Oversight and Licensing

Demanding Work in Challenging Waters

The San Francisco Bar Pilots protect our waterways, marine life, coastline, and economic vitality through the critical public service they provide. Marine conditions on the water are frequently hazardous and often come with dense fog, strong winds, and dangerous currents amidst high concentrations of vessel traffic in constrained areas. 

State and Federal Oversight

To ensure that pilots are prepared for this physically and mentally challenging work, there are strict state and federal regulations that govern the licensing, training, and ongoing professional development mandated for all San Francisco Bar Pilots. 

The importance of state regulated pilotage was acknowledged through regulations passed during the first session of the United States congress in 1789. California followed suit in 1850 during its first legislative session by establishing the California Board of Pilot Commissioners to oversee the selection, training, and licensing of San Francisco Bar Pilots.

Board of Pilot Commissioners Licensing Overview

State licensed pilots hold key positions in the safe passage of shipborne commerce in the waters under the Board’s jurisdiction. They must exemplify the highest standards of leadership, professionalism and personal integrity. Mariners selected for the training program must demonstrate that they are fully capable of meeting demands of accountability and responsibility associated with such positions. The vital role of appropriately trained pilots in safety of navigation upon these waters cannot be overemphasized. The Board adheres to equal opportunity precepts when selecting applicants to participate in the Pilot Trainee Training Program. 

Application ​

Candidates interested in becoming a San Francisco Bar Pilot apply with the California Board of Pilot Commissioners. This body administers the application, testing, training and licensing process.

Through a transparent, objective and competitive examination process, the Board of Pilot Commissioners periodically selects applicants who meet experience and Federal licensing criteria established by state law. Successful candidates are placed on a list in ranked order based on the results of the exam. Based on a determination by the BOPC, individuals from this list are offered a position as a pilot trainee as openings become available in the training program.

California State Pilot Training Program

Pilot trainees work under the supervision of the San Francisco Bar Pilot Evaluation Committee and Board of Pilot Commissioners. Each trainee is required to successfully navigate every type of vessel coming into the Bay to and from every facility multiple times, which often amounts to piloting a minimum of 360 ships annually during the training period. Not all candidates successfully complete the training, and there is no guarantee that a Board license will be issued at the conclusion of the program, which can last up to 36 months. 

The Pilot Evaluation Committee tracks each trainee’s progress and, based on a specific set of criteria, makes recommendations to The Board regarding trainee status and completion of regulatory requirements. Upon the trainee’s successful completion of training, the PEC provides its recommendation to the Board for the issuance of a certificate of completion. Once the trainee has passed the requisite physical examination by a Board physician, and the Board has determined that the maximum number of pilots has not been reached, it may issue the trainee a license as a San Francisco Bar Pilot.

Ongoing Professional Training

The Board of Pilot Commissioners requires every Bar Pilot to participate in a continuing professional development program.  There are two forms of training that each pilot must complete every five years:

Combination Course:

  • Bridge resource management for pilots
  • Shiphandling on a computer driven ship’s bridge simulator including emergency maneuvering and shiphandling in close quarters
  • Emergency medical response
  • Advanced electronic navigation systems
  • The hazards of fatigue and effective strategies to prevent fatigue while on duty
  • Radar navigation in low visibility/restricted waters
  • Regulatory review

Manned Scale Model Ship-handling Course:

Training in scale models of ships provides realistic experience with maneuvering characteristics of major commercial vessel types that routinely transit the waters in the pilotage area.  Training is conducted on a lake at a facility that can replicate conditions that are found in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Using these models, pilots may safely and effectively practice ship handling maneuvers and emergency situations not possible in real life, or with electronic-only simulations.