Harbor Pilot Advice


@Seago. I am going on my years of doing transits with the Virginia Pilots and some of the backgrounds and experience levels I’ve discovered doing so. I’ve had a former cadet who got in right out of school, an English Major, a competitive sailor from Georgetown University, etc. The common theme is very little actual commercial sailing experience but some pretty decent pilots on the whole. I know that it is a tough program to get through (lots of paying your dues, taking classes, and do or die tests).

I was mainly trying to give this young man an avenue that is open to him for a few more years that may get him where he wants to be in a shorter amount of time than his mid thirties.

Honestly. Florida is the only state on the East coast that I ship into that I’ve met a pilot that has come close to sitting in my seat as Master. I don’t agree with the US system of haphazard requirements to get the job and prefer the way it is in other parts of the world where you can find common ground with someone who has sailed up to Master to qualify for the gig but the economics are very different everywhere else. It’s a great job everywhere but it’s not the golden ticket like it is in the US.


yes. American Practical Navigator. Volume I is useful for learning and reference but Volume II is what is available in the exam room. Both are valuable to own. Mastering the art of navigation is what makes a Mariner.


You are getting good advice here. Education aside, sail on anything that floats. I sailed AB while I held a C/M ticket when times were tough. Avoid getting locked into a fixed company if possible…like if you sailed MSC for your whole career, you aren’t as attractive as the guy who has worked on everything.

Nepotism is still around, but nothing like it used to be. My whole family were plumbers. . .I was the first sailor (such a disgrace). Its very true about who you are as a person, and if you can fit in an association. When I hire a new apprentice, that guy is going to affect me, my family and my group for decades. I want to know him very, very well. Expect a long interview process and some very tough questions.

You need to be persistant, tenacious, lucky and ready to eat a couple shit sandwiches. Cowboys, non team players and general dicks need not apply.

You can do this. . .but you really have to want it. Good luck.


DY and all that have commented on this thread, I like you wish this young man well in his lofty pursuit, and I think all have offered relevant and candid advice but he has some big difficulties ahead of him. I agree that the best option open to him is the competitive state exam process in Florida but as others have pointed out it is a very difficult exam (from what I have heard, orders of magnitude greater that a USCG test) and the competition is fierce. He has squandered perhaps his most valuable resource, time, by going to a standard college rather than a maritime academy. Potential pilots are an investment for any pilot association and the younger the pilot who possesses the requisite experience and credentials, the greater the return on the investment for he pilot association.

Perhaps a thread on the requirements on the various pilot associations requirements around the country would be in order. Just as all pilotage is local so are the individual associations’ requirements for considering potential candidates.

As for the VPA, while they advertise when they are looking for apprentices and give interviews thses are just “Potemkin villages” to keep the EEOC and similar entities off their backs. They have already picked the anointed ones. Several pilots told me years ago that they had never taken an apprentice over 23 years old other than the occasional (well connected) veteran. Things have changed a little but not much, they call Virginia the Old Dominion for a reason.

One place that frequently seems to need pilots is the Saint Lawrence Seaway pilots.



Thank you everyone, all posts have been greatly appreciated.

I am currently doing some homework on the SUNY Masters program. I have already submitted an application, I am now gathering my best two letters of rec, transcripts, and resume so I can send it over immediately.


Lol!!! 4 Times? Well, that is not going to do it.

At my Academy, the teacher guaranteed you would pass Rules if you read the Coast Guard Rules book once a week until the exam, which was 2 years distant. It takes an hour and 15 minutes to read it through including relevant parts of the annexes. 15-20 minutes if you are just quick reviewing your highlighted portions. Preparing for the Florida exam, that is maybe done a half dozen times a day. 12-16 hours a day prep for months and months leading to years. When your buddies are surfing in Costa Rica, you are in the Library. You know you are serious when you get pissed the Library is closing at noon on Christmas Eve. It is years of major colossal suck fest. BUT it IS doable. But it must be taken seriously with total commitment or don’t waste your time. There are a LOT of really smart King’s Pointers lined up for that job. The exam is a Herculean job and must be approached like any other job. But this job of studying necessitates obsession for years with no guarantees. If you get a 95, you are not even in the ballpark.

