HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PILOTS’ ASSOCIATION

On September 30, 1884 pilot leaders from around the U.S. met in New York City to form what is now the American Pilots’ Association.

From the founding of our nation through much of the 19th century, individual pilots struggled against one another in a mad race to the sea to provide pilotage services to the first incoming ship. This race to be the first to “speak” a ship was certainly inefficient - pilots raced to provide pilotage to one ship while other ships waited in vain for a pilot.  More importantly, however, many pilots perished during this senseless “race to the sea.” 

Such a system of uncoordinated effort could not survive for long. Fortunately, it was the pilots themselves who organized to stop this wasteful and dangerous practice.  While robust state regulation of pilots was firmly in place in the 19th century, pilots within the various ports recognized that government regulation alone was not sufficient to ensure quality piloting services.  An organized and unified effort on the part of the professional pilots themselves was also necessary. By 1884, pilots in most ports had formed into a single, port-wide association.  This unity and coordination served to eliminate wasteful competition, ensure appropriate responses to political efforts detrimental to compulsory pilotage, and promote the highest professional standards for pilots.

Pilot group leaders soon discovered, however, that local pilot associations would also benefit immensely from a national organization. These forward thinking pilots recognized that even though states regulated pilotage, federal law and policy - if left unchecked - had the potential of overriding state authority.

In fact, from 1837 to 1884, some Congressional proposals (made at the behest of shipping and towing interests) were advanced that were not only hostile to pilots, but to compulsory pilotage itself. These anti-pilot efforts posed a clear threat to the State Pilotage System and set the stage for the creation of a national pilot organization.

On September 30, 1884 at the Metropolitan Hotel in New York City, representatives from the various pilot groups around the United States held a conference “to organize an association of American pilots for mutual protection.”  The conference produced a statement of objective, which read in part:

"Notwithstanding our geographical position, the mail and telegraph can soon bring us together in spirit if not in body, and we wish, while in no way interfering with the laws of other States, to present a solid front as pilots whenever and where ever a pilotage system is attacked."

Those visionary pilot leaders who attended the 1884 conference in New York set out and unanimously approved  a full set of declarations, among them:

"That never since the U.S. became a nation, has there been any abatement of the necessity for the pilot’s calling, or of sincere respect for his services as a seaman expert, always on the alert to safeguard human life."

The conference attendees also adopted a resolution creating an organizational and leadership structure for the American Pilots’ Association:

BE IT RESOLVED, that a committee of five, with power to add to their number, and with a president and secretary, be and is hereby formed for the purpose of frustrating any overt act against the employment and livelihood of the pilots of the United States of America.

With this stroke of a pen, the nearly one hundred  year period without a national pilot organization in the United States came to a close.

Consistent with the vision of the APA founders in 1884, and as expanded upon by the long line of APA Presidents and officers, today APA’s objectives include:

  • Promote the welfare and common business interests of State pilots and pilot associations;
  • Assist state pilots in their efforts to maintain the traditionally high standards;
  • Promote public safety, and protect life and property on the inland and coastal waters;
  • Cooperate with federal and state authorities in the national interest in matters relating to pilotage;
  • Gather and distribute information pertaining, or of interest, to state pilots and state pilot organizations;
  • Cooperate with shipping and transportation industries and organizations in matters relating to pilotage; and
  • Encourage and aid in the development of closer relationships between the public and licensed pilots.

(The above is a summary of information contained in the book State Pilotage in America, written by Captain Ernest Clothier and Captain W. Hilton Lowe, both former Presidents of the American Pilots’ Association)