Article

Harbor pilots have one of the highest paid — but simultaneously riskiest — job


published on 17 April 2023 933 -

Picture by marinersmuseum.org

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.
Review by BusinessInsider.com:
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.
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