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History and Role of the Board

Port of New York
The Port of New York ranks among the world’s great seaports. It is the largest port on the eastern seaboard and the 3rd largest in the United States by volume. However, it is a paradox that technological advancement and ever-increasing size, capacity, and tonnage of ships has highlighted, not diminished, the need for a strong and robust pilotage system. Ultra-Large and Super Ultra-Large container vessels are capable of carrying 18,000 containers. They have loaded drafts of nearly 50 feet, can exceed 1,200 feet in length and over 18 stories high leaving no margin for error in close quarters pilotage. More than 95 percent of ships entering, departing, and transiting through the Port of New York are foreign flagged. Global standards for crew size, language barriers, standards of crew training, licensure, certification, and security are not uniform. The State pilot must take all these factors into account and safely navigate these ships in all weather conditions ranging from calm to heavy sea conditions, ice, poor visibility, strong currents and gusting winds. The pilots are compulsory as mandated by the New York State Navigation Law. Without these highly trained and skilled pilots, commerce would likely grind to a halt.
History of Pilots

The tradition of taking aboard a pilot to guide ocean going vessels to and from sea dates back more than a millennia.  Early references to pilotage can be found in the Bible and Homer’s Iliad.  Pilots provide the unrivaled local knowledge necessary to safely navigate oceangoing ships operating within New York State waters, the waters of Connecticut and New Jersey, and boundary waters of the Long Island Sound.

Regulation of Piloting by States
The States, under authority granted by the Congress, have exercised authority to control the piloting of vessels along their waterways, including coastal waterways within the territorial limits of the States, since before the federal constitution was adopted. Federal Law and Regulation (46USC 8501(A)), provides that "pilots in the bays, rivers, Harbors, and ports of the United States shall be regulated only in conformity with the laws of the States," and that the States have authority over the Pilotage of all American vessels sailing under register, that is, engaged in foreign trade, and all foreign flag vessels.
Establishment of the Board by New York State Legislature

The Board is a public agency, created by the New York State Legislature, Chapter 467, Laws of 1853, as amended, to implement the competitive selection, training, licensing, and regulation of State pilots. New York Navigation Law, Article 6 § 87. Board of commissioners of pilots;  powers and duties. The Board’s responsibilities have evolved to include the selection of apprentices and pilots-in-training, instruction, examination for an original license and any extension of pilotage routes, annual license renewals, accident investigation and disciplinary actions, monitoring of ship traffic, safety of navigation issues, protection of the environment, and of utmost importance, the security of our ports and waterways. To carry out these responsibilities, the Board holds weekly meetings for the purpose of maintaining close oversight of the State pilotage system, its operations, and pilots.

Board Responsibilities

The Board issues several types of legislatively authorized State pilot licenses, each covering a separate portion of New York State navigable waters, including the Port of New York and Hell Gate pilots, Hudson River pilots, and Long Island Sound/Block Island Sound pilots. Each New York State pilot license is renewed annually. Pilots appear personally before the Board where training and work performance records are reviewed in conjunction with the pilot’s annual vision and medical exam results. The Board routinely interviews the pilots and apprentices, and conducts surveys on safety, security, and educational matters. The Board provides grants for advanced pilot education and training. Board members participate in hearings, seminars and conferences on pilotage and navigational safety with maritime industry, state, and federal agency representatives. In addition, the Board submits an Annual Report to the Governor and members of the Legislature in accordance with the Navigation Law.  The Board also advises the Governor and the Legislature on matters pertaining to pilotage fees. 

Contact the Board

The Board welcomes inquiries regarding the State pilotage system. Contact the board ».