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Keeping the Houston Ship Channel Safe

COVID-19 requirements

The threat posed by the coronavirus is a serious concern for everyone. Houston Pilots are taking appropriate measures to ensure we are healthy and free of any illness before we board any vessel. Such measures include, among other things, regular deep cleans on board our Pilot boats, limiting contact between Pilots on the Pilot boats, daily temperature monitoring for on watch boat crews, and compliance with local restrictions that limit travel aside from necessary visits to the grocery store or pharmacy.

In order to mitigate the threat of transmission of the virus, we request that the following measures be taken prior to the Pilot boarding and while the Pilot is on the bridge:

  • Wipe down all high touch areas of the bridge with a disinfectant (radars, pilot chair and piloting station, door handles, etc.).
  • Limit personnel on the bridge to only those that are essential.
  • Request that personnel on the bridge regularly sanitize their hands; Pilots will do the same.
  • Practice social distancing which includes no handshaking and maintaining at least 2 meter distance from the Pilot.
  • Crew members and Pilot should avoid touching their faces.
  • Provide hand soap and/or hand sanitizer with paper towels for bridge personnel and Pilot use.
  • Follow U.S. Coast Guard instructions on reporting crew members that are ill.

These precautions will ensure the safety of Pilots and the ship's crew by preventing the spread of the virus from crew to pilot and pilot to crew. In addition, Pilots will endeavor to comply with any reasonable company specific prevention measure, so long as it does not interfere with navigation safety.


Pilot transfer arrangements are critical requirements. We urge ships to ensure all equipment is properly rigged. A Houston Pilot may refuse to use a transfer arrangement that he or she believes is unsafe. We encourage all ships to review the following information to ensure a safe transfer and to avoid potential disruptions to ship schedules and port operations.


As authorized by the Texas Transportation Code, Title 4, Subtitle B, state commissioned Pilots are responsible for conducting vessels safely and efficiently through the navigable waters of the state and ports in which the pilot is licensed or certified as a pilot.

Pilot services include the adoption and implementation of ship movement strategies, such as Navigation Safety Guidelines, for use by Pilots. The following Navigation Safety Guidelines represent the collective experience and judgement of the state licensed Pilots for Harris County ports and have been developed to ensure the safe and efficient movement of vessels on the Houston Ship Channel and its navigable deep draft tributaries.


When hurricane conditions are forecasted, the Houston Pilots will enact special measures to provide for the safe transit of vessels wishing to arrive into or depart from the Port of Houston. The Houston Pilots will follow the Captain of the Port’s “Hurricane Port Conditions Plan” but will advance the Captain of the Port’s time line.

Captain of the Port Hurricane Port Conditions
VICTOR Potential threat when a hurricane has entered or developed in the Gulf
WHISKEY Initial notice that a hurricane threat exists, 72 hours prior (to predicted gale force winds)
X-RAY 48 hours prior (to predicted gale force winds)
YANKEE 24 hours prior (to predicted gale force winds)
ZULU 12 hours prior (to predicted gale force winds) PORT CLOSED


Houston Pilots Hurricane Port Conditions

When a potential hurricane threat is determined (a hurricane has entered or has developed in the Gulf), the Houston Pilot Executive Committee will start assessing the traffic currently in the Port (docked), scheduled sailings and forecasted arrivals.

All ships desiring to sail should make immediate plans by providing the Houston Pilots dispatch with estimated sailing schedules. All vessels wishing to enter the Port of Houston will be evaluated by the Houston Pilots Executive Committee and a decision will be made, according to channel congestion and projected traffic density, if it is SAFE to assign a pilot.

The Houston Pilots emergency helicopter will be placed on Stand By status with 24 hour availability, if needed.



72 hours prior (to predicted gale force winds) the Pilots Executive committee will continue to assess all vessels in port. At this time the Houston Pilots will implement ONEWAY TRAFFIC.

Any vessel requiring entry to port must contact the Pilots Executive Committee and submit their request for entry. The Executive committee will evaluate the request as to provide safety to the vessel and all vessels in the Houston Ship Channel. The Houston Pilots strongly discourage any inbound traffic due to the evacuation and securing of the Port for the anticipated hurricane.

The Houston Pilots helicopter will fly as needed.



48 hours prior (to predicted gale force winds) the Houston Pilots will be handling sailings only. ONEWAY TRAFFIC.

EMERGENCY ARRIVALS will be evaluated on a case by case basis by the Executive Committee in conjunction with the USCG.

The Houston Pilot helicopter will be shuttling pilots as needed. Vehicular Land Traffic will be monitored at all times by the committee and a decision will be made as when to start evacuating the working pilots out of the area.



24 hours prior (to predicted gale force winds) NO PILOTAGE SERVICE will be available. PORT CLOSED. The Houston Pilots plan to have all ships leaving the port with "pilot away" at the sea buoy no later than 24 hours prior to predicted landfall. Pilot boats will be sent to safe harbor.

Pilots will continue to use helicopter to evacuate Pilots as needed.




Sharing Our Bay

The Lone Star Harbor Safety Committee maintains a publication called Sharing Our Bay to provide information on how to safely, and intelligently, navigate in and around the commercial navigation channels of the Houston Ship Channel.


The Lone Star Harbor Safety Committee maintains a publication called the Mariner Guide to Navigating the Houston-Galveston Area Waterways.

This publication is intended to provide information to commercial mariners (brown-water, blue-water, commercial fishermen, and dredge operators) to facilitate safe and efficient navigation in the Houston-Galveston area waterways.

However, this publication may also be of value to all mariners, including recreational boaters.

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