top of page

What is a Pilot?

Most people know what an airline pilot is, but very few know about ships pilots. Ships pilots date back to the early days of sailing in the Mediterranean Sea – to the Phoenicians. Pilots were expert navigators and ship handlers that had intimate knowledge of the waters that they piloted. They still perform this duty today, but the ships are larger and the responsibilities are greater.

The pilot is charged with protecting the public interest. Foreign vessel operators have no vested interest in protecting the sensitive waters of our Great Lakes. The pilot is usually the only U.S. or Canadian citizen aboard the vessel. The pilot boards a vessel via a rope ladder hanging on the side of the ship while the ship is moving. When on the bridge, they direct the navigation of the vessel in conjunction with the Master of the vessel. This means that through their skill, experience, and training it is the pilot’s responsibility is to safely maneuver a ship to the berth without incident. In coastwise ports, the pilot boards the vessel when it arrives at the sea buoy just outside the port. In the Great Lakes, a pilot is aboard every ocean vessel during its entire transit on the Lakes. In addition to navigation and ship handling duties, the modern day pilot also makes sure that pollutants are not dumped into our waters as well as monitoring the vessel for potential homeland security issues.

Pilots go through extensive training before becoming a member of Western Great Lakes Pilots Association. Besides the U.S. Coast Guard requirements for federal pilot registration, a potential candidate must go through a 3 year training program before they are fully qualified to pilot vessels in our entire district.
Great Lakes pilots are among the best ship handlers in the world, and our safety record is testament to that fact.

Below are some timelapse videos of ship movements by our pilots.

Read our informational brochure for more information by clicking on the PDF below!


Offices & Mailing Address

P.O. Box 365

6559 S M-221

Brimley, MI 49715

(715)  392 - 5204

bottom of page