How to become a marine pilot
Most marine pilots begin their seafaring career by working as a deck hand on a local tug or as a cadet on a foreign going vessel. They gradually work their way up through the various seafarer ranks from deckhand to third mate, second mate, first mate, and finally to the position of Captain. The many examinations required along the way, in addition to accumulating the required sea time for the various positions, are some of the key marine pilot requirements.
In British Columbia, after candidates have obtained the required local sea time they can apply in writing to take an examination to obtain a marine pilot license with the BC Coast Pilots.
Once a candidate has completed the required number of familiarization transits, which are defined in the Pacific Pilotage Regulations, he/she may apply to write the marine pilot exam. The prerequisites for exam candidates are as follows:
a) Canadian citizenship
b) Proof of attendance of the following courses:
- SEN 2 / Automatic Radar Plotting Aid (ARPA)
- Radio Operator’s Certificate (ROC) or GMDSS Certificate (GOC)
- Bridge Resource Management (BRM)
- Marine Emergency Duties (MED)
c) Valid Transport Canada medical
d) Bio-psychosocial assessment
e) Valid Master 500 GT, Near Coastal certificate of competency
f) Required number of familiarization trips, which varies based on the composition of the candidate’s sea time
g) Required sea time as defined below:
- A minimum of 700 days as a Master on the B.C. coast; or
- 365 days as a Master on the B.C. coast and 547 additional days in the region while
- holding a Watchkeeping Mate’s certificate; or
- 1,000 days on the B.C. coast while holding a Watchkeeping Mate’s certificate.
The marine pilot exam is divided into three consecutive components: the General Knowledge exam, the Local Knowledge exam and the oral exam. Exams are usually held once per year and the maximum number of overall exam attempts allowed for each candidate is six.
The first assessment in the exam process is the General Knowledge paper. This written exam with a passing grade of 70% is designed to assess a candidate’s general ship knowledge and models the subjects required for a Master 500 GT, Near Coastal CoC. If a candidate scores 80% or higher, this result will be valid for two calendar years and the candidate will not be required to take the General Knowledge exam again during that time period.
The second step in the process is the Local Knowledge paper. This is also a written exam which focuses on the particular navigational challenges of the B.C. coast – local currents, tides, weather systems, etc. The passing grade is also 70%, however a candidate’s result is only valid for the current exam attempt. The Local Knowledge paper must be written again at every exam attempt.
If a candidate’s scores in the General Knowledge and Local Knowledge exams are 70% or higher, he/she can move on to the oral exam. The oral exam consists of a three to four-hour oral assessment of a candidate’s overall suitability for a career in marine pilotage. The passing grade for oral exam is also 70%.
If they pass both the written and oral portions of the exam, candidates then go onto a waiting list until a piloting position becomes available. Once they are notified that a vacancy exists, they undergo a 9 to 24 month apprenticeship program which includes further hands-on training including ship handling, escort tugs, ECDIS, etc., under the direction of senior BC marine pilots.
During the apprenticeship program, simulator training and training on manned models takes place. If they successfully complete the apprenticeship program they will receive a restricted Pilot’s license and become a member of The BC Coast Pilots. Over the course of the next several years they will gradually be able to operate larger ships until they finally receive a fully unrestricted marine pilot’s license.