Marine pilots don’t have a 9-to-5 job. In fact, their work schedule is more like that of a firefighter, working virtually around the clock for days on end. Pilots work for 15 days straight, with 13 days off. They are dispatched in chronological order, with a minimum of six hours rest between jobs. For 15 days they’re on call 24 hours a day and must be ready to work any time of the day or night.

A pilot’s typical work day looks something like this:


9:00 a.m. The pilot gets a call from the pilot dispatcher at his West Seattle home and is assigned to take an oil tanker from a Cherry Point refinery north of Bellingham to Port Angeles. The ship is set to depart at 3:00 p.m. that same day. The pilot consults the Puget Sound Pilots computer system for information on the tanker (length, beam, draft, speed, etc.), as well as weather and tide conditions. He then uses this information to plan the route. The 57 mile journey is complicated by speed limitations and the need to coordinate escort tugs in accordance with state and federal law. The passage will take approximately six hours.

12 noon The pilot begins the two-hour taxi ride to a Cherry Point refinery. Upon arrival, he will undergo security clearance, board the tanker, and meet with the Captain.

3:00 p.m. Following an extensive process to drop lines from the dock, the tanker departs Cherry Point.

9:00 p.m. Tanker arrives off Port Angeles and slows to a disembarkation speed of about 8 knots. The pilot climbs down the pilot ladder onto the pilot boat and heads for the Pilot Station in Port Angeles.

9:15 p.m. Pilot arrives at the Pilot Station. The Station contains a series of cubicles furnished with a bunk and a small desk, as well as a common room with kitchen facilities, a small library, exercise equipment, and a television. He goes directly to bed to get as much rest as possible before his next call.


4:00 a.m. The pilot is awakened with a call to take an inbound grain ship from Port Angeles to the Temco Grain Terminal in Tacoma. The ship is due for boarding in the Strait of Juan de Fuca at 5 a.m. The pilot consults the Puget Sound Pilots computer system to collect information on the ship, tides, and weather, and plans the trip.

5:00 a.m. The ship slows to approximately 8 knots to take on the pilot, who steps from the pilot boat onto a rope ladder hanging over the side of the ship and climbs up to the deck. The pilot confers with the Captain, takes control, and begins navigating the ship to Tacoma.

Noon – 1:00 p.m. The ship arrives in Commencement Bay off the Temco dock where the pilot directs awaiting tug boats to tie their lines near the bow and stern of the ship. He then steers the ship toward the dock and directs the tugs to assist as he brings the ship alongside the pier. After completing the tie-up procedure, the pilot disembarks and takes a taxi home to West Seattle. He is allowed two hours travel time followed by six hours of rest time.

2:30 p.m. Pilot arrives at his home, and goes to bed to await the next call.

8:00 p.m. Pilot is called to take a container ship from Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle to the pilot station off Port Angeles. From there, it will sail to Asia. The ship is scheduled to depart Seattle at midnight. The cycle begins again, and continues for the duration of his 15-day shift.