Pilots, Ship

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This occupation has now been updated to Captains, Mates, and Pilots of Water Vessels

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Also known as:
Barge Captain, Barge Master, Boat Pilot, Car Ferry Captain, Car Ferry Master, Coastal Tug Mate, Deck Officer, Docking Pilot, Ferry Boat Captain, Ferry Captain

Video transcript

Imagine driving a vehicle longer than three football fields. Then imagine trying to parallel park it. Pilots of water vessels meet that kind of challenge every day, guiding enormous commercial ships and tankers safely from sea to busy port and back again. Unlike the captain and crew, who travel with their ship, the pilot is usually stationed at the port. When a ship needs to enter or leave the harbor, the pilot is sent aboard to safely navigate it through the local waterways. Although helicopters are sometimes used, the pilot usually takes a small pilot boat to board incoming ships.

Getting from boat to ship is tricky business. The pilot boat must maintain the exact same speed as the larger vessel as it travels alongside. Like a Hollywood stuntman, the pilot boards the ship by ladder while both vessels are moving. On the bridge, the pilot takes over navigational control. That means giving steering and engine orders to the ship's personnel. Drawing on a vast and detailed knowledge of local water depth, winds, tides, currents, and hazards, the pilot guides the ship into port.

Once there, the pilot maneuvers in tight quarters and may direct tugboats to help ease the ship into its berth. It takes years of experience and study to become a licensed pilot. Those entering training programs are already specialized professional mariners, usually ship captains or senior deck officers.

They learn and hone piloting skills in the classroom, in simulators, and on board vessels of all types before being granted a state license. They're expected to be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard as well. Pilots are on call 24/7 every day of the years, in all weather conditions. Their maritime skills and ability to make quick decisions, often under intense pressure, are highly valued by seamen the world over.

Command or supervise operations of ships and water vessels, such as tugboats and ferryboats. Required to hold license issued by U.S. Coast Guard.
Critical decision making
Level of responsibilities
Job challenge and pressure to meet deadlines
Dealing and handling conflict
Competition for this position
Communication with others
Work closely with team members, clients etc.
Comfort of the work setting
Exposure to extreme environmental conditions
Exposure to job hazards
Physical demands
Daily tasks

Provide assistance in maritime rescue operations.

Report to appropriate authorities any violations of federal or state pilotage laws.

Learn to operate new technology systems and procedures, through the use of instruction, simulators, or models.

Give directions to crew members who are steering ships.

Serve as a vessel's docking master upon arrival at a port or when at a berth.

Steer ships into or out of berths or signal tugboat captains to berth or unberth ships.

Prevent ships under their navigational control from engaging in unsafe operations.

Direct courses and speeds of ships, based on specialized knowledge of local winds, weather, water depths, tides, currents, and hazards.

Operate ship-to-shore radios to exchange information needed for ship operations.

Set ships' courses that avoid reefs, outlying shoals, or other hazards, using navigational aids, such as lighthouses or buoys.

Consult maps, charts, weather reports, or navigation equipment to determine and direct ship movements.

Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment Running, maneuvering, navigating, or driving vehicles or mechanized equipment, such as forklifts, passenger vehicles, aircraft, or water craft.
Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
Getting Information Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
Monitor Processes, Materials, or Surroundings Monitoring and reviewing information from materials, events, or the environment, to detect or assess problems.
Making Decisions and Solving Problems Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.
Controlling Machines and Processes Using either control mechanisms or direct physical activity to operate machines or processes (not including computers or vehicles).
Transportation Knowledge of principles and methods for moving people or goods by air, rail, sea, or road, including the relative costs and benefits.
Geography Knowledge of principles and methods for describing the features of land, sea, and air masses, including their physical characteristics, locations, interrelationships, and distribution of plant, animal, and human life.
Public Safety and Security Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.
Administration and Management Knowledge of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modeling, leadership technique, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.
Mechanical Knowledge of machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.
Law and Government Knowledge of laws, legal codes, court procedures, precedents, government regulations, executive orders, agency rules, and the democratic political process.
Customer and Personal Service Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
Telecommunications Knowledge of transmission, broadcasting, switching, control, and operation of telecommunications systems.
Spatial Orientation The ability to know your location in relation to the environment or to know where other objects are in relation to you.
Far Vision The ability to see details at a distance.
Problem Sensitivity The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing there is a problem.
Depth Perception The ability to judge which of several objects is closer or farther away from you, or to judge the distance between you and an object.
Glare Sensitivity The ability to see objects in the presence of glare or bright lighting.
Oral Expression The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
Selective Attention The ability to concentrate on a task over a period of time without being distracted.
Control Precision The ability to quickly and repeatedly adjust the controls of a machine or a vehicle to exact positions.
Operation and Control Controlling operations of equipment or systems.
Operation Monitoring Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.
Critical Thinking Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
Monitoring Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.
Active Listening Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
Complex Problem Solving Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
Speaking Talking to others to convey information effectively.
Coordination Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.