Charting the Course: The Swashbuckling Earnings and Risks of a Marine Pilot

Credit: Yifei Loo/Pexels

One of the best-paying and riskiest positions in the transportation sector is that of a harbour pilot, as reported by Yahoo.

Port Pilots: Significant Role

According to a book written by Christopher Mims of The Wall Street Journal that was released in 2021, the typical harbour pilot at the Port of Los Angeles earns $434,000 a year but also has a one in 20 chance of dying while on the job. The convoluted dance that takes a shipment from Asia to American customers in a matter of days is deconstructed in the book “Arriving Today: From Factory to Front Door — Why Everything Has Changed About How and What We Purchase.”

Port pilots play a significant role in the journey of a shipment and are among the best-paid municipal workers. According to GlassDoor, the average US marine pilot earns slightly over $104,000 annually.

The high stakes 

Any cargo ship attempting to enter a port must pay local pilots to dock the ship in a secure location. The job entails a lot of risks because the pilots run the chance of being struck by a huge cargo ship, thrown overboard in choppy waters, or crushed between two boats.

“If you’re a harbour pilot, performing your job can kill you,” writes Mims, “despite happening a thousand times a day all over the world, despite many safety safeguards.”

Additionally, the work has extremely high stakes and calls for highly specialised talents.

The pilot is in charge of ships that can weigh more than 200,000 tonnes and have a value of more than $100 million. A harbour pilot manoeuvres a ship that has been sailing for miles to within inches of the pier’s unloading location.

Unmatched action

According to Mims, who detailed how LA port harbour pilot Captain John Betz navigated the Netherlands, a Chinese-owned ship from Cosco Shipping Lines, the harbour pilot first approaches the large cargo ship the size of a building from a 55-foot-long speedboat. The pilot must ascend a rope ladder to board the cargo from the speedboat, frequently when both vessels are tilting in different directions. The action is one of the most perilous parts of the whole operation.

Another harbour pilot, Craig Flinn, informs Mims, “I’ve been chased up the ladder by the boat.” Even with a life jacket, he continued, entering the water in rough seas has a very low chance of survival.

Once on board the freighter, the pilot receives a sheet that lists every component of the vessel as well as any challenges it will encounter as it approaches the port, according to Mims. Betz commands the crew verbally, using his iPad, a mix of GPS and navigational beacons, the ship’s an onboard automatic system, as well as his own judgement, to manoeuvre the Netherlands without ever touching a single switch on the ship.

The tugboat crews who are attached to each side of the ship when it enters the port are likewise under the pilot’s control.

After the ship gets close enough, the tugboats’ gradual draw and the freighter’s remaining velocity are mostly used for manoeuvring.

“The equivalent of a stunt driver parallel parking a car in a spot that’s just long enough for it, after coming in at high speed, throwing over the wheel, and skidding sideways to within an inch of the curb, tyres smoking,” compares Mims’ description of the final manoeuvres required to manoeuvre the massive ship into its position on the pier.

As soon as the ship is securely stowed in its berth, the harbour pilot’s task is finished. In the end, harbour pilots are a little-known but significant link in the supply chain. 90% of US imports arrive via ship.


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Source: Yahoo


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