Your Questions Answered: Can You Tell Us More About Being A Harbor Pilot?

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Since we first shared photos of the harbor pilot assisting the TS Kennedy in Barbados, we have been flooded with emails from our student followers seeking more information about the role of a harbor pilot.

The questions that we received most often was:

Can you take photos and a video of the harbor pilot climbing down the ladder?
On Monday morning, two cadets majoring in International Maritime Business did just that as the harbor pilot left the TS Kennedy.  First, check out their video.  Then, look closely at their photos.

pilot climbing down ladder
pilot leaving ship on ladder
pilot says goodbye

Here are some of the other questions that we received:

Can I study to become a harbor pilot at Massachusetts Maritime Academy?
If you would like to become a harbor pilot, pursuing a degree in Marine Transportation and passing exams to earn your U.S. Coast Guard License would be the first step.  But you will not be able to get a job as a harbor pilot immediately after graduation.  You will be expected to gain experience at sea for 10-12 years, working your way up and taking on additional responsibilities.  Ideally, you will earn your Unlimited Master’s License, meaning that there are no limits on the tonnage, power, or geographic location of the vessel that you can serve upon.  Also, you should have experience commanding ships at sea. 

This should give you an idea of how highly trained a man or woman must be before applying for a position as a harbor pilot.

What is a deputy pilot?
Men and women who want to join the Port Everglades Pilots Association first need to be accepted into the deputy pilot training program that lasts about 30 months.  During that time, the deputy pilots ride, observe and handle (under direct supervision) thousands of ships.  If they prove themselves, the deputy pilots will be nominated to sit for the Pilot Examination.  The candidates are also required to attend classes during this time.

florida pilots association logo, two flags

What type of questions are on the Pilot Examination?
Applicants spend about 1,000 hours preparing for a comprehensive exam that takes approximately five hours to complete.  The test covers the following topics.

  • International Rules of the Road
  • Inland Rules of the Road
  • Seamanship and Shiphandling
  • Aids to Navigation
  • Local or Specific Knowledge of the Specified Port Area
  • Chart Work of the Specified Port Area
  • Federal and State Pilotage Laws and Regulation

Notice that some of the test is specific to the particular harbor where the job will take place.  For example, if you are applying to be a harbor pilot in Fort Lauderdale, you will take a different exam than a person applying to be a harbor pilot in St. Thomas

Will you post a photo of the pilot’s ladder?
Yes, here is the ladder waiting on the deck.

pilots ladder

How big is a pilot boat?
The boat that delivered the harbor pilot to the TS Kennedy in St. Thomas was 33 feet long.  It has a beam of 10 feet.

pilot boat arriving

How far is the ship from the harbor when the pilot joins the ship?
The distance varies from port to port.  Typically, the pilot joins the ship 3-5 miles from the harbor.

Do you know any Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduates who are serving as harbor pilots?
Yes, there is a long list of Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduate who are serving as harbor pilots.  For example, when the TS Kennedy cruised into the harbor in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, the ship was under the direction of Harbor Pilot Rob Ripley.  Rob graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1992.

Many Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduates from Panama return to their home country to work on the Panama Canal.  They often work as towboat masters before rising up the ranks to harbor pilot.

Is the pilot ladder left on the side of the TS Kennedy while the ship is in port since it will be needed again on Monday morning? 
No.  To prevent damage to the ladder, it is not left hanging down the hull while the TS Kennedy is in port.  This would also be a security risk because it would allow a way to access the vessel.  The ladder is taken up on Friday morning after the pilot departs.  It is secured in place on Monday, prior to the pilot’s arrival.

Do cadets and crew members use the pilot’s ladder when doing maintenance on the TS Kennedy? 
No.  SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) standards prohibit the use of the pilot ladders for anything other than allowing harbor pilots access to a ship.

Can a female be a harbor pilot?
Absolutely!  There is nothing that a female cannot do!  In 1990, Nancy Wagner became the first female ship pilot in the United States.  This pioneer worked in San Francisco Bay.  This wasn’t the first time that Nancy had made history.  Five years earlier she became the first female U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (King’s Point) graduate to get the master’s ticket.

first female harbor pilot climbing ladder

One of the seventeen pilots in the Port Everglades Pilots Association is female.

WISTA (Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association) is an organization for women in seagoing careers.  If you are a female high school student, you may enjoy exploring their website.



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