Maritime pilot

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A Nigerian pilot assists a U.S. Navy ship into the harbor at Lagos using nautical charts Darryl Brown, commanding officer of USS Robert G. Bradley (FFG 49), talks with a Nigerian pilot while navigating into Lagos.jpg
A Nigerian pilot assists a U.S. Navy ship into the harbor at Lagos using nautical charts

A maritime pilot, marine pilot, harbor pilot, port pilot, ship pilot, or simply pilot, is a mariner who maneuvers ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors or river mouths. Maritime pilots are largely regarded as skilled professionals in navigation as they are required to know immense details of waterways such as depth, currents, and hazards, as well diplay expertise in handling ships of all types and size. In order to obtain the title, maritime pilot, requires being an expert ship handler licensed or authorised by a recognised pilotage authority.



A pilot boarding a ship from a pilot boat while underway Harbour pilot boarding.jpg
A pilot boarding a ship from a pilot boat while underway

The word pilot is believed to have come from the Middle French, pilot, pillot, from Italian, pilota, from Late Latin, pillottus; ultimately from Ancient Greek πηδόν (pēdón, "blade of an oar, oar"). [1]

The work functions of the pilot can be traced back to Ancient Greece and Rome, when locally experienced harbour captains, mainly local fishermen, were employed by incoming ships' captains to bring their trading vessels into port safely. [2]

Pilots were required to have quick transport to get from the port to the incoming ships. They initially used their own fishing boats to reach the incoming vessels, but these were heavy working boats, which led to the development of the specialised pilot boat.

Eventually, the need for regulation became apparent as pilots required adequate insurance and harbours began to rely on licensed pilots. If a licensed pilot offered his services, an incoming ship was obliged to bring the pilot on board. [2]

Inland brown water trade also relies on the work of pilots 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. [3]

A Sandy Hook pilot is a licensed maritime pilot for the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Hudson River, and Long Island Sound. Sandy Hook pilots have been piloting ships in the New York Harbor for over 300 years. [4] The pilots of New York and Boston first served on Square rigs before entering the pilot service as boat keepers, later receiving their warrants as pilots, then their full commissions as branch pilots authorized to pilot vessels of any draught size.

Duties involved

A pilot preparing to board a vessel by helicopter outside Durban Harbour in South Africa Pilot boarding a vessel by helicopter.jpg
A pilot preparing to board a vessel by helicopter outside Durban Harbour in South Africa

In English law, by Section 742 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, a pilot is defined as "any person not belonging to a ship who has the conduct thereof"—someone other than a member of the crew who has control over the speed, direction, and movement of the ship. The Pilotage Act 1987 governs the management of maritime pilots and pilotage in harbors in the United Kingdom. [5] [6]

Pilots are required to have maritime experience prior to becoming a pilot, including local knowledge of the area. For example, the California Board of Pilot Commissioners requires that pilot trainees 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 different types of vessel and docking facilities. Following licensing, pilots are required to engage in continuing educational programs. [7]

Typically, 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. both the ship to be piloted and the pilot's own vessel are usually moving, this may be dangerous, especially in rough seas. With outgoing vessels, a pilot boat returns the pilot to land after the ship has successfully negotiated coastal waters. [8] [9] [10] Pilots are required by law in most major sea ports of the world for large ships. [11] Pilots use pilotage techniques that rely 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 certain waters. [12]

Legally, the master has full responsibility for the safe navigation of their vessel, even when a pilot is on board. If they have clear grounds that the pilot may jeopardize the safety of navigation, they can relieve the pilot from their duties and ask for another pilot, or, if not required to have a pilot on board, navigate the vessel without one. In every case, during the time passed aboard for operation, the pilot will remain under the master's authority, and always out of the "ship's command chain." The pilot remains aboard as an important and indispensable part of the bridge team. [13] Only in transit of the Panama Canal does the pilot have full responsibility for the navigation of the vessel. [14]

In some countries, deck officers of vessels who have strong local knowledge and experience of navigating in those ports, such as a ferry or regular trader, may be issued with a pilotage exemption certificate, which relieves them of the need to take a pilot on board. [15] [16]


The Florida Alliance of Maritime Organizations reported that Florida pilots' annual salaries range from US$100,000 to US$400,000, on par with other US states that have large ports. [17] Columbia Bar pilots earn approximately US$180,000 per year. [18] A 2008 review of pilot salaries in the United States showed that pay ranged from about US$250,000 to over US$500,000 per year. [19]

Pilot compensation has been controversial in many ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, especially in regards to pilots who are employed by public agencies instead of acting as independent contractors. [20] [21]

Compensation varies in other nations. In New Zealand, according to the government career service, pilots earn NZ$90,000-120,000. [22]

See also

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Trinity House

The Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond, also known as Trinity House, is the official authority for lighthouses in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. Trinity House is also responsible for the provision and maintenance of other navigational aids, such as lightvessels, buoys, and maritime radio/satellite communication systems. It is also an official deep sea pilotage authority, providing expert navigators for ships trading in Northern European waters.

Seamanship is the art of operating a ship or boat.

Pilot boat

A pilot boat is a type of boat used to transport maritime pilots between land and the inbound or outbound ships that they are piloting.

Port of Hong Kong

The Port of Hong Kong, located by the South China Sea, is a deepwater seaport dominated by trade in containerised manufactured products, and to a lesser extent raw materials and passengers. A key factor in the economic development of Hong Kong, the natural shelter and deep waters of Victoria Harbour provide ideal conditions for berthing and the handling of all types of vessels. It is one of the busiest ports in the world, in the three categories of shipping movements, cargo handled and passengers carried.

