Arriving Today: From Factory to Front Door
A book by Christopher Mims, technology columnist at The Wall Street Journal
- Harbor pilots are among the highest paid city employees, but face a one in 20 chance of dying on the job.
- The local pilots bring a ship in from miles out at sea to within inches of the port's pier.
Harbor pilots have one of the highest paid — but simultaneously riskiest — jobs in the transportation industry.
The average harbor pilot at the Port of Los Angeles makes $434,000 a year, but also faces a one in 20 chance of dying on the job, according to a book from The Wall Street Journal's Christopher Mims that was published in 2021. The book, "Arriving Today: From Factory to Front Door — Why Everything Has Changed About How and What We Buy," breaks down the complicated dance that brings a shipment from Asia to US buyers in a matter of days.
Harbor pilots are some of the highest-paid municipal employees and represent a crucial part of a shipment's journey. The average marine pilot in the US makes just over $104,000 per year, according to GlassDoor.
Any cargo ship looking to come into a port must pay local pilots to safely bring the ship in to dock. The role is highly risky, as the pilots face dangers of being run over by a massive cargo ship, pitched overboard in rough waters, or slammed between two boats.
"Despite happening a thousand times a day all across the globe, despite myriad safety precautions, if you're a harbor pilot, doing your job can kill you," Mims writes.
The job is also incredibly high stakes and requires hyper-specialized skills. The pilot is responsible for vessels that can weigh over 200,000 tonnes and be worth over $100 million. A harbor pilot brings a ship in from miles out at sea to within mere inches of its unloading spot alongside the pier.
The harbor pilot first approaches the massive skyscraper-sized cargo ship from a 55-foot long speedboat, according to Mims, who described how LA port harbor pilot Captain John Betz maneuvered the Netherlands, a Chinese-owned ship from Cosco Shipping Lines. From the speedboat, the pilot must climb a rope ladder onto the freighter — often while both boats are pitching in opposite directions. The move represents one of the most dangerous moments during the entire process.