Marine pilots work closely with ships’ captains and crews to safely navigate vessels in and out of Puget Sound waters.

The process begins when the pilot gets a call to report to a vessel, usually within a few hours of the ship’s departure or arrival. The pilot gathers pertinent information about the ship and its destination from the Puget Sound Pilots’ computer database, checks tides and currents, and plans all aspects of the trip.

If a vessel is inbound from the open sea, the pilot is transported to the ship in a specially designed pilot boat in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Port Angeles. The inbound ship slows to 8 to 10 knots and the pilot climbs aboard the moving vessel using a rope ladder lowered over the side of the ship. If the vessel is departing a Puget Sound port, the pilot travels to the port and, once he clears terminal security, boards the ship.

Once aboard, the pilot and the captain exchange information on the condition and capabilities of the ship and the pilot’s intended route. This pre-voyage conference is an important step in the process.

The pilot is in charge of the navigation of the ship and directs the actions of the crew and support vessels until the ship safely reaches its destination.

To further enhance safety, our pilots require that all conversations with the captain and bridge team must be conducted in English to ensure that information about the ship’s condition, its equipment and capabilities is clearly understood. If the pilot determines that a mechanical, weather or staffing problem exists, he has total authority to delay or cancel the movement of the vessel until the problem is resolved.

During transit, the pilot conducts the ship’s progress, directs the vessel’s route around any impediments, communicates with other marine traffic and the Coast Guard and monitors the vessel’s navigation and communication equipment. In addition, pilots carry their own personal piloting units (PPU), a computer that provides independent information that is critically important if the ship’s equipment is out of order.

On outbound vessels, the pilot disembarks from the moving ship off Port Angeles by climbing down the rope ladder onto the pilot boat.