Canaveral Pilots Association Port Canaveral Florida

Harbor Pilot FAQ’s

What is the difference between Federal and State pilotage?

Harbor Pilots in the State of Florida are both State and Federally licensed Pilots. State pilotage laws apply to all foreign flag vessels calling at Florida Ports as well as all U.S. flag vessels engaged in an international voyage. By comparison, Federal pilotage laws apply to all U.S. flag vessels engaged in coastwise voyages or trade routes exclusively between U.S. ports. Federally licensed Pilots may also be contracted to provide services to Naval or government vessels which are generally exempt from pilotage laws.

Vessels calling at Florida ports that are subject to Federal law usually engage the services of the State Harbor Pilots serving the Port, however, in some cases, these vessels may have ship officers serving aboard that have the Federal Pilotage endorsement on their Merchant Marine license for the waters of the Port, or may choose to engage the services of a local licensed Federal Pilot. While this is legal under Federal law, shipping companies, as well as the general public, should be aware of the extreme differences between testing, training, and experience requirements needed to obtain the State as opposed to the Federal pilotage licenses.

State Harbor Pilots must successfully complete an intense testing and training program overseen by the State Board of Pilot Commissioners over a period of time from two to over three years before they become licensed State Harbor Pilots. During this time frame Pilots complete hundreds of round-trip transits of the Port for which they are training. Under Federal law, the requirements to obtain a Federal pilotage license or endorsement consist of only needing to observe twelve to twenty round-trips of the Port, depending on the specific Port, and pass one test. There are no requirements of training of any kind. There simply is no comparison or equivalency between the two sets of licensing requirements. The fact is that State Harbor Pilots are highly trained and experienced to a level that far exceeds any comparison to Federal law.

The question that pilotage service consumers and the general public should consider is, which of these licensing requirements would you prefer that Pilots adhere to before serving your company’s vessels or for piloting vessels calling at your local Port. In making risk management assessments regarding pilotage service, companies and government agencies must evaluate whether risk is best managed with the minimum qualification, least expensive alternative or with an alternative featuring comprehensive testing, training, and experience requirements. These decisions are extremely important for all vessels using the water, harbor and port resources of the State of Florida and especially vessels carrying hazardous cargos, petroleum products, or in the case of the U.S. Navy, vessels which are nuclear-powered.


Federal law requires that a Federal Pilot meet the mandated MINIMUMS to be qualified.

  • To pass all parts of an exam consisting of 20 local knowledge questions (70%), 50 Rules of the Road questions (90%), Draw the Harbor Charts (90%)
  • Be aboard a vessel for 12 round trips through the Port on a ship, 1600 gt or more, as an observer.


State law procedures provide for the extensive examination, training and experience to produce the MOST HIGHLY QUALIFIED Pilots possible.

  • To not only pass, but have one of the TOP 5 SCORES in a comprehensive Deputy Pilot exam consisting of 30 local knowledge questions (70%), 100 International Rules of the Road (90%), 100 Inland Rules of the Road (90%), Draw the Harbor Charts (90%), 50 Shiphandling (70%), 50 Aids to Navigation (70%), 50 State and Federal Regulations (70%)
  • Two to three YEARS as a deputy pilot where he/she is trained one on one with State Pilots.
  • Their performance is observed and evaluated by the State Pilots at the port and must be approved by the state Board of Pilot Commissioners that can advance, delay or disqualify the trainee during the training period.
  • After completion of training as a Deputy Pilot the candidate must then take AN ADDITIONAL STATE PILOT EXAM covering the same areas as the original Deputy Pilot exam, to become a fully qualified State Pilot.

How do Harbor Pilots benefit citizens of Florida?

Florida State law mandates that State Harbor Pilots protect to the fullest extent possible the waters, harbors, and ports of the State, the environment, life, and property, with safety as the primary objective. This is accomplished by boarding each vessel and directing the movement of the vessel while transiting the channels and basins of the port.

Who pays for Harbor Pilots?

Pilots are paid pilotage fees by each vessel requiring pilotage services.  Charges to the ships are calculated by the gross registered tonnage and by foot of draft. No pay is derived from the State of Florida or the Florida tax payer.  All fees are paid by the shipping companies.

Why can't the Captain be the Pilot?

  • State law provides for a compulsory pilotage which means that foreign flag vessels and U.S. flag vessels on foreign voyages are required to have a state Pilot directing the movement of the vessels in state pilotage waters. State Pilots participate in an intensive testing and training program under the state Board of Pilot Commissioners which prepares the Pilots to be the local navigational experts of the Port. The Pilots have local knowledge and expertise in handling a wide range of vessel types in the narrow channels and basins of the Port at an experience level that far exceeds any amount of experience that can be obtained by the Captains calling at the Port, even those who may do so on a regular basis.
  • Vessel Captains retain command of their vessel when in pilotage waters, however, the “conn”, or direction of the movement of the vessel is turned over to the State Harbor Pilot as provided by Florida law, to transit the channels and basins in the Port. The Captains main responsibility is for his or her own vessel, crew, and in the case of cruise ships, the passengers, and also must comply with operational requirements and pressures from the shipping company. State Harbor Pilots are responsible for the safety of the vessel which they are navigating, and also with the protection of the state waters, harbors, ports, the environment, life and property, including effects that ships transiting a harbor may have on other ships moored at the docks and any impact on port facilities. Pilots are free of the economic pressures Captains may feel from companies seeking to cut costs or maintain schedules and can make independent assessments on safety precautions such as the need for hiring tugboats for assistance in the harbor, for example.

Who decides how much a Pilot makes?

 A State Harbor Pilot’s income is based on how much vessel traffic there is in the port. State Harbor Pilots are not government employees and all pay is derived directly from the shipping companies that use pilotage service. Pilotage rates are established by a committee of the state Board of Pilot Commissioners. There is a Rate Review process established to determine rates any time that the Pilots or consumers request a rate adjustment.