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 4/11/06
Fleeting Priorities & Shifting Responsibilities
Part Two, The Pilot Pool
By Robert Rishel

We are at a critical point in the history of towboating. There are presently not enough
pilots to match the available positions. The demand is overwhelming the supply, a
situation greatly aggravated by an aging pilot population. It is affecting us all irregardless
of which side of the fence we occupy: that of company management, struggling to legally
crew a fleet; or Towboat Pilot, trying to observe the 12 hour rule and simply trying to get
some regular time off.  It is a stressful time to be involved in our occupation. What is the
solution to this crisis? Right now I think there are many out there trying to think of ways to
alleviate the pressure. There is no quick fix to the shortage of pilots. Even if the USCG
relaxes the minimum requirements of license eligibility, learning to pilot a towboat takes
time. Then there is the issue of what I refer to as the  
pilot pool . The  pilot pool  is made
up of the people who aspire to become pilots. Where do they come from? What
motivates them and how much are they willing to invest of themselves to reach their goal?
 I believe one solution lies in the expansion and development of the
pilot pool.
I do not have any statistics on this, but I do have a considerable amount of personal and
professional experience. I have seen enough to know that most of our candidates are
coming straight from deck. Now I know what you are probably thinking: “of course they
come from deck, you
must deck to become a pilot!” What I mean is that they start
decking to deck, not as a means to get into the wheelhouse. There are exceptions but
many pilots simply stumbled upon the opportunity rather than planned for it.  You do not
find many people engaged in other professions out there who “stumbled” into it. Doctors,
Lawyers, Airplane Pilots, Architects, they almost all suffered through a college education
and years of specialized training. I am not suggesting a college degree be required to
become a towboat pilot, not at all. What I am suggesting is that we focus more effort on
expanding the
pilot pool to include college graduates. Not only should we recruit from
colleges, we should also promote the establishment of college courses geared towards
the wheelhouse bound graduate.
Navigation, Rules of the Road, Management Principles
and a
basic understanding of mechanical engineering could be learned during the
college years. Summer breaks or semesters on deck could be used as seatime and
college credit towards a degree. The USCG could begin now by agreeing to recognize
college credits as a portion of qualifying seatime.
Expanding our
pilot pool could change the face of our industry forever, bringing it out into
the mainstream, an exposure that could elevate our talent pool to a level never before
seen in our industry. People who never even knew towboat pilotage existed as a career
opportunity would be attracted to our industry. The changes necessary to make it
happen are simple and relatively painless. As described earlier, the USCG would have to
amend the basic qualifications to allow college credit be applied towards a portion of
seatime. Companies, lobbyists and institutions representing our industry would need to
expand their recruitment scope to include College bound High School Graduates and
College students. Companies could develop in house programs and scholarships geared
towards students wishing to pursue pilotage licensure. Colleges and Universities would
need to expand their curriculum and major/minor options to include subject matter
relative to the needs of our industry.
Expanding the scope of who we train to command our vessels in only one part of the total
solution to the problems facing our industry today, the issues facing us now have been
years in the making and will not be suddenly resolved overnight. Not even the wave of a
USCG magic wand could rectify this problem.  If you have other ideas or suggestions
about what should or could be done, please
write to us. We will keep your name and any
other personal information confidential and we will be glad to edit any spelling or
grammatical errors so do not be bashful!

-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.)