The Houston Pilots Association provides pilotage services to all foreign flag vessels and American vessels under register (regulated vessels) entering or departing the Port of Houston, Harris County, Texas, as required by Texas state law.
Pilotage is provided 24-hours per day, 365 days per year, in all weather and port conditions, unless closed for safety, for example, poor visibility, high winds, and storm warnings.
As far back as 592 BCE, humans have been transporting people and cargo by water. And for centuries, captains have relied on locals familiar with the ports currents and hazards to guide them safely to shore. While pilotage is one of the oldest naval professions, it remains one of the least known. Did you know that ships carry roughly 70% of the world's trade? Or that the Houston Ship Channel is one of the narrowest and busiest ports in the world?
The Houston Ship Channel was completed and opened to navigation on November 10, 1914. At that time, the water's depth was 25 feet from the Turning Basin to the Gulf of Mexico - a distance of 52 miles. Our history dates back to 1916, when L. Fred Allien and J. William Laughton receive gubernatorial appointments as pilots for the Port of Houston and Galveston Bar.
Today, the Houston Ship Channel is home to the largest petrochemical complex in the United States and the largest container port in the Gulf of Mexico. Houston ranks first in U.S. exports and first in U.S. foreign tonnage. With dedicated barge lanes and a two-way traffic system to prevent the shutdowns faced by one-way ports, the Houston Pilots safely guide more than 8,200 vessels through the 40ft deep 530 feet wide dredged channel annually.
Piloting ships in and out of the Houston Ship Channel is a complex job. Vessel cargoes range from chemicals to containers to automobiles and everything in-between. However, the Houston Pilots don't protect just ships from the channels' dangers. They also protect our people, environment, and our economy.
Prevailing sea and weather conditions in the Gulf of Mexico are typically benign however tropical disturbances and hurricanes in the summer months, and violent cold front passages and thunderstorms in the winter months can pack prevailing winds in excess of 75 knots or build seas with waves measuring 20 feet and above. Because of the location of the boarding station and the volume of shipping traffic, the Houston Pilots had long ago adopted a two boat system of boarding, consisting of a relatively fast dispatch boat that ferries pilots and boat crews back and forth from a "bar" boat.
The dispatch boats transport pilots to and from their vessel assignments. There are two boats which work 24/7 inside the Houston Ship Channel - the Lone Star and the Yellow Rose. Their unique designs, can make good speed on the water, and can handle rough seas.
The bar boat stays on station 24/7 offshore and has sleeping accommodation, restrooms with showers, and messing onboard for pilots to use between jobs. It also serves as a boarding platform for embarking and disembarking pilots to and from deep draft vessels.
The Houston Pilots have two Bar Boats, the Bayou City and the Houston. These Swath vessels have a twin-hull ship design that minimises hull cross section at the water’s surface. By minimizing hull cross section (more correctly, hull volume), where wave energy is primarily concentrated, the vessel is very stable, even in rough weather. The bulk of the displacement is concentrated below the surface in two cylinder hull forms, where it is less affected by wave action. The twin-hull design allows for enhanced stability, minimises vertical accelerations that passengers are most sensitive to, and has broad open decks suitable for accommodations.
While being a skilled ship pilot is the primary role of a Houston Pilot, during the course of our career, we will serve in leadership roles as part of the Executive Committee as well as participate in committees to help manage our business and ensure we have the highest safety standards.
Presiding Officer, 2023
Second Officer, 2023
Boatkeeper, 2021, 2022, 2023