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What Does it Take to Be a Ship Pilot?

Position Description Command ships to steer them into and out of harbors, estuaries, straits, or sounds, or on rivers, lakes, or bays. Must be licensed by 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.

Life As a Ship Pilot

  • Operate ship-to-shore radios to exchange information needed for ship operations.
  • Advise ships’ masters on harbor rules and customs procedures.
  • Give directions to crew members who are steering ships.
  • Make nautical maps.
  • Maintain ship logs.
  • Steer ships into or out of berths or signal tugboat captains to berth or unberth ships.

Skills Needed to be a Ship Pilot

These are the skills Ship Pilots say are the most useful in their careers:

Operation and Control: Controlling operations of equipment or systems.

Operation Monitoring: Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.

Critical Thinking: Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

Active Listening: Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.

Speaking: Talking to others to convey information effectively.

Monitoring: Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.

  • State Pilot
  • Steamboat Pilot
  • Package Line Relief Operator
  • Towing Pilot
  • Master Pilot

Is There Going to be Demand for Ship Pilots?

In 2016, there was an estimated number of 38,800 jobs in the United States for Ship Pilot. New jobs are being produced at a rate of 8.8% which is above the national average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 3,400 new jobs for Ship Pilot by 2026. The BLS estimates 4,400 yearly job openings in this field.


The states with the most job growth for Ship Pilot are Nevada, Georgia, and Tennessee. Watch out if you plan on working in Kentucky, Indiana, or Oregon. These states have the worst job growth for this type of profession.

Salary for a Ship Pilot

The typical yearly salary for Ship Pilots is somewhere between $35,410 and $144,690.


Ship Pilots who work in Texas, Oregon, or Maryland, make the highest salaries.

How much do Ship Pilots make in different U.S. states?

State Annual Mean Salary
Alabama $79,750
Alaska $72,570
California $70,840
Delaware $74,790
Florida $78,880
Georgia $73,410
Hawaii $52,830
Illinois $67,020
Iowa $75,600
Kentucky $79,130
Louisiana $93,010
Maine $61,410
Maryland $86,460
Massachusetts $57,700
Michigan $83,040
Minnesota $73,910
New Hampshire $51,490
New Jersey $75,170
New York $95,370
North Carolina $55,710
Ohio $47,810
Oregon $100,150
Pennsylvania $74,780
South Carolina $67,090
Tennessee $54,480
Texas $103,950
Virginia $77,370
Washington $90,890
Wisconsin $48,190

What Tools & Technology do Ship Pilots Use?

Although they’re not necessarily needed for all jobs, the following technologies are used by many Ship Pilots:

  • Log book software
  • Jeppesen Marine Nobeltec Admiral
  • Maptech The CAPN

How do I Become a Ship Pilot?

What education is needed to be a Ship Pilot?


What work experience do I need to become a Ship Pilot?


Where Ship Pilots Work


The table below shows the approximate number of Ship Pilots employed by various industries.


You May Also Be Interested In…

Those interested in being a Ship Pilot may also be interested in:


Image Credit: via CC0 Public Domain

More about our data sources and methodologies.

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