Columbia River Bar Pilots and the Columbia River Pilots

FYI with regard to the Columbia River situation, I dipped into the thicket of almost unintelligible legalese that resides in the Oregon Statutes on Pilotage. It appears that, to qualify as an Oregon fully licensed pilot on the Columbia Bar, an applicant must:

(a) Hold a valid license as Master endorsed for Radar Observer issued by the U.S. Coast Guard; (else where specified as “unlimited” as to tonnage and oceans)

(b) Hold an unlimited federal pilot’s endorsement for the ground for which a state license is sought;

That is in addition to an extensive list of training and supervised experience requirements on the pilot ground in question.

And it appears that, according to the Oregon Statutes, ONLY an Oregon licensed pilot may provide the required pilotage in the Columbia Bar pilot grounds. There are, of course, exemptions for various classes of vessels, primarily fishing or pleasure and under 100’ overall length and domestic “coastwise” vessels. And also for towing vessels under 200 tons with aggregate tows of under 10,000 tons.

It further says that the Oregon Pilots Commission will license “at least” one pilot association in each of the 3 pilot areas (Columbia Bar & River, Coos Bay Harbor, Yaquina Harbor).

And have at least two years serving as Master on vessels over 5,000 GRT.

Is the OP just a curious fan or wondering how to start a competing pilots association? I still don’t understand the original intent of this thread.

Well I’m not sure what you would consider the OP. My first contribution was a reply, in another thread, that asked some questions about what “Federal Pilots” meant, because my limited, local knowledge and experience was that we have “Oregon Pilots” and ONLY Oregon Pilots on the nearby Columbia Bar.

My reply, in the other thread, was only for my information and education (I’m a retired physician who served in the UPSH Marine Hospital Service in the late '60s and got involved in this forum originally in responding to some questions in the nature of: “Did the merchant marine really have free hospitals and medical care at one time?”. I’ve also been a lifelong cruising and racing sailor and boat owner who has an enduring interest in most things maritime…which is why I hang around here occasionally).

It appears that my (only slightly off-topic, tangential really) reply was split off into another thread, probably because of the focus (entirely mine) on the Columbia River. Actually, I was interested in "Federal Pilots’ wherever they worked, and I think the ORIGINAL post was about them in the South &/or on the Mississippi.

So no, have no fear that I’m vetting the competition here! ;-)) I do have a Coast Guard “Merchant Marine Staff Officer” license as a “Surgeon” (and a Z-card), which I got while I was serving in the Marine Hospital Service, but as luck/fate would have it, I never actually got to use that license on a US Flag vessel after I got out of the PHS (not that there were very many opportunities!!).


Go with on a cruise ship?

I would be surprised if there wasn’t a federal pilot agency working there but it’s possible that there isn’t. There isn’t anything legally stopping them as far as I can tell.

Have you ever talked to any of the state maritime academies? Your skills could be used on the training ships.

Well that or, as per another suggestion, maybe a training ship or something. When I served in the PHS, I was the Chief of the Out Patient Clinic at the Galveston Marine Hospital. Our clinic had a pretty close relationship w. Texas Maritime Academy for the various CG mandated exams their cadets had to pass. I made a lot of friends in the maritime community in those days. Lykes was especially active in those days and we helped expedite a lot of required exams for their officers who were on a quick turn-around.

One of the Sr. Captains for one of the lines we worked with wrote my letter of rec. for my Surgeon’s license. And I made a lot good friends amongst my patients, many of whom were retired from some level of the ranks of the Merchant Marine and, because they had been made “Permanently NFF Sea Duty” by the PHS at some point while under articles, they were effectively eligible for permanent care by the PHS from then on (the “good ol’ days!”).

I thought I was headed for General Practice after my “service to my country” was over and my intention when I got the license was to try to do a cruise or two on a ship that needed a doc. But a specialty training (residency) opportunity in a field I’d always been fascinated with (ophthalmology & eye surgery) came up unexpectedly right when I was at decision time and I decided to go that route. So 3 more years of training and then, of course, “life” intervened with wife, kids, soccer, etc., etc… and I never did a cruise. Openings for Surgeons on US Flag vessels were scarce in those days and got even scarcer anyway.

I’m 77 now and, if I’d had “an anchor”, I’d be way past time to have “swallowed it” anyway by now!! Opportunity missed I’m sure! But I have always loved “navigation” in any kind of small craft and spent a LOT of my free time on the water, including teaching a whole bunch of Boy Scouts to sail at one time or another.

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Well that is why I mentioned that, from my reading, the Oregon Statues on Piloting seem to say (though I’m no lawyer and a devilish one wrote that crap!) that for anyone to serve as a pilot on the Columbia River Bar, in the instances where a pilot is REQUIRED, MUST have an Oregon license.

Maybe the “Federal trumps State” thing negates that? Or maybe the “interstate commerce” issue trumps it? THAT is essentially what I was asking when I inadvertently started this thread by posting on that other thread asking about “Federal pilots.”

