First class pilotage -techniques and tools

I have been studying and preparing to test for my first class pilotage and was looking for any help or thoughts that have helped people.
Specifically in regards to measuring distance and plotting positions accurately. As you don’t have the distance charts or all points of latitude to accurately gauge it on the blank chart.
I have broken it down into mm and maybe it’s the tools I am using but I feel that I am just off everytime and I know this test is to be very precise and don’t want to keep being just a little off

There are several forum members that have drawn charts, it’s been a while for me but I didn’t use Lat and Long at all but bearing and ranges, ranges being mm or whatever’s on the rule you’re using. What ever tricks it takes for each item on the chart. I don’t know how close things have to be. I wouldn’t think that being ultra precise is the key.

Here is part of Lynn Canal I drew years ago. It passed but you can see the issues were missing items, not postion.

Was this for a pilotage exemption? The approach used here is you were given a chart with only the topography and the buoys and beacons shown but with no description. The candidate had to fill in depth contours, light characteristics and leading light bearings, names of wharves and headlands etc. In short as much detail the candidate can remember. The examiner then quizzes the candidate on anything he or she considers as relevant to the port. Before the licence is issued the candidate has to carry out 12 entries and exits under a licensed pilot with 4 being at night. The exemption is only issued for the ship that the entries are examined and any sister ships.

Buoys and beacons filled in by candidate as are both depth contours and depths. Presumably the OP knows the requirements in his case.

Looking again I see that the contour around Eagle Rk. was marked up.

In any case I just started taking the tests. I spend a lot of time on the first couple charts, less on the later ones. Best bet might be just to start testing.

It’s been nine years since I sat.
You DO have ONE accurate Lat/Long. The rest are placed in reference to those. If yer Lats/Longs are incorrect then, everything else will be skewed.
Still, Bearing and Range in mm to the data point is what I and two of my colleagues did here at Kings Bay. I made the mistake of using multiple Lats/Longs instead of JUST the ones provided. I confirmed all the data points, placed them all on a blank trace to double-check. Once happy, committed all data points to memory and drew the second trace at the REC on test day. Using just a pair of triangles and a compass; I was successful nonetheless.

Committing the data points to memory was the most difficult part for me

An item to keep in mind - it’s a chart SKETCH.

Good luck

I use tangent lines off prominent points and then a distance off of that point in mm. Quite precise and little information to have to memorize. Also helps to have copies of the chartlets done either by you (trace) or by a firm that makes exact copies. Kinkos or Office Max scanners are highly inaccurate and you’ll end up having to rotate the chartlet to line up with the chart.

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Tangent lines from little shoreline features on the chart trace are by far the easiest and fastest way to locate the things that you need to draw in, like buoy positions. Use a Weems rolling parallel plotter.

In the US, the USCG exam for “pilotage” is a federal pilotage endorsement on your CoC that is valid for any vessel, it’s not a European style “pilotage exemption” only valid for vessels on which you are also serving as an officer. In the US, foreign vessels, and US vessels in foreign trade, i.e. “sailing under register,” must also use pilots that are also licensed by the State government.

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Tangent lines is quite descriptive for we discribe as a transit.

Basically you need to keep memorization to a minimum and have the blank chart provide as much information as possible.

For example a small island with a buoy off the end, can the distance from land to the buoy be related to anything, like by coincidence the distance off is the same as the length of the island? And so forth.

If you play around with whatever tools are being used look for this sort of thing, is a buoy exactly 1/3 the way in the channel? Or a smidge more etc.

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I’ve started to basically make myself an x and y grid in mm off of the one accurate lat and long to Mark all my ranges and proceed outbound as I have to memorize the data table as well which gives me channel widths so I’m hoping to work my out from center of channel mark my ranges and my channel first and foremost it seemed easier to remember 27.5-87 vs a full latlong pos. But was also less accurate because I had no distance table to measure off of just every 2 mins. I’m still a long ways away and any help is appreciated

That sounds overly complicated to me.

