San Francisco Bar Pilots are experienced master mariners with specialized training and education that qualifies them to direct the navigation of vessels in San Francisco and Monterey Bays. We service over 200 docks and maritime facilities located throughout the Bay including the ports of San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, Benicia, Redwood City, Stockton and Sacramento.
For 170 years, the San Francisco Bar Pilots have been safely navigating the world’s largest ships through some of North America’s most challenging waterways. These state and federally licensed master mariners are highly-specialized professionals who rely on navigational experience, ship-handling skills, and local knowledge to transport more than $1.2 billion in annual trade. Over 1,000 miles of fragile shoreline and 90% of the state’s marshlands are protected by our expert navigation.
24 hours a day, 7 days a week, San Francisco Bar Pilots meet all ships in the open ocean, 11 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. Near this location is a navigation hazard known as a “sand bar” from which the term “Bar Pilot” is derived. To board these massive ships, some of which are 1300 feet long, the Bar Pilot scales a 30-foot rope ladder, often in rough seas. We are one of only a handful of pilot organizations nationally that conduct these dangerous open water boardings. Once aboard, the Bar Pilot takes control of the vessel and directs the navigation to its final destination.
The critical nature of pilotage was recognized by the first United States Congress in 1789. In 1850, the first California State Legislature established the California Board of Pilot Commissioners (BOPC) and our organization was founded. To this day, the San Francisco Bar Pilots are regulated and licensed by both federal and state governments, including the United States Coast Guard and BOPC. BOPC commissioners are appointed by the Governor and are responsible for overseeing the selection, training, licensing, continuing education, and physical examinations for all San Francisco Bar Pilots. A San Francisco Bar Pilot is often the United States’ first contact with a foreign ship, and as a result we work closely with the Department of Homeland Security to help ensure our nation’s domestic security.
The San Francisco Bar Pilots partner with local organizations including the San Francisco Fire Department, CSU Maritime Academy, and Monterey Bay Aquarium. We are proud of our engagement and partnerships that provide opportunity and services in our local communities.