What Separates Us...
by Capt. Jess

Fleeting Priorities &  
Part One, The  Pilot
Crisis!by Robert Rishel
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April 2006 Volume 1,, Issue 3
Last updated 4/3/06
Fleeting Priorities & Shifting Responsibilities
Part One, The Pilot Crisis!
By Robert Rishel

Today is April Fools Day so maybe I can get away with a more controversial article than
normal. I can always take it back and say “April Fools!” I am sure everyone out there is
well aware that our industry is in crises due to the current shortage of licensed pilots. The
reasons for this are many:
•        New regulations making it increasingly more difficult and time intensive to acquire a
•         An aging population of pilots, most of whom were licensed during a time when
regulations were much less stringent;
•         An alarming change in the American work ethic. Current regulations require that
you must work as a deckhand for several years before qualifying to become a pilot and
decking is hard work. It seems we have a generation of young men who would just rather
not (work hard);
•        Many people out there simply do not know about the opportunities available in our
The solutions, I am afraid, are much more complex; politics now play a big role, A VERY
BIG ROLE! There always seems to be some political engine powering the direction of our
industry. In the 1980’s it was fueled by the “war on drugs”, in the 1990’s it was SAFETY
and Environmentalism. In the 2000’s we are driven by SECURITY. The nature of our
political system and its marriage to the media is such that whenever there are media
worthy incidents bringing our industry to the attention of those in power, new regulations
are the result. Someone has a catastrophic accident and a crew member tests positive
for drugs (
irregardless of whether it had anything to do with the cause); someone smacks
a bridge and people die; some jackass madmen fly planes into buildings. The media
sensationalizes and invents some great problem, or perceived danger to society and
there is a complimentary knee-jerk reaction in Washington. Statistically, relative to the
amount of cargo transported, towboats are much more environmentally friendly, efficient,
safer and more secure than any other form of bulk transportation within the United
States. That is fact. But fact and politics have little to do with each and so our industry is
suffering with crippling regulatory influence.
I know there are many out there who consider this crisis a blessing in disguise. Pay-rates,
after all, are record high. Pilots are finally making the kind of income equal to the
stresses, sacrifices, risks and the skill set necessary to perform the job. There must be
limits, however, without which we will price our industry right out of competitiveness and
ourselves right out of a job. If we do not handle this crises our selves, responsibly as
professionals, then someone in Washington will do it for us. And they will not necessarily
make a decision in the best interest of us. If we let our short-term greed take control and
try to capitalize on the desperation of companies operating the vessels upon which we
ply our trade, then we may invite an aggressive regulatory interference. If, however, we
act as professionals and work through this crises with honor and personal integrity we
may come away from this with more than just better pay. We may be rewarded with the
respect that our job deserves, respect on par with other skilled professionals in positions
of great responsibility.
Let’s not drop the ball on this guys.

-Robert Rishel
(Robert will be writing a series of articles on the current pilot crisis and possible   
solutions. If you have ideas please
contact us.)