What We Do


Eleven miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bar Pilots board each ship via a rope ladder. They must often do so in rough seas with swells as large as 20 feet. Once on the bridge of the ship, the Bar Pilot takes control of the navigation and directs the ship into the Bay until it is safely alongside its berth.  For the largest ships, a second Bar Pilot brings aboard and operates specialized global positioning technology to ensure a safe arrival or departure in very confined waters.

The Bar Pilots are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to safely deliver cargo and passengers.  Sixty Pilots serve the Bay, and their work schedule is similar to the United States Merchant Marine and many public safety officials – one week on, one week off.   Even though they are under the jurisdiction of a state board, the Bar Pilots themselves are not government employees and do not receive any public funding.   The Board of Pilot Commissioners independently determines and sets the rate schedule for their operations, which are paid by private companies doing business in the Bay.  The Bar Pilots do not receive an annual salary; their income is based solely on the number of ships entering the Bay.  They are also individually responsible for their health insurance and any other benefits.


The San Francisco Bar Pilots partner closely with the United States Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard and other law enforcement agencies to ensure maritime security.  The boarding of a Bar Pilot is often the first contact a foreign ship will have in the United States. Thirty two of the Coast Guard’s 37 identified critical security locations in Northern California are within the San Francisco Bar Pilots’ jurisdiction, and their presence on board performs an important security function.