I memorize courses and distances over the route. You need to know that along with significant depths. The starting point will typically be a sea bouy and the end at a dock. You need to know the starting and ending points.

I draw the track line along the route with courses and distances from beginning to end first.

I try to find some little squiggle on the chart that is exactly east, west, north or south of the nav aids that I have to draw in. For the other coordinate of the nav aids. I just use a reasonable looking offset from the track line. Same for the shoals.

For a short route without too many nav aids, you only need to draw it a couple of times. For a long route with a lot of nav aids. You may need to draw it a dozen times.

The more routes you do the easier it gets.

I didn’t say or think it was best way but it was the starting pt there’s 44 and 6 sets of ranges. Then there’s over a dozen obstructions 2 anchorage areas and 4 spoil areas. So I was trying to learn people’s best methods

That sounds like a fairly difficult chart sketch.

I suggest that you try a shorter and simpler one first. Do the difficult ones after you’ve gained some practice on the easier ones.

To build a chart, you need to know by heart the;

• Courses axis
• Courses length between junctions
• Width of the channel and curves
• Distances ahead from junctions to leading lights, shore line
• Navigation aids positions and characteristics
• Conspic shore line distances off
• Depth inside and outside channel
• Nature of seabed
• Current axis and force
• Berths axis, lengths and available depth
• Conspic visual landmarks
• Notes & warnings

To impress the pilotage board …

• Wheel Over Points
• Visual turning marks
• Radar distance turning marks
• Safety margin marks

A scale ruler, dividers, protractor triangles, color micro point pens and courage …


That doesn’t seem like the best approach to me.

If I had to recreate any map, chart or diagram, say for the layout of my house lot, the buildings, driveway, garden etc or the layout of my living room I would not draw a grid and convert to x/y and then memorize the coordinates. It’s far too much memorization of abstract data.


Aside from the bearing and range (mm) technique for ATON, I make 3 or 4 copies of the chartlet. One I make for just the soundings. Every two inches for the area that I draw. I can memorize numbers in a tabular form pretty well, so I do the soundings in groups of 4 or 5. The other copies I use to eye-ball the shoal water and I just draw it over and over until I can recreate the general layout. Cable areas I do the same thing. The key I’ve found is to make sure the end product is very neat. I buy all my plotting materials from the local art store. The routes I make up in the test room. Why bother memorizing that when you don’t need to. Routes with turn bearings, turn ranges, and courses.

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I’ve always heard that State Pilotage Board exams are orders of magnitude more difficult than the USCG exams.

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I can say that after learning thousands of numbers, procedures and regulations by heart, you’re getting anesthetized … Never study that much of all my seaman’s life! No joke … :face_with_monocle:

You build a chart from known official courses, their intersections and/or from a wheel over point, by laying down relative bearings and distances, coordinates that will be used all the time in a pilot career. You study and remember what’s useful, not what’s useless…

I made a set of shore line and channel prints. I then place the prints inside a mica paper. I was next using color micro point pens water erasable. For every set of prints, I was drawing one after the other starting by the courses, the navigation aids and characteristics, then the distances off, then the depth and the current settings, then the Wheel Over Points with the visual turning marks, then the Radar distances off turning marks, then the berths axis, lengths and available depth, erasing, changing prints, repeating until I knew every little corner of the charts by heart, the beta cassette well printed into my brain! :nerd_face:

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This is the method I prefer and want to do as it comes more natural to me. I guess I just didn’t know where to begin with this test and was lost or felt a lil overwhelmed at first.
I’d like to know More about the mica paper and micro point pens becuz I am standing watch driving 12 hrs a day and I try to spend my afternoon time off and study 4-6 hours but I’m restarting a chart and I’m tracing it on vellum paper and it takes me well over an hr to clean up the galley table trace everything and just get started so that seems to be way more efficient

I trace the charts on tracing paper then have a blueprint shop make photo copies of my tracing on good paper.

I’ve heard of a company that prints and sells chart outlines on chart paper specifically for pilotage exam practice. I cannot recall the name of the company.