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Pilot Loses His Bearings, San Fran a Nation Disaster

I am a huge supporter of my fellow mariners- and I know that a lot of mariners will not speak ill of their own kind - in lock step with those who wish to protect the industry, but when something as tragic as this latest accident happens I have to break ranks and speak my mind:

The San Fran Pilots Associations - and most pilot associations are fundamentally flawed. They fill their ranks with under qualified personnel and pay them more than they are worth. Yes- the exams and the apprenticeships are difficult- but I have noticed in my career that it is very difficult for unlimited tonnage mariners to get into these associations. After sailing for a number of years (I did my own pilotage in and out of ports) and observing/ listening to the pilots - I have seen a fair number of poor pilots. This does not mean that I think all the pilots are bad- there are some who are exceptional- but they don't weed out the bad ones.

I would say that 75% of the pilots I have met came from the tug/barge community and had less than 1600 ton licenses. I ran into one pilot who had a 100 ton license (Which amounts to nothing and has very lax standards). I have even run across two pilots who could not even swim. This is a license requirement- why would the Coast Guard or the Pilots Associations let this slide? The amount of nepotism and who-you-know politics in getting a pilots job is ridiculous.

Even the skilled unlimited tonnage officers that run the nations hopper dredge fleet and sail in close quarters are excluded from the pilots programs. Officers from these dredges would probably be the MOST qualified for the job because they know the harbors like the backs of their hands. The pilots reject time from dredge officers intentionally. Instead of hiring the master mariners that have dedicated their lives to the study of sailing and ship handling - the pilots associations hire tug boat skippers with little to no large vessel experience. I appreciate what the tug boaters do for us- and they play an enormous role in our economy. But the pilot associations should be required to hire the best of the best from the community of practice: Individuals with master mariners licenses - unlimited tonnage- any oceans.

I was lucky enough to speak my mind today on national radio- though I didn't get a lot of air time and didn't get to make my entire point. I had the opportunity to discuss the accident briefly on The Savage Nation. (The Savage Nation is a conservative talk show hosted by the great Dr. Michael Savage. Savage is my favorite radio personality because of his strong conservative values and razor sharp wit.) Anyways- I heard Savage talking about the accident - so I couldn't help myself- I had to call in. Savage, a civilian/ recreational boater himself has sailed under the bridge and brought up the question that is on my mind - "How could you possibly hit that bridge?" and he is correct- it shouldn't even be possible these days with all of the technology. RADAR, ARPA, GPS, LORAN, AIS- there is just no excuse for this accident. I have sailed through the bridge as well and I would think you would need to intentionally aim for it- just because there is so much water.

In my quick conversation I didn't get a chance to say everything I wanted to. I should have mentioned that the Coast Guard grossly under reported the spill and has caused even more damage by lack of response. Had the emergency response been more organized- this disaster could have been minimized. I think the responder crew on scene was surprised to see how big the spill was- since they were told it was 140 gallons (Turns out it is more like 58,000 gallons)

As mariners we need to take a hard look at the people that are making the big decisions in our industry and how our major organizations do business. I think that we (professional unlimited tonnage mariners) should start our own pilots associations and run the old guard out of town.

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John Astad said...

Hi Chris,

Respectfully, I have to differ with you in your comment in only hiring unlimited licensed mariners as pilots. That seems like a lopsided view. From first hand experience, sailing as an AB unlimited on tanker ships, ocean-going barges, and offshore supply vessels. The skills required of the bridge resource management team is no better or worse when comparing the two. Its the training, experience, and knowledge that counts.

Professional mariners with limited mariners licenses(1600gt) have extensive on hands experience in piloting vessels in inland waters Whereas unlimited mariners do not. In inland waters it is the pilot that calls the shots for change in course and speed not the master of the vessel(unlimited license). Of course if the master believes his vessel is in harms way then he/she can circumvent the pilots directions to prevent harm to the vessel or crew.

You make some excellent points but please don't deride the skills of the hundreds of professional mariners (unlimited licenses) navigating the inland waterways in the USA on a daily basis.

Kind Regards,

John Astad

MaritimeLinks- Editor said...

You clearly did not read my message entirely. Yes- I do have more respect for those who have gone and gotten an unlimited license- but I also said that I have run into many good pilots (even though most of them were limited license holders)-- I would just prefer that pilots have a higher license-- because there is a degree on competency that is tested for to get the higher licenses. --Pilots are paid a kings ransom--- they should at least have the same knowledge that the mate on watch does-- preferably they should be as good as the captain himself.

I do have a problem with the pilot associations as a whole. Many are 'good ole boy' clubs and you cannot get into one unless you know the right person. In my experience these people are primarily 'non-academy limited license' tug guys. I happen to think that if you are going to be the high paid person driving an unlimited tonnage vessel- you should be required to get an adequate license for an unlimited tonnage super tanker or cargo ship.

I do not intend to insult anyone by saying this- but it is the truth. I was turned away by two pilots associations even though I have all the qualifications and a spotless record. My friend who worked for the San Fran pilots association as the pilot boat operator (he went to Cal maritime) told me that he was rejected by the association himself. He told me that the association was very 'clannish' and would not allow you in unless you knew the right people.

I have heard many stories such as these. I have also seen incompetant pilots that were on the job year after year- even though they had multiple incidents on thier records.
There is no need for this in our industry, and I think that the investigation will reveal that the pilot has been in trouble before- and may not be qualified for a pilot's job.

