Here’s an article published by the USCG on this profession. And here’s my article/photos from the October 2016 issue of Professional Mariner on Lakes Pilots Association, District 2.  The photos in this post are outtakes from that article.

Below the captain of Huron Belle maneuvers into position to switch a District 2 pilot for a District 3 pilot on an upbound ship at the south end of Lake Huron.


Here Great Lakes tugs Mississippi and


Nebraska finesse a ship to negotiate a narrow bridge span on the Maumee River, as guided


by a Lakes District pilot.  Imagine calling the commands to ship’s helm and tugs on bow and stern while watching this evolution from the bridge wing  700′ back from where the ship steel could splinter the bridge wood and steel. A seiche here can cause the river to run upstream, and that bridge, which sees a fair amount of water traffic, is a midwest version of the Portal Bridge.


Pilots read the water as well as a plethora of tools to keep shipping without incident. Mark Twain said that as a pilot he “mastered the language of the river,”  and that’s still a requirement today.


And there’s always the transfer of pilots, which represents a significant risk.




This was a calm day, but in adverse conditions,


this is a challenge not to be understated.



Almost all photos here by Will Van Dorp.