Staying in a Safe Position by Captain Thomas Ajubita
"Most people think of piloting as just maneuvering a ship and while partly true, as a river pilot, I think of piloting as staying in a safe position.
Safety is the overriding mental position of every pilot. Early on in my career as an apprentice pilot I was dispatched to a loaded chemical tanker and was accompanied by a senior pilot. As we boarded the ship he directed me to do the “master-pilot exchange” prior to embarking.
In doing so the Master of the ship informed me that his vessel was in proper working order with no deficiencies. I asked him about the details of his cargo and discovered he carried twelve different chemicals with some being very explosive.
Later during the trip the senior pilot showed me the manifest of the different cargo. We reviewed the flash point for each chemical, more specifically the temperature at which each will explode. As I was still processing the gravity of being at the helm of such chemicals he continued on to say, “but, it doesn’t matter because every ship is dangerous”. “A ship carrying grain dust is explosive, and especially explosive are empty tankers, even ships with no cargo are explosive due to the vast amounts of fuel contained”.
As a professional river pilot we must mitigate danger from many aspects, including vessel traffic on the river, handling of the ship, weather, electronics, foreign crews, all aspects of the river’s geography and the vessel we are piloting. This is the duty of us all, our profession requires us to be master mariners.
To become such means we must gain the knowledge and skill required to truly protect the citizens and the economy of the state. This compulsory skill set takes years and years of study and experience, it cannot be learned in a day.
While piloting is a profession that is learned over a very long time, every new day offers up a new lesson. I believe that Mark Twain agreed when he wrote, “It became pretty apparent to me that in order to be a pilot a man had to learn more than any one man ought to be allowed to know, and then he must learn it all over again in a different way every twenty-fours hours”.
Captain Thomas Ajubita