Pilot Organizations: Monopolies?

Here is a question I’ve always wondered about: why is there usually just one marine pilots organization for each port?
I believe Columbia River has two organizations (let’s call them what they are: private companies). But most have just one.

As a contrast, each major U.S. port likely has more than one tug company operating in it. Each of those ports likely have more than one container line servicing it. American society apparently dislikes monopolies in marine transportation.

Go to a major airport. There are dozens of airlines, each in competition with each other. The competition does not reduce the competency of each aircraft pilot. (I’m not conflating the roles of aircraft pilot with a marine pilot, which are very different. But they do share one thing: a very high level of specialized training, maintained over the professional life of the pilot).

Our economy is essentially a capitalist economy, the cornerstone of which is competition. Benefits of competition are a fair price for goods and services received, and an increase in efficiency. The opposite of competition is a monopoly. Monopolies don’t have a stellar record with low costs and efficiencies.

It appears that most marine pilot organizations are monopolies. Correct me if I’m wrong. If this is the case, how is society benefited by keeping marine pilot companies monopolies?

It’s largely by design: the moment you introduce unbridled “competition” into a marine safety-related issue, especially like pilotage, you inevitably get reduced safety as the pilots are forced to chase the dollar (like everyone else) rather than base all navigational decisions primarily with safety in mind. This tends to lead to poor outcomes often enough to want to avoid it.

I’ve been a beneficiary of this principle numerous times. When operating in areas where having a pilot is required, the home office has no leverage to speak of to lean on the pilot to sail or enter port when that just isn’t a good idea. Pressuring an employee is so much more effective and easy.

There are bad pilots to be sure, just like there are bad doctors and everything else, but they are few and my experiences have been very positive on the whole.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a lot better than the alternatives. I have plenty of experience with the alternatives. And if the pilot’s monopolies add more cost to the process than the bare minimum would be, that’s a very small price to pay, even in the aggregate, for the increased safety factor and incidents avoided.

[QUOTE=captjacksparrow;188409]It’s largely by design: the moment you introduce unbridled “competition” into a marine safety-related issue, especially like pilotage, you inevitably get reduced safety as the pilots are forced to chase the dollar (like everyone else) rather than base all navigational decisions primarily with safety in mind…[/QUOTE]

With respect, if that if that was true, then the rate of airplane disasters should be higher than it is now. Airlines are subject to ruthless competition, and yet the rate of aircraft disasters, as a function of total air miles, has decreased over the years.
Airline pilots need as much expertise, or more, than a marine pilot, yet competition in the market place does not demonstrably affect passenger safety. Yes, the two jobs are different, but consider this. A marine pilot is legally just an adviser to the ship’s captain and OOW. Whereas the two airplane pilots in a cockpit are the whole enchilada. Arguably they carry as much of a workload as a marine pilot, or more. Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines may both fly into Las Vegas but where is the race-to-the bottom in safety?
I’m not putting down marine pilots. I’m just wondering how they came about being organized in what are apparently commercial monopolies with quasi-governmental powers.

The pilots are to protect the public’s interest, a better analogy in aviation would be the aircraft near (air)ports are controled by FAA air-traffic control.

I’ve dealt with competing pilot associations on the Rio Plata, Argentina. The pilots don’t cooperate at all. Had a near miss there with a ship with a pilot from competing association, closest I’ve ever come to a collision.

You are correct: the jobs are very different, to the point that, in my opinion, it’s comparing apples and oranges. As KC pointed out, the FAA handles most ATC duties, directly or indirectly, and competition is purposely not a part of it.

The pilotage organizations are mostly state-charted & licensed (federal pilots being a small faction of pilots overall), each with their own state laws & regulations, each a monopoly-by-design, and it’s been that way for a very long time. Federal pilots, by the way, don’t normally enjoy monopolies, do have to compete, and therefore are subject to the pressures of having to consider “customer satisfaction” to some degree. This is not a reflection on them. It’s just the reality of what completion induces into the decision-making process.

Again, it’s not perfect, but our pilotage system is far better than the alternative. And, as far as I know, one of the very few instances where prudence has mostly trumped socio-political-economic biases and preferences.

Imagine that!

It’s almost been like that for hundreds of years. Generally pilots are independent, thus it’s usually an association rather then a “company”. Granted you have to be allowed into the the association to do it. It’s just one of those things where maritime businesses run in a historically traditional but different way from modern American businesses.

