Captain Casey Crawford, in a male-dominated industry, pilots ships on the Mississippi

A Pilot’s Story

Louisiana is home to more state river pilots than any other state in the nation. Of the 300 state pilots commissioned in Louisiana 4 are women with one more in training. Being a female in this rare position is often met with a look of surprise when boarding foreign flag ships with all male crews.

Soon the master pilot exchange ensues and the master quickly realizes that the female pilot is equally skilled and well-practiced at moving their mammoth vessels. “It’s a difficult job, the hours can be brutal, and the work hard, but if you’re committed, you will reach your goal,” says Captain Casey Crawford.

Casey in her own words

By Captain Casey Crawford

My interest in the mighty Mississippi River sat in the back of my mind growing up. I always admired my father’s profession of piloting, whether it was handling those massive ships, climbing Jacob ladders on the side of moving vessels, working with foreign crews, or simply being the navigational expert. Despite my natural interest in the many aspects of my father’s job, I always believed females were not allowed to follow that career path.

Left to right: Paul ”Brenden” Wagner, Governor John Bell Edwards, Casey Crawford and Cameron Plaisance.

Left to right: Paul ”Brenden” Wagner, Governor John Bell Edwards, Casey Crawford and Cameron Plaisance.

At a young age, I gravitated towards sports and outdoor activities. I was a “tomboy”, and my focus narrowed in on playing sports; I went on to play women’s soccer at a collegiate level.  My time as a Division 1 NCAA scholarship athlete was an invaluable and rewarding experience that ultimately gave me the “anything is possible” mindset that carries me through life today.

With this new outlook, I changed course and made a decision to pursue a dream I once deemed unreachable. I wanted to be a Crescent River Port Pilot. As a female, I was initially turned down and lacked support from my family on my decision. Nevertheless, my determination and persistence gained their approval over time. I knew I had a long journey ahead of me, but I was ready to take on those challenges.  Eight years later, after graduating from a Maritime Academy, testing for many Coast Guard licenses, working for a major drilling company offshore, and completing an extensive Crescent River Port Pilot apprenticeship, I now proudly navigate the Mississippi River as the 4th commissioned female compulsory pilot, in the state of Louisiana.

There are many challenges women face working in a male dominated industry. Being under a constant microscope, a female must consistently perform at a higher standard than others in order to gain credibility.  Since compulsory state pilots mainly navigate foreign flag vessels, many foreign crews, from male centered cultures are surprised and hesitant to a woman taking charge of their ship. I am occasionally questioned about how long I have been piloting, but when I assure crews of my prior experience and training, they find relief in my expertise. Once I have convinced a crew of my local knowledge, experience, and ability to do the job; their attitude changes, and gender is no longer a factor. Being one of just five female pilots. I embrace all these challenges.  I truly enjoy my profession so much that I give no credence to these issues. I simply focus on my job: to protect the citizens and environment of the state of Louisiana, while navigating ships safely and efficiently over a 106-mile stretch of Mississippi River.

Piloting ships on the Mississippi River is always challenging, and additional factors like fog, thunder storms, swift currents, and the volume of traffic can increase the danger to state pilots and to other vessels on the river. Not only do state pilots safely guide vessels through dangerous congested waters, they work closely with foreign crews with cultural differences and limited English language skills. Every job, ship, and crew is different. Similar to a collegiate athlete, this profession requires a commitment from an individual who has a strong work ethic, good leadership skills, high tolerance for stress, and adaptability.

When I was young, I quickly learned that when pilots are home and sleeping they don’t like to be woken up. They need their sleep because many times they work all night long. As I grew older I grew to understand more about the dynamics of the job, the challenges pilots face, and the accountability they take on. Today, I respect pilots all over the world that share the same unrelenting passion for the job. Hard work and determination allowed me to reach a dream, and I can’t imagine myself doing anything different.

Pilots, November 2018CRPPA