John Astad said...

Thats were we differ diversely Chris. You having more respect for an unlimited licensed deck officer than a limited licensed deck officer. I see no difference in the apples and oranges we are debating on.

For example, while testing at the REC, the exam modules for a third mate unlimited are basically the same as an limited master license (1600gt). Only difference is the celestial and flashing light modules that are required for the unlimited license. How much celestial navigation is required in inland waters while a ship is being piloted up the channel?

I'm sorry to hear that you got out gunned in your job search by an limited licensed professional brown water mariner. I can now understand the animosity toward the brown water mariner. Since I' have sailed on both side of the gunwale my viewpoint is more of a neutral one and either mariner from the academy or the hawsepipe is just as qualified. As I stated earlier, its the the skills, experience, and knowledge that counts. Sure cronyism is bad and has no place in any industry.

If there is any investigation that needs to be done in the industry it would be a comparison and contrast of pilot incidents and whether the occurrence was from an unlimited licensed of limited licensed pilot. That sort of data would add credence to this sort of dialog that is now occurring.

Just a side note. I wonder if Capt. John Cota, the veteran master mariner who was piloting the container ship Cosco Busan possessed a limited or unlimited license?

Anonymous said...

Great discussion ! let me to share my point of view .
I believe , the matter that should be considered is how competency of a pilot is managed. Apart from license that indicate sea , navigational & management experiences, pilots should be evaluated by SEK (skill, experience& knowledge) regarding pilotage . I believe that limited or unlimited license gives some important experience of team working , and skill of navigational Aids and knowledge of ship's culture. But gentlemen , you know that, this would not grant that he/she will be good pilot.
Decision making in pilotage has some differences with what almost conduct by master onboard the ship. For example, master is consider vessel interest , but pilot has high concern regarding state interest. Furthermore, the model of decision making in pilotage mostly is Recognition model that highly depend on the level of SEK . conclude my point of view, the efficiency of pilotage is not depend on the system of recruiting , but depend on the policy of the system regarding " pilot competency management".

Andrew said...

Regarding the original post. From Chris I believe?

I used to share your same sentiments. However after becoming a pilot and experiencing this profession first hand, I have changed my opinion.

I used to feel that large ocean going vessels should be piloted by only those qualified to command such a vessel. I am, myself, qualified with an ocean license with no limitations, and had command experience prior to becoming a pilot.

Within the pilot orginisation to which I belong, there are people with both backgrounds. Many with the same background as mine and many with limited licenses and inland experience.

However, 2 of the most talented and capable ship handlers in my organization spent their prior careers on inland vessels and have limited licenses.

After observing pilots from each background train as apprentices I had to admit that those with inland experience, especially local inland experience, had an initial advantage over those with ocean experience. Over time, their capabilities tend to even out.

But I would go further and describe the attributes that make a capable pilot go beyond their professional background. I believe certain people have a natural ability for this line of work. There is an instinct that some people possess more of than others. Unfortunately, that instinct cannot be measured, and displayed on a CV, and cannot be discerned until after they have been piloting for some time. And even then, it is an argument between pilots how much of that instinct he or she may possess.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the limited license guys in piloting is that in a lot of cases there is an education gap.

I also have a serious problem with the 'good ol' boys club that runs alot of the pilots associations. It isn't just difficult for outsiders to get in in alot of states it is just downright impossible.

Pilots should be able to form their own associations- and break from the existing ones. Why can they not have freelance pilots? Why can we not have company pilots- or captains who are qualified.

I have my federal pilotage for canaveral, Fl and for San Fran. I have sailed vessels large and small with no accidents- but for some reason I cannot get into any pilot association.

I think that the highest paid guys on the water should have better education and a higher license than what is required. Guys like myself and some of my friends have this- and we should be able to break into this part of the industry.

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1 - Go into the foods court. Feel it or not, the foodstuff court would be the absolute greatest destination inside local mall to satisfy a woman. Here's what you do. Pick a foods put and get in line for your meal. Although you happen to be in line, look close to the location somewhere anybody is sitting down and eating. Glimpse for a female sitting alone, and even two ladies sitting together. When you may have your meal in hand, walk around to where by she or they can be seated and check with if you can join them. If you are truthful and straightforward with them, your chances are rather effective.

2- Do some contemplating. Before you even think of heading towards local mall to satisfy a chick, sit yourself down and do some severe contemplating. Keep in mind how you can interact with a young lady and what you could say to her if you’re successful. Think about which parts of a shopping mall you'd go to. Also, you're about to ought to obtain a little something while there, what do you may need? As a final point, give some thought to what meeting a gal in a public location entails. Unquestionably you are likely to need to seem to be for the wedding ring previous to speaking to some female, and you'll really have to contemplate if it's wiser to speak with a female alone or one particular who is with other people. In conclusion, you are likely to have to be sensible about your own age as well as ages belonging to the girl you would like to meet. As in, you're likely to would need to tell oneself to get sensible and don't have a shot at to satisfy ladies which are very much younger or older than you're, or that seem out of one's league.

three - Request allow. When you can be in conclusion at the shopping mall, 1 for the techniques to meet girls is by asking them for be of assistance. Females be aware that guys have no notion what they're accomplishing once they are shopping, so asking for support will not appear this kind of a ridiculous thought. Ask for aid in picking out a jacket for oneself one example is. Undertaking so let's the woman know that you are single. If she agrees to help you, talk to her other queries as you grab distinct jackets to attempt on.

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