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How Do I Become a Maritime Pilot?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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In order to become a maritime pilot, you will need extensive experience onboard ships in addition to an exhaustive knowledge of the local waterways. There is no set path to become a maritime pilot, as it is more a matter of obtaining the relevant experience. In the United States, you can enter a merchant marine academy after high school, though it is also possible to start out as a deckhand and work your way up. After you have obtained sufficient experience, you will need to demonstrate adequate knowledge of tides, currents and other necessary information. In some cases, you will be added to a waiting list if you have all the qualifications, though certain jurisdictions require you to participate in a deputy pilot program for a number of years.

Pilots are professional mariners who tend to have a high degree of specialized knowledge in one or more waterways. Unlike other mariners who serve aboard a variety of vessels in many locations around the world, maritime pilots tend to remain in one area. When large vessels approach areas that are dangerous or congested, they are typically required to take a maritime pilot onboard. Before the large vessel can enter the potentially dangerous waterway, a small pilot boat will typically carry out a licensed pilot. Once onboard the pilot will not take over command from the master of the vessel, though he will offer valuable advice that can ensure a safe voyage into port.

Your first step to become a maritime pilot will be to begin a career as a professional mariner. There are two different ways to go about this, each of which is better suited to different people. One option is to attend a merchant marine academy, which typically involves a competitive admissions process. If you manage to get into one of these academies, and subsequently graduate, you will typically be able to serve on civilian vessels as an officer. The other option is to join a crew as a deckhand, which will allow you to make your way through the ranks if you are highly motivated.

After you have sufficient experience, the next step to become a maritime pilot is to obtain the necessary local knowledge. Each waterway and port has its own unique set of factors that can lead to hazardous situations, so you will need to choose the area you want to work in and then familiarize yourself with local tides, currents, shoals, traffic and many other items. Working in an area for a long time can provide you with much of the knowledge you will need to become a maritime pilot, though in some cases you will have to do additional research.

The final step to become a maritime pilot is to apply with the local authority. Maritime pilots are typically licensed by individual states in the United States, though you will have to check the regulations of your local jurisdiction to be certain. In some cases, you will need to complete an intensive training program as a deputy maritime pilot, which will allow you to learn the local area. Other jurisdictions will simply test your knowledge, verify your credentials, and then place you on a waiting list.

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Discussion Comments

By anon991112 — On May 27, 2015

All you need to do is have family members that are pilots or know somebody. Most of the kids who go to our maritime academy who have parents that are pilots already they are going to be one. That is actually the only way to do it. You are not good enough to be a pilot if you are not close to one or related to one.

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