Harbor Pilot Advice

Hello All,

I begin my journey on becoming a Harbor Pilot in November 2018 with SIU. I would have began my journey with a Maritime Academy out of high school, but I went to a D1 University with full focus on college football. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as well as I would have wanted it to, so now I am directing all focus on a new path - maritime. I just graduated (December 2017) with a 4-year degree that seems to not help with anything maritime related, so I decided to write this in hopes of advice from all that take interest.

I will be taking the deck route at SIU, but after the program I am wondering what I need to do in order to stay on track? I know in Florida to become a Harbor Pilot you need to work as a deck officer for at least two years. My main concern is getting to the Deck Officer position. How many sea days? What positions do I need to upgrade to? etc

I hope everyone had a good 4th

Maximum Respect,

  • Dillan

First things first,
AB to Mate is 1080 days, I thought the SIU had a program for that now though

As for getting to Harbor Pilot it’s a lot more to it than just working for 2 years, you also need a captains license or at least 1600 tons with a minimum 5 years experience on ships or ship assist tugs, and then there’s the whole voting in thing, this is just the gathered bits and pieces I get from listening to the Captains and Mates talk about it, I’m and engineer my self so don’t take what I say as fact I might just be high on Diesel fumes.



I begin with SIU this upcoming November 2018, so I will learn about everything offered soon. I was just getting a head start with everything I need to know.

I know 2-years working as an officer is one of the requirements, but everything is I’m not sure of. AB to Mate will be my next focus as I begin this journey. From reading other topics, seems like I need to travel far and on 1600 ton ships as much as possible.

The fumes will get ya haha.

Thank you

Learn to play golf!




You need 300 Days “On” your 2/M license


Oh. Please!

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So the journey begins!! Thank-you

Reminds me of back in '90 or so, we moved to a lay berth waiting on cargo. The capt off one of the assist tugs drove up to our tug to tell us he was on a beer run, so we placed our order. As he drove off, my capt pointed to a bag of golf clubs in the bed of his truck. Capt says, “Any time you see a tugboat hand with a bag of golf clubs, you can bet your ass he has an application in with the pilots!” …Sure enough…


The club went further than the ball

Not to be a party pooper, but I hear a lot of people “talk the talk” when it comes to becoming a pilot, but very few “walk the walk” i.e. have the skills and even more so, the determination and commitment to go through all that is involved. You sound like you have no experience and starting at the bottom. Obviously it doesn’t hurt to have goals. Don’t get your hopes up is all I’m saying. It is highly competative. Reality check.


The glass is half full, one step at a time for me. Just blessed to have the chance to be able to work towards something like this at 24.
My grandfather was a Pilot for Biscayne Bay down in a South Miami, but Captain is no longer with us so I didn’t get the chance to ask for advice.
I know he took the hawsepipe route, but it’s different nowadays.

If you can swing it financially doing a masters program at SUNY (or one of the other academies that offer graduate programs) would shave a big amount of that time off getting that license. Some pilot programs have age restrictions as well. Worth looking into. As an aside and another reality check, your chance of becoming a pilot in this industry is about equal to that of getting drafted in the NFL. Don’t want to discourage you but the odds are not in your favor.


The reason I chose the SIU route, was and is because I decided experience and pay over another 2-4 years enrolled in a school. I suppose it will take me longer, but if I do what I am suppose to do I feel more experience will bring me further.

Hopefully the saying “The more hands you shake, the more money you will make” will apply.

This a great goal to have. Don’t give up. Talk to the local pilots. Ask them questions. Don’t be a pest but be persistent. I watched tug and tow people taken in besides academy folks. Depends on the person and how the chips fall. Keep at it anything is possible!

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I will say that you are barking up the right tree with your focus on Florida. Once you have the requisite experience (enough time sailing as 2M to get your CM license) it’s a simple matter of passing an incredibly difficult exam. Most other places you would have to be plugging yourself in now to gain the favor of the association (I.e. kissing ass) because basically that’s all that matters. That and a lot of luck. Also at 24 you’re very close to the cutoff age for several of the east coast associations.

I might suggest the Virginia Pilots Association if you were an excellent student at your university. They have several pilots who never served a day at sea and actually prefer to train pilots from the ground up with little to no experience from what I’ve heard. I think it’s a 7 year apprenticeship though with lots of school and knock out tests that lead to a lot of washouts. If you’re really smart and willing to spin the wheel, look them up.

Other than that, if you have a family member who is a state senator or otherwise politically connected where it helps the associations rate meetings, that can help.



Thank you for the positive words, I will make sure to do that.



I don’t know what to study for the pilots exam: besides soaking up experience like a sponge, but as the time comes I hope I will figure out some guidelines. I believe Florida changed some laws, and now hire through the guys up top rather hiring through the particular Pilot’s Association. When you say “east coast associations”, are you referring to schools? Or?

I will look into that, thank you. As of now I put the wagon before the horse for a couple of things.

  1. I bought a book called “rules of the road”; according, to the book those who study it pass the officers exam with an average of 86% plus. 3 years from now I hope to have gone through this book at least 4x.
  2. I have potentially obtained an internship with one of the Florida Pilots Associations. Not sure what that will help with, but it certainly will not hurt me.

1080 days is about 6 years on deck, unless you’re working every day straight for three years, or get 1.5/1 on your vessel. Again, just want to set it straight for you. Associations are pilot associations. For Sandy Hook in NY it is 27 years of age for the cutoff for an apprentice, which is is part of the reason why I suggested an academy. If you wanted to be a Federal Pilot, it’s a little different, but it doesn’t make it easier.
Whatever the case you may find you enjoy some other aspect of the industry or not all. There’s only one way to find out and that’s to get out there and try. Good luck.


For the Florida exam you will need a black belt in rules of the road knowledge. An entirely true false exam that focuses heavily on the legal definitions of the rules. You will also need to draw the chart of the port you are testing for from memory. Most experienced mariners need three attempts testing and thousands of hours studying to get a high enough score and the exam is typically only once per year. Google Florida marine pilots and you can find this all yourself.

I use the term Association to mean Pilots Association. State pilots associations are all different with individual criteria for what gets you on their list of candidates. It usually boils down to a popularity contest with the active members of the association. They are businesses akin to a law or medical partnership if that makes any sense. Your ability to handle a ship often comes second to what you can bring to the partnership and whether they feel they can work with you as a partner for the next 30 years.

Florida is by far the fairest on the east coast with the state test being the main qualifier to enter the apprenticeship. Other places like Boston only want someone with unlimited tonnage master experience and other places still go by what your last name is.

You’ve got a goal and that’s awesome. There are a lot of people on this forum that had the same goal once and probably gave up when they didn’t want to fully “kiss the ring” or just got worn out from being rejected too many times. It is a very selective job within an industry that has an abundance of qualified applicants. It’s a crap shoot in many ways so good luck.


Check with the appropriate sources. Last time I looked, 90% was the passing grade.