River bar pilot accidents and injuries make this one of the riskiest jobs in the maritime industry. If you get injured while doing your job as a pilot, maritime laws allow you to seek compensation. This can cover medical and other expenses.
What Is a Pilot?
A maritime pilot is someone who takes a ship through hazardous waters. Harbors and rivers are examples of such waters. Pilots who specifically work in the constricted and dangerous river environment are called river bar pilots.
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Other places where pilots may maneuver vessels include ocean waters close to shores or reefs, the mouths of rivers, and congested ports and harbors.
Pilots are hired locally rather than by individual ships and are familiar with the dangerous waters. Any ship entering these dangerous waters may hire a local pilot to take them through the worst.
Pilots are very skilled at navigating, especially in local waters. Most harbors keep pilots on staff. These workers know the local waters, hazards, weather, and tides.
When a ship needs to come into port, the pilot is taken out to the vessel either by helicopter or with a fast-moving pilot boat and then brings the ship into port.
In most situations, the ship’s captain is still first in command and may relieve a pilot if they do not believe the pilot is doing the job well enough. In the Panama Canal, pilots have top authority when navigating ships through the canal.
Some of the most skilled of all maritime pilots work on river bars. These are the areas of rivers where the current meets the ocean’s swells. Many harbors open this way at the mouths of rivers, and the bar is the most dangerous and challenging area of the waterway to navigate.
River bar pilots earn a lot of money because their technical skills are much in demand for making these short but treacherous trips through the bar. The money compensates them for doing a job that is so crucial to the industry, but also for the stress and risk of injury and death that these pilots face every day on the job.
The Dangers of Piloting on River Bars
Of all the piloting jobs in the maritime industry, a river bar pilot is probably the most dangerous. Most dangers are natural. The river bar is an area where water is turbulent, and the weather can be wild.
The Columbia River in Oregon, where pilots take ships through the bar to Portland, is one location where the work of pilots is crucial and yet hazardous.
Here the pilots experience huge swells that can lift a boat’s propeller out of the water and stall it, leaving the ship and crew in a dangerous situation, with no power and at the mercy of the raging water. Anchors are no good here, as the water is so rough they have been known to rip them right off the ships.
The weather and rough waters of a river bar are not the only dangers of a piloting job. Another danger is the crowded areas in which they work. Pilots often have to maneuver boats around many others in very cramped conditions of harbors and ports.
Other hazards exist on the boats, which may be crowded with equipment and wet and slippery from bad weather. Pilots often have to use simple rope ladders to move up and down a ship, which presents another hazard. Falls onto the deck or even overboard into the water are not uncommon for pilots.
Common Piloting Accidents and Injuries
The hazards associated with piloting jobs can easily cause accidents involving collisions, running aground, falling overboard, slips and falls, and others.
Common injuries that pilots face on the job include head, back, and neck injuries from crashes and falls.
They also may fall from the rope ladders in use on many of these ships. Slipping and falling or tripping and falling on the deck of a ship are not uncommon accidents, and falling overboard and possibly drowning is also a possibility.
Some pilots are injured when being transported by helicopter or exiting the helicopter and climbing to the ship.
Examples of River Bar Pilot Accidents
Notable examples of accidents involving river bar pilots illustrate how difficult and dangerous the job is.
Collision in San Francisco Bay
A pilot working in San Francisco in 2007 rammed a container ship into the Bay Bridge, causing a huge gas in the fuel tank and a big spill in the bay. The pilot was working in heavy fog and used radar and electronic charts to navigate.
Although conditions were challenging, pilots are trained to work this way. This particular pilot failed to tell his employer that he was on medication that could have impaired his abilities. As a result, he could be found negligent for the accident and subsequent ship and environmental damage.
His error in judgment means that anyone injured on the vessel could claim negligence and get compensation as a result.
Overboard Fall on Columbia River
In an incident on the Columbia River in 2012, a pilot fell overboard into the rough and dark waters of the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to rigorous training, crew members were able to rescue her alive.
Crossing over from one ship to another was just a part of her job, highlighting how dangerous it could be. Although experienced, she fell, which could have happened to any other trained pilot. If the other crew hadn’t been quick to rescue her and didn’t have the training to do so, she likely would have drowned.
Such incidents are common on piloting jobs, and when safety training hasn’t been adequate, it can often lead to drownings.
Pilot Fatality in Florida
Another piloting incident didn’t end well in Panama City, Florida, in 2013 when a pilot fell from a Jacob’s ladder in the dark and wasn’t discovered until the next day.
The pilot was an experienced veteran of the job but was still susceptible to all the hazards and risks, as was the pilot in the Columbia River incident. This pilot should have been rescued, but no one saw him go overboard, and the incident ended in tragedy instead.
Legal Help for Pilots
If you work as a maritime pilot, you know the risks you take every day you do your job. That doesn’t mean, however, that you are not entitled to assistance when injured on the job.
Depending on your status, several federal maritime laws may apply in your situation. A legal professional experienced in maritime law can help guide you through the system and assist you in making claims or getting compensation if you have been denied those rights.