By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jenna Kaliszewski, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Public Affairs
Every time a ship enters or leaves a port, experts on that port’s channels, called harbor pilots, help the ship’s crew navigate quickly and safely through an otherwise treacherous waterway.
Nathaniel Green and Bill Roberts, harbor pilots with more than half a century of piloting experience between them, joined the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt’s (CVN 71) bridge team to help safely maneuver the ship into open water, May 19.
Green, a Norfolk native and Virginia State pilot with the Virginia Pilot Association, developed an interest in being a harbor pilot while fishing as a child in the areas around the Chesapeake Bay.
“I enquired about how the ships get around,” said Green. “When I was 15 I was lucky enough to pursue becoming a harbor pilot.”
The application process for becoming a harbor pilot is a 6-year training program that starts with an interview, said Green. First they have a two-year apprenticeship under state pilots, which ends with a written exam. Following the test, state commissioned pilots administer an oral board.
“This licenses you for small ships,” said Green. “Over the next three years, you get reviewed every three to six months and get qualified for larger ships. The sixth year you get licensed for rivers.”
During the years of training, new pilots learn the waterways in preparation for navigating larger vessels.
The difference between maneuvering a 34-foot and 36-foot boat into and out of the harbor is big, said Green.
“From the way a ship moves to the traffic patterns of that port, we have to know the harbor, ships and water to get the ships safely in and out,” Said Green.
Roberts, a Chesapeake, Va., native and government employee for Naval Station Norfolk, has been a harbor pilot for 40 years.
“My whole family is made of watermen. It’s in my blood,” said Roberts. “I enjoy the work because it’s challenging and rewarding. Working with different types of ships, the environment and the weather always present new challenges. I’m responsible for the safe navigation of the ship from the pier through the channel and seeing her safely out or in is a job well done.”
From the channel’s depth to the degree of a turn needed to navigate a buoy, harbor pilots know the behavior of the water. They know what direction it moves, how quickly, its temperature and its depth. They guide TR and other ships through a potentially treacherous channel and out-to-sea where they belong.