New Bay State Bill Proposes to License Docking Pilots

Senate Bill Number 1349 is now on the docket and available for viewing in the State of Massachusetts. The bill, characterized by its sponsors as “An ACT RELATIVE TO PORT SECURITY,” focuses primarily on licensing the existing Boston Harbor docking pilots, and lays out how that would be done and what supervision they would receive once licensed. The bill specifically states that “there is a need to provide for a system that will ensure the proper and consistent identification, training, selection, oversight and monitoring of docking pilots; it is therefore in the public interest to strengthen the District One Pilot Commissioners by expanding their number, powers and duties and clarifying that docking pilots are under their jurisdiction.”

Under the terms of the bill, “Licensed docking Pilots” would be granted a license by the District One Pilot commissioners (the same body which provides oversight for the Boston Pilots Association LLC). Docking Pilots traditionally assist ocean-going ships in the docking, undocking and maneuvering using tugboat assistance. The bill also proposes to redefine the composition of the District One Pilot Commissioners, how they are appointed and further outlines their new powers and duties as they relate to licensed docking pilots.

The current regulatory situation in Boston Harbor involves compulsory pilotage for registered and certain enrolled deep draft vessels. Additionally, certain tug boat operators require that, as a condition of using their ship-assist tug equipment, that one of their employed docking pilots be utilized for docking operations. The use of a docking pilot is not currently required by law, but the cost of a docking or undocking evolution is codified for the local harbor pilots, who also perform literally hundreds of these operations annually. The fees which are charged by the harbor pilots are usually far less than that assessed by the non-licensed docking masters.

SB 1349 also proposes that existing docking pilots would be licensed without any sort of testing mechanism and that this license would be valid for a period of five years. Minimum requirements for each docking pilot would include a valid Master of Towing Vessels license issued by the United States Coast Guard with an endorsement as First Class Pilot of Vessels of any Gross Tons for Pilot District One and an applicant must have been providing Docking Pilot services during the thirty-six (36) months immediately prior to the effective date of the proposed Act for the purpose of docking and undocking with tugboat assistance of not fewer than 200 seagoing vessels of not less than 10,000 registered gross tons within Pilot District One.

At the same time, the Bill proposes to prevent District One Commissioners from exercising “any control or authority over licensed Docking Pilots’ rates, pensions, benefits or other compensation.” And, under the terms of the proposed bill, within Pilot District One (which includes Boston Harbor), “every foreign vessel of three hundred and fifty gross tons or over; every United States vessel under register of three hundred and fifty gross tons or over which request a tugboat or tugboats to assist in docking, undocking or maneuvering shall employ a Docking Pilot licensed under this chapter.”

SB 1349 effectively replaces and has the same intent as its predecessor bill, SB 1330. The terms of the new proposed bill are vastly different than that agreed to by the Port Users Working Group hosted by the Boston Marine Society and organized by Senators Bruce Tarr and State Representative Charles Murphy. The working group, formulated by a wide range of Boston Harbor stakeholders - including the docking pilots themselves - attempted to reconcile the differences in positions represented by Senate Bill 1330, first introduced over one year ago. SB 1330 is now dead, a victim of staunch local opposition.

As MarEx went on line with this edition, there were no formal hearing dates yet scheduled, but the bill promises to evoke the same level of acrimony in Boston Harbor. At least four various maritime-related bills, including 1349, are looming large in the coming legislative session, where the fate of each proposal promises to change the face of marine safety in Massachusetts waters. As a result, the rancor present in Boston Harbor for the last three years promises to continue indefinitely. Senate Bill 1349 can be read at the following link: