow
  • Speed: 28 knots


Key Illustrative Thoughts:

• Jesus Savior, pilot me
• navigating life
• rocks, currents, sandbars
• arriving in port safely
• someone who knows the port
• safe voyage
• constant vigilance
• knowledge of irregularities
• thinking 2 – 3 miles ahead
• even experience may not make it safe
• countering the weather before we get the weather
“If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot.” — see below
• experience required
• dangerous waters
• congested waters
• funeral

David Phelps — Gentle Savior

And when I reach the valley, every soul must journey through
I’ ll remember then how well You know the way
I’ ll put my hand in Your hand like a trusting child would do
And say

Gentle Savior, lead me on
Let Your Spirit light the way
Gentle Savior, lead me on
Hold me close and keep me safe
Lead me on, gentle Savior


Other Information & Links:

Marine Port Pilots . . . . .

  • Board ships by boat or by helicopter
  • Advise ship’s officers on harbor or port rules and customs procedures
  • Direct the course and speed of ships while they are in the harbor
  • Guide ships in and out of the port
  • Help ships to berth and unberth with or without the assistance of tugboats
  • May take part in maritime rescue operations
  • Keep regular reports on everything that occurs in port and harbor, including weather conditions and the ships that dock
  • The ship pilot’s day is full of important and varied tasks. From ensuring that the cargo ships are respecting the harbor rules to guiding a cruise ship out of crowded and tricky waterways, ship pilots work long hours on board other people’s vessels, guiding crews that are not their own. The work is done on the ship or in an office, filing reports or meeting with senior officers. They of course do a lot of traveling, but only within short distances of their harbor.


Last year I got ready to get off of a ship at sea. This was a brand new ship with Indian officers and Vietnamese crew. As I got to the pilot ladder, I noticed that it was secured by a mass of knots (none of which I could identify) the size of a small basket. I insisted that the chief mate and I retie the ladder before I would attempt the climb. The mate’s comment was classic. He said of his crew, “If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot.” — Captain William Worth


“But helicopters still haven’t replaced the conventional motor boat. As Stolz conveyed to the Columbia Forum, the bar pilots’ glitzy new boat – the “Chinook” – is perhaps equally exciting as the helicopters in terms of new technology.

The quest to find this perfect boat, now employed on days where weather prohibits the use of a helicopter, took the pilots around the world. The final product was a $3 million Dutch boat that is self-righting and, with 2,600 horsepowered jets that can “empty an Olympic-sized swimming pool in 12 seconds,” considerably faster than the Columbia.” — Shane Powell


Cruise Ship Accidents (due to piloting error):

Cruise ship banned from New Zealand: “An investigation was launched to find out what had happened, and it was revealed that there was confusion between the master and the pilot . . . . This accident highlights the importance of a comprehensive pilot/master exchange of information and ensuring it is communicated to the rest of the bridge team.” —


Carnival Vista Swamps & Destroys Piers — & Sinks Boats:  “While the Vista was leaving port, it came perilously close to the piers and the thrust from its stern created a turmoil which turned over the piers and swamped smaller moored vessels, sinking several of the boats. 

The damage to the piers was so severe that some of the passengers thought that the Vista must have hit the piers and boats.

The passengers stated that it was a “beautiful, sunny and calm day” when the accident occurred.

I am assuming that a local pilot may have been on-board at the time, although it is less than clear who was in control of the cruise ship when it damaged the piers and boats. There were reportedly no announcements afterward from the captain regarding what happened. According to these passengers, the Vista “didn’t stop and we were slightly delayed out of port.”–


Bad Driver. Cruise Ship Destroys Dock: “Most of us who have been behind the wheel of a car know that sinking feeling when it all goes wrong, whether that’s a full-blown accident or a ding on the car parked behind you.

That pales into insignificance when compared to what the skipper of the cruise ship Vista (the newest and largest of cruise company Carnival’s ships) must feel, because when he attempted to depart a dock in northeast Sicily (Italy) it became quickly apparent that he had dropped the ball on this one.” —


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.