Job description

Maritime pilots command ships by steering them in and out of harbours or river mouths. Using their extensive knowledge of waterways – currents, depths and hazards – they operate the boat to navigate through berths, dangerous waters and traffic.

Maritime pilots also manage a vessel’s operations when the captain is off duty.


    • Set the ship’s course to avoid outlying shoals, reefs and other potential hazards
    • Produce nautical maps to assist in proper navigation on course to the destination
    • Set the boat’s speed to the conditions of the water and monitor its positions at all times
    • Steer ships into and out of berths, or contact tugboat captains to berth or unberth ships
    • Use ship-to-shore radios to relay information relating to ship’s operations and travels
    • Ensure vessel is not operating in an unsafe condition using your specialised knowledge
    • Consult maps, outline charts and review weather maps to direct ship movements
    • Collaborate with other sailors to coordinate the movement of the boat
    • Maintain vessel logs that include operational details of the trip
    • Repair, replace or maintain watercraft engines, machinery and other boat equipment
    • Manage cargo storage and keep track of cargo area conditions to prevent safety risks
    • Act as the docking master when the boat has arrived at a port and at a berth

Skills and qualities

Quick thinking
Critical thinking
Hand-eye coordination

Job outlook

Projected growth
The projected growth rate of employment in the US from 2018 to 2028, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme. The national average growth rate for all professions is 5%.


New jobs
The number of jobs projected to become available in the US between 2018 and 2028, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme.


Automation risk
The probability of computerisation, based on data published in ‘The Future of Employment’, a 2013 working paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne.


Career progression

Most maritime pilots will begin their careers as deck officers or third mates and work their way up the ladder.

Enrolling in continuing education courses at maritime academies can be beneficial, as you’ll learn new skills and become knowledgeable about the latest technology developments.

Working conditions

Average hours

45h/ week

Typical schedule

Shift Work

Nights, weekends, holidays occasionally

A maritime pilot’s working hours and conditions will vary based on the ship, objective and destination. For the most part, you can expect to work more than 40 hours a week, oftentimes topping 50 hours. The schedule will also depend on various circumstances, but you can anticipate doing shift work and clock in on evenings, weekends and the occasional holiday.

A maritime pilot will spend most of their time on board a ship.


Bottom 10%




Top 10%


Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.

Qualifications and training

Education level

High school

On-the-job training

Study time

2 years

No formal education is required to become a maritime pilot. Most employers offer extensive on-the-job training, which typically lasts one to two years. Still, many maritime pilots choose to complete a bachelor’s degree in subject like marine science, which can significantly increase their job prospects.

You will need to become licensed in order to work as a maritime pilot. Licensing requirements vary by state, while pilots on the Great Lakes are licensed by the US Coast Guard.

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022

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