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What is a pilot

Pilot is a nautical term that has its roots in ancient Phoenician maritime history. The pilot is the chief person duly qualified to steer ships into or out of a harbor or through certain difficult waters. His familiarity with the water he is traversing allows the ship to be safely navigated to its port. Pilots are in command of large ocean-going commercial ships such as tankers, passenger, container and general cargo ships.

The United States Supreme Court summarized the pilot's job in an 1851 opinion:
A pilot, so far as respects the navigation of the vessel in that part of the voyage which is his pilotage ground, is the temporary master charged with the safety of the vessel and cargo, and of the lives of those on board, and instructed with the command of the crew.
As clearly as the Supreme Court spoke in 1851, it was not the first governmental body to extol l the importance of pilots. The King of England sought regulation when Maryland was a colony and the first Maryland legislative session regulated pilots as one of its first acts.

Who are the Maryland Pilots and why are they important?

The commercial ships the Maryland Pilots navigate can be longer than three football fields, and are powered by massive engines that consume tons of dense fuel oil.

Tugboat near Fort McHenry
Tugboat near Fort McHenry
Captain Fierro 
Captain Fierro southbound near annapolis, MD
Like an iceberg, most of the ship is underwater and unseen. In fact, so much of the ship may be submerged that the clearance between the bottom of the ship and the floor of the Chesapeake Bay can be as little as 3 feet. Ships with more than 47 feet of draft (how deep the ship sits in the water) routinely transit the 50’main shipping channel. Maryland Pilots are men and women who are selected, licensed and regulated by the state to guide ships on these passages.

As a result of a highly competitive selection process and an extensive training program, the Pilots representing Marylanders today are among the best in the world at what they do. In addition, state-licensed Pilots maneuver the ships when docking, casting off from the dock, or otherwise moving with the assistance of a tug in Maryland ports. The role of the pilot is critical for many reasons. An unfortunate accident, like an oil spill, could cause a lasting environmental impact and since the Chesapeake Bay is a window to foreign trade, national security is an ever present issue.

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