So, yes good luck but don’t waste your time if you are not appropriately fucking laser focused like an astronaut combined with an Olympic athlete.


I was just guesstimating that one, but obviously I have been proven wrong haha. As a rookie in this path, I now know how many times it should be read before even getting to the book.

Very uplifting hearing that it is doable from you guys, hopefully the SUNY masters program will respond soon.

Olympic astronaut it’ll be.


Hawsepipers are being squeezed out by the CG and the ringknockers, sure you can still get there that way but being a maritime academy grad will get you there much sooner.


If you want to think beyond Florida, some of the west coast pilot groups have moved away from the beauty contest entrance and towards an objective written/simulator exams combo for creating a list of candidates. SF, PS, SEAK, CRB and I think HI might also be going that way. Dig around on those groups’ websites, look at the state requirements for application and then set yourself up with seatime to meet those requirements of whatever group you are interested in. Then get really, really, really good at shiphandling because your life will be a lot harder if you get into a pilot training program with never having actually handled a ship.


Thank you!


Dillan want to reiterate what the other comments stated and best of luck and although I respect your desire to follow a family tradition, son of a son of a sailor, I am scratching my head as to why you are narrowly focused on harbor pilot only? Your comment as to “bought a book called rules of the road” and “hope to go through it at least 4x” marks you truly as a newby, no offence, just an observation. By the way you will as all of us go though R of R dozens of times before you swallow the anchor. Why not focus on first becoming a “seaman”, what all of us are and call ourselves when we are sober; next concentrate on becoming an officer, what we call ourselves when we are half in the bag, and finally attain Chief mate or master unlimited tonnage, what we want to be called during our funeral eulogy. Sounds like your sights are lasered in on pilot and if that is a no go, you will jump ship into an entirely new field of endeavor. Bottom line, before becoming a pilot, develop a passion for the industry first is my advice.


Probably the $$$$$.

Reading The American Merchant Seaman’s Manual (in addition to Bowditch) would be a good start as well @Dillan_Andrew and more relevant than a ROR book at this point. That has a lot of the basics of the seamanship stuff you need and leads into more advanced concepts. It’s not the most exciting read, but any deck officer that went to any of the academies owns it, and should have read it. Rules is a small, albeit very important, part of what you must master.

Sailing sounds really exciting to most people, but a lot of it is studying, and studying continuously throughout your career. There are lots of magazines online for free (try Issuu) and great websites to help educate you.
There’s another thread on here where
Someone is giving away books for FREE. You should take advantage of it.


Collisions and their causes 3rd Edition and a guide to collision avoidance rules by Captain AN Cockcroft are two excellent books to study. The first book first published by Richard Cahill goes through every aspect of each rule and how the courts dealt with incidents where the rules applied.
Apart from learning the rules by rote as we were required to learn, the above publications give the student a deeper understanding of the rules that will make any examination easy.


This is well said. A good analogy might be someone who has never before picked up a bat deciding that he wants to play first-base for the Yankees. First you need to determine if you like the game. Next, you need to see how good you are.


Try reaching out to Federal Pilots in the Mississippi.


Many grandiose harbor pilot aspirations have been broached here over time. Going to SIU Piney Point school is the worst plan presented so far.

Oh btw the entire maritime industry is awash with self laudatory popping-jays. VPA and the other pilot associations don’t have a monopoly on that particular type of person. It’s seemingly endemic to people who aspire to command at sea.


What’s the difference between a pilot and God?
God doesn’t think he’s a pilot.


@Dillan_Andrew I think we all want you to accomplish your goal, just trying to temper your expectations a little bit.
And a good call out on the Federal Pilots @Seagig (and the docking pilots in NY). Most of those guys come from tugs, so maybe a little bit easier to break into then the state pilot associations. You’ll still have to put in a lot of time, but it’s possible.


Today, I was accepted into the Master of Science in International Transport Management Program at the SUNY Maritime College in NY.

Thank you everyone for your help


Congrats! For the fall semester?