Port of New York and New Jersey

The Port of New York and New Jersey is the port district of the New York-Newark metropolitan area, encompassing the region within approximately a 25-mile (40 km) radius of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. It includes the system of navigable waterways in the New York–New Jersey Harbor Estuary, which runs along 650 miles (1,050 km) of shoreline in the vicinity of New York City and northeastern New Jersey, as well as the region's airports and supporting rail and roadway distribution networks. Considered one of the largest natural harbors in the world, the port has become the second busiest port by tonnage in the United States as of 2019, and the busiest on the East Coast.

Sea captain Commander of a ship or other sea-going vessel

A sea captain, ship's captain, captain, master, or shipmaster, is a high-grade licensed mariner who holds ultimate command and responsibility of a merchant vessel. The captain is responsible for the safe and efficient operation of the ship‍—‌including its seaworthiness, safety and security, cargo operations, navigation, crew management, and legal compliance‍—‌and for the persons and cargo on board.

Steamboat Inspection Service

The Steamboat Inspection Service was a United States agency created in 1871 to safeguard lives and property at sea. It merged with the Bureau of Navigation in 1932 to form the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection which, in 1936, was reorganized into the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, which in turn came under the control of the United States Coast Guard in 1942 and was abolished, with its functions transferred to the Coast Guard, in 1946.

Spirit of South Carolina

Spirit of South Carolina is a "tall ship" built and home ported in Charleston, South Carolina. She was owned and operated by Tommy Baker and Michael Bennett till March 2016, when they donated it to the "Spirit of South Carolina Inc" a 501(c)(3) not for profit foundation. The Spirit of South Carolina is a certificated Sail Training Vessel, providing experiential education programs for the youth of South Carolina. Interdisciplinary programs focus on math, science, history and literature of South Carolina, and our relationship to the water.

Sailing Directions

Sailing Directions are written directions that describe the routes to be taken by boats and ships during coastal navigation and port approaches. There are also products known as Sailing Directions, which are books written by various Hydrographic Offices throughout the world. They are known as Pilot Books, because they provide local knowledge of routes and landmarks, which would typically be provided by a local marine pilot. As such, they are used frequently by naval and government vessels, who are exempted from 'Compulsory Pilotage' in many ports.

Nautical publications is a technical term used in maritime circles describing a set of publications, either published by national governments or by commercial and professional organisations, for use in safe navigation of ships, boats, and similar vessels. Other publications might cover topics such as seamanship and cargo operations. In the UK, the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, the Witherby Publishing Group and the Nautical Institute provide numerous navigational publications, including charts, publications on how to navigate and passage planning publications. In the US, publications are issued by the US government and US Coast Guard.

Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suisun is the California state agency responsible for licensing and regulating pilots within one of the largest harbors in the world and the tributary Sacramento River delta. It licenses and regulates up to 60 pilots of the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association. They are called "bar pilots" because they maneuver ships across a large and dangerous sand bar just outside the Golden Gate at the mouth of San Francisco Bay.

Port and starboard Nautical terms for direction

Port and starboard are nautical terms of orientation that deal unambiguously with the structure of vessels, referring respectively to the left and right sides of the vessel, seen by an observer aboard the vessel looking forward.

Pilot station Onshore headquarters for maritime pilots

A pilot station is an onshore headquarters for maritime pilots, or a place where pilots can be hired from. To get from a pilot station to an approaching ship, pilots need to use fast vessels to arrive in time, i.e. a pilot boat.

Sandy Hook pilot

A Sandy Hook pilot is a licensed maritime pilot for the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Hudson River, and Long Island Sound. Sandy Hook pilots guide oceangoing vessels, passenger liners, freighters, and tankers in and out of the harbor. The peninsulas of Sandy Hook and Rockaway in Lower New York Bay define the southern entrance to the port at the Atlantic Ocean.

Bristol Channel pilot cutter

A Bristol Channel pilot cutter is a specialised sailing boat the style and design of which is derived from the single-masted cutter. Based upon bulkier, less nimble fishing boats but modified for use in the strong tides, winds, currents and coastline of the Bristol Channel its purpose was to quickly ferry local maritime pilots to and from large ships to assist in safe navigation into or out of port cities in the Channel. The speed and manoeuvrability of the cutters allowed a minimal crew in almost any weather. They could quickly arrive at and easily lie alongside larger ships for safe transfer of pilots. The craft was equipped to remain on station for days or even weeks, awaiting arrivals outside the channel.

<i>Moses H. Grinnell</i> (pilot boat) Sandy Hook Pilot boat

The Moses H. Grinnell was a 19th-century pilot boat built in 1850 for the New Jersey maritime pilots. She was designed by the yacht designer George Steers. The Grinnell was the first pilot boat to feature a fully developed concave clipper-bow, which was to become the New York schooner-rigged pilot boat's trade mark. This new design was the basis for the celebrated yacht America.

Edward E. Barrett Sandy Hook Pilot boat

The Edward E. Barrett, or Edward E. Bartlett was a 19th-century two-masted Sandy Hook pilot boat, built by C. & R. Poillon in 1883. She helped transport New Jersey maritime pilots between inbound or outbound ships coming into the New York Harbor. She was one of the pilot boats that survived the Great Blizzard of 1888. In the age of steam, the Barrett ended her pilot commission and was sold in 1904.

Thomas Cooper (pilot) Boston Pilot

Captain Thomas Cooper was a 19th-century Boston maritime pilot. He was a well-known Boston pilot that took more battleships on their trial trips than any pilot on the coast. He was a leader among the branch pilots of Boston for 50 years. He had ownership in the Boston pilot boats Friend,Varuna, and Columbia.

William Robinson Lampee Boston Pilot

Captain William Robinson Lampee was a 19th-century Boston maritime pilot. He was one of the oldest and most experienced pilots in the Boston service. He was a Boston pilot for forty years. He had ownership in the Boston pilot boat Friend.



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