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 have intimate knowledge of the waters that they pilot. They still perform this duty today, but the ships are larger and the responsibilities greater.
     The pilot is charged with protecting the public interest. 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 he directs the navigation of the vessel in conjunction with the Master of the vessel. This means that through his 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. The pilot is usually the only U.S. or Canadian citizen aboard the vessel.
     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 he is 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.