A Bar Pilot is a freelance navigator that has specialized knowledge of a specific body of water, usually one that is considered difficult or treacherous to navigate. Incoming/outgoing ships radio ahead to pilot headquarters to request aid. The bar pilot boards the ship at a given location and takes temporary command to steer in and out of harbors and bays; directs course and speed of the ship based on specialized knowledge of local winds, weather, tides, and currents; orders worker at helm to steer ship, and navigates ship to avoid reefs, outlying shoals, and other hazards to shipping, utilizing aids to navigation, such as lighthouses and buoys, and signals the boat captain to berth and unberth ship. He/she must be licensed by the U. S. Coast Guard with limitations indicating class and tonnage of vessels for which license is valid and route and waters that may be piloted.
A Short but (Mildly) Entertaining History of the Profession
On May 12, 1792 American Captain Robert Gray successfully navigated his ship the Columbia up what he called "the River of the West," becoming the first non-native to accomplish this feat. Nearly 2000 vessels had attempted the same with dire results, earning the river and the surrounding water the "Graveyard of the Pacific."
Oregon Territorial Legislature took measures as early as the mid-19th century to protect further transport on that treacherous river. Recognizing the value of experience appointed the first public bar pilots to guide vessels. In fact the Hudson's Bay Company employed bar pilots since the days of Gray, sending them out in canoes to guide incoming ships. The first license, however, was given to to Captain George Flavel, who operated the schooner California. Flavel turned out to be quite the entreprenuer; his agressive institution of an organized pilotage held a virtual monopoly on river guidance.
Obtaining a bar pilot's license for the Columbia River is a rigorous proposition. The requirements are as follows:
There are only 22 Columbia River Bar Pilots. They work for a few weeks, then have a few weeks' break (this varies on their seniority
. While working pilot's must be on call
24 hours, ever ready to brave the wind and waves to board vessels in need of aid. Until the 1960
s smaller row boat
s were used to transport pilots to their vessels, requiring amazing strength and stamina of the rowers. Currently the bar pilots are testing the use of helicopters to board vessels. In 1990
, the state of Oregon
made it a requirement for a ship entering or leaving the Columbia to have a bar pilot on board. Bar pilots also exist in San Francisco Bay
, Key West
and countless other harbor
s, and delta
Sources for both the ability and motivation to write an article about bar pilots:
and my friend Claire's insistence regarding the sex appeal of said pilots.