They have different levels of authority. An airline pilot is more akin to the ship captain than the pilot. Airports have ATC watching safety and in bad conditions the airport is closed, planes grounded. Ports are usually only closed in a hurricane. If a pilot refuses to sail due to fog do you want the office to be able to fire that organization and hire another one that will sail? Advisor or not, the ship can’t legally sail without a pilot onboard so if he says “no” the ship can’t sail…

The last thing we need is a down-ratchet like what happened (and continues to happen) with the classification societies.

Many of these pilot groups are just an inbred local mafia. Often the pilots also control the State Pilotage Board and state pilot licensing too.

Some pilots are civil service jobs run transparently by local government, for example Los Angeles. Doesn’t LA/LB also have an independent private pilot group too? I seem to recall that it did some years back. Jacobson?

Southwest Alaska Pilots have, or had, a competing pilot group too.

I have never heard of a problem with the service provided by competing pilot groups, until a serious and persist problem develops, give them room to compete.

Some of these Pilot Associations have way too much power over Port Operations. I can remember sitting in Pascagoula, MS when the Captain of the Port has Closed the Port for Fog. My Captain used to get pissed as they would not lift it until a Pilot called them to say it was clear. Now this would be fine if they went out to look at it but the problem was they would not even look at it unless they had a move to make. So, there was more than once when we sat there on a nice clear day waiting for the Pilots to make a decision only to have the fog set back in again. My Captain had Pilotage but there was no way he would sail as they would hang him for it if any thing happened.

One of the Pilots used to work for my old Company and was actually the Captain on the opposite crew on my vessel. Some times a phone call to him and he would call the CG with the all clear. The problem was most of the other Pilots did not like the fact that most of my Company’s vessels used their own Company Pilots so they would let use sit there and wait.

Way back, I remember Interport tried to give the Sandy Hook pilots a run for their money but as with most ports the Sandy Hook Pilots did not back down.

I agree with others that these “Pilot Associations” are no better than the Mafia!

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Wow, pretty strong words. For real? Like Chicago’s Al Capone and NYC’s Five Families? Or maybe the Westies? I guess I’ve been underestimating just how dangerous and menacing these pilots are.

I’m familiar with the status quo in Pascagoula, and a reasonable argument could be made that the pilots there possibly do wield too much power or influence. And yes, only a fool would act as their own pilot there, no matter how many trips you have. Clearly, they are protecting “their” turf aggressively. But it’s a very small and not terribly busy port, which probably explains their behavior. In the end, how much of an effect do they really have?

If the choice is between what we have now vs. “competition,” so that the invisible hand of the market can work its free-market magic on marine safety, this veteran member of the tugboat tribe votes for the monopoly, warts and all. You see the market almost never prices in the risk until after the fact, because it’s difficult to assign it a consistent value, whereas the costs of delays are generally easy to calculate and beat people over the head with. If you were the one that foolishly chose, or was pressured, to sail, you will, after the fact, be “the man” everyone wants to talk to.

A pilot can be of considerable help in a variety of situations, in my experience. I still tow barges, and tugs are still “legally undermanned” for many routine functions like entering or leaving port. Getting the other guy or gal up is often not a good option on a practical level, as it just makes the chronic fatigue situation even worse. Having a pilot takes a lot of that pressure off, and gives you someone who is almost certainly less tired than you are to help make better decisions. Pilots that were forced to compete openly would probably, like everyone else in that situation, cut corners on the rest hours.

It’s about politics and the $$$. Being a pilot takes experience and skill, but it isn’t some amazing skill that they try to say it is. There are still a few pilot organizations that will take apprentices with ZERO experience on the water and train them into very good pilots. This proves that it isn’t anything superhuman. Also, gotta have the way for the political hires to get in the door.

The pilots may be state licensed, but they still have to take the USCG pilotage exams and get the USCG license. My understanding is US flag vessels are not required to bring aboard a pilot if somebody aboard has pilotage for the route being traveled. However, all foreign flags must pay a state pilot, even if the capt of the ship has pilotage.

I heard a rumor that before the Valdez incident, pilots didn’t get the golden pay they now receive.

Really, the states should charge a nice hefty license fee for granting the monopoly to the pilot organization. It’s really one of the few last true legal cartels left.

I don’t believe anyone has made any claims about pilots being superhuman, just that using them is often a good idea, for many different reasons, whether legally required or not.

Your “understanding” about state and federal pilotage rules for U.S. flag vessels is flawed.

And I would be very interested to know just how the captain of a foreign flag ship would ever have pilotage in U.S. waters.

To say it is only about $$$ is simply false.

[QUOTE=captjacksparrow;188474]I don’t believe anyone has made any claims about pilots being superhuman, just that using them is often a good idea, for many different reasons, whether legally required or not.

