FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions.

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What kind of airplanes do BC Coast Pilots fly?
None! This is a common misconception. BC Coast Pilots are marine pilots who ensure smooth passage for ships from Alaska to the southern Canadian border. Under the Canadian Transportation Act, the pilots are mandated to board and guide any foreign ship coming in or out of BC’s ports for safety, efficiency and environmental protection.
How many BC Coast Pilots are there?
There are over 110 BC Coast Pilots. Across Canada, and in the four pilotage regions including BCCP, there are about 400 working marine pilots.
Does every ship that travels through BC’s coastal waterways need a BC Coast Pilot?
All of these areas along the B.C. coast and in the Fraser River fall under the compulsory pilotage legislation, making it mandatory to have a marine pilot board the vessel and direct it through BC’s waters. Size matters when it comes to requiring a BC Coast Pilot. For example, a foreign ship of 350 gross tonnes (the size of a large yacht) or a Canadian vessel of over 10,000 tonnes (the size of BC Ferries), would both require a BC Coast Pilot.

When Canadian vessels enter these areas, they can either use the same process as foreign vessels by boarding a marine pilot, or can rely on an officer with Canadian citizenship and pilotage certification on board the vessel. The BC Coast Pilots care deeply about the coast. Having experienced mariners who intuitively understand the tides, geography and weather patterns that affect the way ships move in and out of BC’s habours is critical to the safe and efficient movement of thousands of ships, people and products, every year.
Are the BC Coast Pilots a crown corporation? If not, then who pays for the pilotage services?
No, the BC Coast Pilots are not a crown corporation or subsidized by the BC or Federal Governments. We are an independent fee-for-service organization committed to serving the needs of shippers, as required by the Pilotage Act which is under the Canadian Transportation Act, without being influenced by commercial pressures. It is important that we operate separately from industry and government so that we can provide unbiased service that focuses only on the safe, efficient and effective movement of ships, while ensuring environmental protection. Pilotage fees are paid by foreign shipowners, not by the Canadian tax payer.
Why are pilots needed with today’s available technology?
Leading-edge technology complements the work that pilots do—applying local knowledge of the tides, weather patterns, and movement of other ships in different stressful situations; reading paper charts and maneuvering the ship manually if technology were to fail; and finding innovative ways to combine the uses of multiple technologies. Under the Pilotage Act, in the Canadian Transportation Act, we are mandated to board and guide any foreign ship coming in or out of BC’s ports. Technology is a large part of the pilots’ training and we even create specialized navigational tools like the Portable Pilot Units
Are there any female pilots?
Historically, there have been few females in pilotage as the marine industry has traditionally had more men working in roles required to get on the path to become a pilot - fishing, tug boat or ferry captains, to name a few. BC is fortunate to be seeing more interest by women in pilotage in the past few years and we are encouraging their application to this exciting and rewarding career.
Is piloting a difficult job?
Piloting requires a vast amount of knowledge and many different skills.  BC Coast Pilots are continually enhancing their skills to keep up with new berths, increasing vessel size, and new technology. In addition, the size of the BC coastline requires extensive travel for pilots to and from assignments. Since the shipping industry operates at all hours of the day, so do we. It is not your typical 9-5 job! The schedules ensure pilots have enough rest between assignments to be at their best on the job.
Why can’t the Captain of the ship pilot and dock the vessel?
All around the world, ships are required by law to have a local pilot commandeer the ship within certain areas. The Captain remains in command of the vessel, but the pilot is responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel. The marine pilot provides the vessel with the local knowledge and expertise with regards to traffic, weather, tides and currents, and berth arrangements. Many captains may not be familiar with local waters and having a pilot ensures the vessel in safely navigated at all times.
How do pilots communicate with foreign ship’s crews if there is a language barrier?
Luckily for marine pilots from Canada, English has been the dominant language in shipping for many years. In the 1980s, the International Maritime Organization made English the mandatory language in shipping, and had linguists create “Seaspeak” which is a number of marine communication phrases with a limited vocabulary. It was designed simply to prevent misunderstandings.

Today, very few crews on ships speak English as a first language. Among professional mariners, sometimes gestures or drawings are often helpful to convey information relevant to the ship that will be understood as soon as they are mutually recognized as being the ordinary practice of seamen. Once a pilot boards and takes the conduct of a ship in British Columbia, they take over all communication between the ship and the shore, other ships, tugboats, facilities, marine traffic or Coast Guard. This ensures that Canadian pilots are speaking to well-known entities where misunderstandings will not be an issue.
What’s the BC Coast Pilots’ safety record?
Shipping, like any other transportation industry, has an element of inherent risk. BC Coast Pilots have an exceptional safety record and provide independent service to every company across the shipping industry. We maintain a 99.98 per cent success rate since our inception.
Supporting trade through safe, efficient ship transit