River Pilot

Navigate boats and ships with your expert knowledge of tricky rivers.
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Quick Stats

Salary Range
$31,000 – $117,000

Data from U.S. Department of Labor

What do River Pilots do?

River Pilots guide ships through navigable rivers. This job differs from that of an open water pilot in that you will be called upon to know the specific local area where you will be operating: tides, weather conditions, water depths, currents, and various hazards. Depending on the length or your route, you could be back on land every night, or spend days at a time on the water.
Harbor Pilots tend to be independent Contractors who take over when ships pull into a harbor, but as a River Pilot, you’re an integral part of the crew you sail with. Communication and respect are key. It’s your duty to keep the ship in the water and out of harm’s way, but you can’t do it alone. Be prepared to deal with a lot of different personalities and backgrounds on board the ship.

The kinds of ships you find yourself on could vary wildly. Almost every navigable river in the US is used for moving cargo of some kind (oil, food, etc.), but the pleasure industry also needs River Pilots. Your career could take place entirely on board one ship, or spread out across several. Be prepared to stockpile a slew of stories about your maritime exploits, from getting a boatload of retirees on an afternoon gambling cruise through a freak storm, to making sure that a shipment of frozen steaks made it to market in time to be sold.

Should I be a River Pilot?

You should have a certificate degree or higher and share these traits:
  • Independent: You enjoy flying solo and doing things your own way.
  • Trustworthy: You are known for your personal integrity and honesty.
  • Calm Under Pressure: You keep your cool when dealing with highly stressful situations.

  • Also known as: Boat Pilot, Docking Pilot, Master Pilot, Towboat Pilot

    How to become a River Pilot

    We recommend at least a Certificate. Check out these schools offering River Pilot-related education!
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