Your “understanding” about state and federal pilotage rules for U.S. flag vessels is flawed.

And I would be very interested to know just how the captain of a foreign flag ship would ever have pilotage in U.S. waters.

To say it is only about $$$ is simply false.[/QUOTE]

To oversimplify a little bit,

All foreign flag vessels must take a state licensed pilot. State license pilots are also federal licensed pilots.

All US flag vessels sailing under Register (able to sail foreign ) must take a state licensed pilot.

US flag vessels under 1600 GRT sailing under Coastwise documents (cannot sail foreign) are not required to take any pilot (yes, there are some exceptions).

US flag vessels over 1600 GRT sailing Coastwise must have a “federal pilot” with a USCG issued pilot’s license. It can be one of the ships officers, an in-house company pilot, or a pilot from an association.

Some places there are pilot associations that only have federal pilots, that only pilot US flag ships. Most places there is only one pilot association of state and federal pilots. All state pilots are also federal pilots.

Some places it it customary for tugs with large barges to take a pilot. Some US tugs with large oil barges are required to take a pilot.

Fishing vessels are are not required to take a pilot. However, fishing vessels sometimes elect to take a pilot (e.g., going up an unfamiliar river to a shipyard).

Ferries over 1600 GRT must have a federal pilot. It will be a member of the crew listed as “Pilot” on the certificate of inspection. Sometimes the USCG requires ferries under 1600 GRT to have a pilot, and specify that on the certificate of inspection.

The tonnage rules have always been different for pilots. Pilots can usually get unlimited tonnage with only tugboat experience. The local USCG OCMI makes its own local rules for pilotage requirements.

[QUOTE=captjacksparrow;188474]I don’t believe anyone has made any claims about pilots being superhuman, just that using them is often a good idea, for many different reasons, whether legally required or not.

Your “understanding” about state and federal pilotage rules for U.S. flag vessels is flawed.

And I would be very interested to know just how the captain of a foreign flag ship would ever have pilotage in U.S. waters.

To say it is only about $$$ is simply false.[/QUOTE]

It IS possible for Americans to be the Master on foreign flag vessels with “open” register.

True, but he can’t then apply his Americaness to the Flag he is flying and then act as his own pilot, regardless of the endorsement. It is based on flag, not citizenship or license. Foreign ships take a pilot, American ships going foreign take a pilot, American ships take a pilot if they are coming or going with ANY foreign cargo aboard. It can and does change from voyage to voyage.

Navic-94 explains it all

[QUOTE=ombugge;188480]It IS possible for Americans to be the Master on foreign flag vessels with “open” register.[/QUOTE]

It would not matter if the Master of a foreign ship is an American, the ship would still have to take a pilot.

Now, if the American master of the foreign ship was also a state licensed pilot for that particular route, then the ship would not have to take a pilot because it would already have one.

I believe there is an exception to the pilotage requirements for regularly scheduled international ferries.

US and Canadian tugboats in US/Canada trade are exempt from pilotage. There are various other exceptions

One thing is for sure: A pilot will never tell how much $$ he gets paid, lol.

[QUOTE=johnny.dollar;188487]One thing is for sure: A pilot will never tell how much $$ he gets paid, lol.[/QUOTE]

…Or it could simply be the way you asked? Judging by your earlier comments, it’s no surprise no one has told you.

Flies and honey or flies and vinegar?

I seem to recall back in the mid to late 80s that Tampa had a competing Pilot’s Association take on the established one for a bit. A tugboat company, too. Taurus, I think that it was called also was started as a direct competitor to St. Phillips. . . I don’t think either company lasted more than a year. For the “small” Gulf Coast ports, many only have one tug company servicing them. I remember Lake Charles in the 80s really only had Sabine. Crowley would use their own tugs for the trailer barge handling if there was a tug, captain and engineer (cum deckhand) available.

Houston may look like it has more than one harbor tug company, with Bay Houston, Suderman and Young and G&H, but all are operated by G&H. It used to be the older tugs would have the G&H symbol on their stacks, but not sure if they even do that any longer.

One of the Captains in my old company (he was on the opposite crew from me) was offered a position in the Pascagoula MS Pilot Association. He had to scramble to get together $350,000-500,000 (I can’t remember the exact amount) in order to buy out the retiring pilot. So, basically he had to purchase his job.

The reason that he was picked was because the pilots could not get enough votes for you they wanted so they decided to pick someone from the outside. IIRC, he only had a week or so to make his decision to accept the job, which he did. He even ended up buying his Home from the Retiring Pilot.