With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District mid-way through the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project, there are a wide-range of agencies that the District works with for input, feedback and comments. The organizations that quickly come to mind are the South Carolina Ports Authority, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. One group that might not be as obvious, but is equally as crucial, is the Charleston Harbor Pilots.
“We work very closely with the Harbor Pilots,” said Holly Carpenter, Post 45 Project Manager. “They have been very active in the project since its inception and we will continue to work with them through the remainder of the project.”
Most recently, the Harbor Pilots traveled to the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss. to participate in the ship simulation phase of the project. This phase tested alternatives to help determine which areas of the channel and turning basins should be widened, potentially saving on costs and construction time.
The Harbor Pilots were also previously very involved in the feasibility study, which was the second phase of Post 45 project. During the feasibility study, the Harbor Pilots participated in a desktop exercise the Corps hosted, which helped formulate the feasibility footprint. The Harbor Pilots provided input on turning basins and channel widenings during this phase and were then able to test their input during the recent ship simulation. The District will continue to work with the harbor pilots to coordinate the draft results before finalizing the construction plan. The results of the ship simulation will be incorporated and released in the final pre-construction engineering and design report.
The Harbor Pilots are the only people that can navigate container ships through Charleston Harbor and since they are the only ones, their input is vital to the success of the project.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Whit Smith, President of Charleston Harbor Pilots. “I have been involved in three deepening’s and the local Corps has been a wonderful partner to work with.”
Becoming a harbor pilot is no easy feat, it requires a three-year apprenticeship with 1,200 supervised trips through the Harbor, satisfactorily completing testing and examinations throughout the apprenticeship, and successfully rising through the ranks until they reach Full Branch Pilot.
As a Full Branch Pilot, they work an unconventional schedule; they are on call for 24-hours with a week-on and week-off schedule. Sometimes they miss holidays and birthdays, but the Harbor Pilots love what they do.
“I love coming to work, every day is different,” said Smith. “Sure it’s hard missing holidays and birthdays, but I wouldn’t trade this job for anything.”
Most weeks there are 45-50 ships arriving to the Port of Charleston and all of them need to leave, so there are 90-100 movements in a week for the Harbor Pilots. There are usually nine Harbor Pilots on the schedule. They navigate three ships to or from the terminals and then are moved to the bottom of the list. Currently, there are 20 Harbor Pilots and three Apprentices.
Once becoming a Full Branch pilot, they are able to navigate ships through Charleston Harbor, including Post-Panamax ships. While the Harbor Pilots are able to navigate Post-Panamax ships through the harbor now, it is challenging and there are constraints, but once the harbor is deepened, it will be much easier for them to move in and out of the channels.
Moving forward, the Harbor Pilots will continue to advise the Corps on channel design and the Corps will keep the Harbor Pilots informed on the construction schedule. The Corps looks forward to continuing this great partnership.
*Second in a two-part series on the Charleston Harbor Pilots and the Post 45 project. The first part can be read here.