A Public Resource

The Puget Sound Pilots are truly a public resource. Our pilots are independent professionals who work for the citizens of Washington State. The pilots’ compensation is set by the Washington State Pilotage Commission at a level designed to be competitive with similar ports in order to attract the most skilled and experienced pilots. Pilots are paid through a tariff on shipping companies. Despite their vital role, the cost of pilot services in Puget Sound is so small it is virtually incalculable, just 23/100ths of 1% (0.23%) of shipping costs.

Puget Sound Pilots work proactively to identify and implement measures that will enhance public safety and environmental safeguards.

For example, in the wake of the Cosco Busan incident in San Francisco in which a ship struck the Bay Bridge, Puget Sound Pilots conducted a comprehensive audit of pilotage practices in Puget Sound. The results of that audit prompted new safety initiatives throughout the Puget Sound marine industry, including a significant number of changes in safety operations and equipping Pilots with special navigational laptop computers known as Personal Piloting Units. Throughout the year, members of the Puget Sound Pilots contribute their time and expertise to a variety of public marine-related councils and committees, including the Puget Sound Harbor Safety Committee, Area Maritime Security Committee, Puget Sound Partnership, and North Puget Sound Risk Management Panel. The Pilots participated in creating the Vessel Traffic Risk Assessment. Over the years, pilots have served on countless ad hoc committees and commissions to analyze and improve marine safety in Puget Sound.

ferry tanker
In addition, pilots provide their expertise when ports and shipping companies develop or expand Puget Sound’s marine facilities. For example, when the Port of Tacoma wanted to expand its terminals, pilots participated in ten days of simulator trials on the East Coast to analyze the feasibility of plans. They tested the proposed design in all possible tide, weather, and traffic conditions to determine the types and sizes of ships the facilities could handle and how jobs could be conducted safely. In 2012 pilots began a series of simulations testing how to safely maneuver some of the largest ships in the world in the Blair Waterway in Tacoma. The pilots also participated with the Port of Seattle in addressing issues raised by the increase in cruise ship traffic over the last ten years. In the 1970s, PSP members helped develop the state’s landmark tug escort rules for oil tankers calling in Puget Sound. After the Exxon Valdez disaster, Puget Sound Pilots worked with tug, tanker, and naval architects in the development of strict tug escort usage procedures to protect our waters. And in 2004, pilots assisted in the Washington State Department of Ecology’s study of tug escort requirements. In addition, our pilots worked with the BC Coast Pilots in British Columbia to help devise tug escort procedures for tankers in Canadian waters, and Puget Sound Pilots participated with U.S. tug operators and tanker companies in a series of open water drills to test high-tech tug boats in emergency scenarios under real life conditions. In 2008 the pilots again participated with tanker and tug companies in live tug escort drills in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This led to important updates and improvements to the standards of care in the Puget Sound Harbor Safety Plan. Puget Sound Pilots and its members provide information on a regular basis to state officials and members of Congress on issues related to the safe movement of oil tankers through our waters.