Maritime pilot

Maritime pilot article illustration


Maritime pilots are mariners who guide ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbours or river mouths. They are expert ship handlers who possess detailed knowledge of local waterways.

The duties of a maritime pilot typically include, but are not limited to:

  • Communicating with the captain of incoming vessels to provide directions and instructions until they are safely docked at the harbor
  • Monitoring the weather conditions in the area and communicating with other ships to ensure that they are safe from hazards such as high winds, fog, or large waves
  • Enforcing international and national laws about shipping and maritime activities
  • Maintaining accurate records of all harbor operations, including cargo movements and vessel traffic
  • Determining the best route for ships to take based on tide levels and other factors that could affect the ship’s safety
  • Determining the depth of the water in the harbor at different points to ensure that incoming ships do not run aground
  • Coordinating with local port operators to ensure that cargo is delivered on time and that all vessels are safe from hazards
  • Recommending measures to improve safety in the harbor, such as adding new buoys or channel markers to indicate shallow areas
  • Providing instructions to tugboat operators on how to pull or push large ships through the harbor or assisting with refueling during long transits

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to maritime pilot:

ship steerswoman
ship pilot
marine helmsman
pilot of maritime vessels
marine pilot
ship steersman
harbor pilot
vessel pilot
maritime ship pilot
pilot of maritime ships
marine helmswoman
ship steersperson

Minimum qualifications

Maritime pilots are required to have a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent. Some maritime pilots choose to pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree in marine transportation or another related field. These degrees can help maritime pilots advance their careers and increase their earning potential.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Maritime pilot is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Maritime pilot career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to maritime pilot.

freight inspector
non-vessel operating common carrier
air traffic controller
deck officer
marine cargo inspector

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of maritime pilot. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of maritime pilot with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

airspace manager
aviation communications and frequency coordination manager
logistics and distribution manager
maritime water transport general manager
railway station manager

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of maritime pilot.

  • Local waters of the port: Know the local waters of ports and the most efficient routes for the navigation of different types of vessels into docks.
  • Vessel stability principles: Thoroughly understand the principles of vessel stability; follow safety requirements during loading and unloading of cargo.
  • Principles of cargo stowage: Understand the principles of cargo stowage. Understand procedures by which containers should be efficiently loaded and unloaded, taking into account gravitational forces that are exerted during transportation.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of maritime pilot.

  • Guide ships into docks: Safely guide a ship into a dock and anchor it.
  • Ensure compliance with port regulations: Enforce compliance with regulations in harbours and sea ports. Communicate with relevant authorities to identify potential risks.
  • Coordinate dock operations: Coordinate cargo shipments in and out of dock. Position cranes and arrange containers into shipments, taking into account the exact measures and weight of each container.
  • Use water navigation devices: Utilise water navigation devices, e.g. compass or sextant, or navigational aids such as lighthouses or buoys, radar, satellite, and computer systems, in order to navigate vessels on waterways. Work with recent charts/maps, notices, and publications in order to determine the precise position of a vessel.
  • Anchor ships to the port: Anchor ships to the port according to the type of vessel.
  • Use rigging tools: Employ rigging tools such as cables, ropes, pulleys and winches to safely secure high structures.
  • Assist water-based navigation: Ensure that up-to-date charts and nautical publications are on board the Ship. Prepare information sheets, voyage reports, passage plans, and position reports.
  • Plan vessel pilotage: Plan the navigation itinerary for a vessel taking into account tidal changes and weather conditions
  • Maintain counterweight inside modes of transport: Maintain balance and mass distribution inside the means of transport (vessel, aircraft, train, road vehicles, etc). Ensure that passengers and cargo distribution do not hinder the mobility of the mode of transport.
  • Maintain ship logs: Maintain written records of events and activities on a ship
  • Carry out ship-to-shore operations: Operate ship-to-shore radios and perform processes to exchange information required for vessel operations.
  • Conduct water navigation: Ensure that a vessel carries up to date and adequate charts and appropriate nautical documents. Lead the process of preparing the voyage report, the vessel passage plan, daily position reports, and the pilot’s information sheet.
  • Steer vessels in ports: Direct the course of vessels in ports using information on the local weather, wind, water depths tides, etc. Ensure that vessels avoid hazards such as reefs through use of navigational aids.
  • Analyse weather forecast: Analyse weather forecasts and the information provided on meteorological conditions, such as wind forces, atmospheric structures, clouds, and visibility. Provide analyses depending on the requirements of various different industries and service providers.
  • Monitor aviation meteorology: Monitor and interpret the information provided by weather stations to anticipate conditions that may affect airports and flights.
  • Assist in maritime rescue operations: Provide assistance during maritime rescue operations.
  • Regulate the speed of ships in ports: Regulate the speed of vessels in ports based on information provided by port authorities. Ensure the smooth arrival of the vessel into the port.
  • Pilot vessel into ports: Safely navigate vessel in and out of port; communicate and cooperate with captain and ship’s crew; operate vessel communication and navigation instruments; communicate with other vessels and harbour control centre.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of maritime pilot. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Cooperate with colleagues: Cooperate with colleagues in order to ensure that operations run effectively.
  • Use meteorological information: Use and interpret meteorological information for operations dependent on climatic conditions. Use this information to provide advise on safe operations in relation to weather conditions.
  • Act reliably: Proceed in a way that one can be relied on or depended on.
  • Assist in the movement of heavy loads: Provide assistance in the relocation of heavy loads; set up and operate a rigging system of ropes and cables in order to move heavy cargo.
  • Use different communication channels: Make use of various types of communication channels such as verbal, handwritten, digital and telephonic communication with the purpose of constructing and sharing ideas or information.
  • Show confidence: Demonstrate degrees of maturity by fully understanding one’s own qualities and abilities which can serve as sources of confidence in different situations.
  • Have computer literacy: Utilise computers, IT equipment and modern day technology in an efficient way.
  • Work in a water transport team: Work confidently in a group in water transport services, in which each individual operates in their own area of responsibility to reach a common goal, such as a good customer interaction, maritime safety, and ship maintenance.

ISCO group and title

3152 – Ships’ deck officers and pilots

  1. Maritime pilot – ESCO
  2. Harbor Pilot Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More – Climb the Ladder
  3. Featured image: By Photograph by D Ramey Logan, CC BY 4.0
Last updated on March 12, 2023