I can recall, from my PHS days, being invited onto the bridge of one of the 210’ Cutters when the Coast Guard boys from Galveston were going up to the Port of Houston for Armed Forces Day or something. One of the things I was wondering about was whether or not they would use a pilot (I knew about Galveston-Houston pilots because I took care of some of them in the clinic and, on the rare quarantine visit to an entering ship requesting Q, had crossed paths with some of them.)

What I saw on the bridge of that 210 (It was the VALIANT, by the way! That old girl is STILL in service and based here in Astoria now…not long till the “breakers” I would guess!) was no civilian pilot but a pretty tense group of Coast Guardsman. The skipper was really on the case of his lookouts and his navigator, a petty officer who was visible sweating as flew over the chart with his dividers and rule and called out bearings in a very loud voice!

It didn’t look to me like there was that much traffic, and the weather was clear. When I later asked one of the Jr. officers about why there was so much tension and shouting on the bridge, he said, “Well, we’re the Coast Guard! God forbid that WE would violate the navigation rules or, unthinkably, HIT someone!” Even though it’s true, I still chuckle when I think about that!!

Not true.

Those vessels still require pilots, just not state pilots. They are the ones that take federal pilots.

You posted a question about Columbia River pilots in thread about Galveston pilots that’s been inactive for two years.

Have to admit I did not check the date, but whatever thread I was in when I wrote that reply was one that I opened off the first forum page where current active threads are posted (the page you go to when you click on the GCaptain logo at the top left). At least I assumed that a thread appearing there is an active thread. I clicked on it because something in the title about Federal Pilots (which I’ve already explained I wasn’t familiar with) caught my eye. After reading a few posts in there, I wrote that first post asking about Federal Pilots. Somewhere along the line, my post became the OP of a new thread.

PS: Thinking about it more, possibly I WAS in a current thread and followed a link to another thread and then posted without checking the age or status of the thread I was in at the time. If so, my apologies for creating monitor work for somebody!

Ya, that’s it, maybe a few of you’ll pick it up.

How is this even possible when all the state pilot associations have a licensed monopoly in which only each respective organization can create state licensed pilots (for foreign flag ships).** I guess some members that currently have a state pilot license could split off and form their own organization, but this new organization would not have the ability to “spawn” new state licenses.

Which leads into another topic of: Does anybody know of any other business that is granted such a strong legal monopoly?

Another interesting fact: there are several pilot organizations that allow apprentices to start training that have zero maritime experience…literally don’t know port from starboard.*** A few years later, these pilots are now guiding ships into port. This fact kind of shines a little light on the nearly impossible task that these well trained men and women do each day to keep our ports safe from environmental and economic disasters.

**The assumption is there is not enough US flag traffic to support a business staffed with only federal pilots.

*** “Green joined the association shortly after he graduated from the University of Richmond with a business degree. He had wanted to become a pilot since he was 13 or 14 years old. The business degree was plan B.”

Any business that is regulated as a utility is granted a monopoly, cable and power companies for example. Oregon State Pilots State Pilots are regulated by Oregon PUC.

Yeah, Delaware pilots is an example. The only difference is the apprenticeship is 5 years for unlicensed and only 4 years if you have at least a 3rd mate license.

Some pilot organizations have a relatively low maximum age that makes having any real experience impossible (IIRC Sandy Hook is 26) whereas others require having Master Unlimited and time sailing as Master.

Not always. I sailed on a US flag ship routinely in and out of NOLA and we used the regular state pilots as everyone else did.

This “Federal Pilot” issue is very confusing to those not involved in this sector of the industry.

Was your US flag ship “on register” though?

Some explanation from the American Pilots Association, an organization of state-licensed pilots and expressing one point of view on the difference.

I’m sure this requirement is for environmental and economic safety, not for other nefarious reasons…

From the link:

Each state limits the number of pilot licenses that it issues to the number required to maintain a safe and efficient pilotage service. There is no competition among state pilots. Each port or waterway area is served by one pilot association or one regulated rotation system. The pilotage system in the U.S. recognizes that there are important safety and efficiency reasons for not having competitive pilotage.


Rates for pilotage are regulated. The regulating body within a state can be the pilot commission, a separate pilotage rate body, a public service commission (which sets the rates for public utilities and other regulated monopolies), or a state legislature. The rates are set at levels that will provide sufficient revenues to cover the expenses of a modern, full service pilotage operation, including pilot compensation recognizing that pilots are at the top of the maritime profession. Rate regulation also ensures that the rates are fair and reasonable.

I don’t drive ships for a living, so I must defer to those here that do. But giving the facts stated above about only 4-5 years of training for some that never set foot aboard a ship, it seems to be conflicting ideas of “top of profession” to the average joe like me. I’d think a 747 pilot is at the top of his profession (20 years to get there?). A heart surgeon (15-20 before he is operating on his own)…but 4-5 for a pilot???