were established in 1846 to ensure the safety of ships, crews and cargoes crossing the treacherous Columbia River Bar, which is recognized as one of the most dangerous and challenging navigated stretches of water in the world.
The volume of water flowing from the Columbia River and the force of impact with North Pacific storms combine to create daunting sea conditions. Successful passage grants access to many inland ports, where economic transportation of goods between the Pacific Northwest and the world averages about 40 million tons of cargo valued at $23 billion each year.
All vessels engaged in foreign trade are required to employ a Columbia River Bar Pilot licensed by the State of Oregon when crossing the Columbia River Bar. The licensing standard for the Columbia River Bar Pilots is one of the highest in the nation. Each Columbia River Bar Pilot must hold an unlimited master’s license and have served a minimum of two years as master of oceangoing vessels. Once aboard, the pilot assumes navigational conduct of the vessel using his or her experience and local knowledge to safely navigate the restricted channels of the Columbia River, and over the bar to and from sea. These experienced Columbia River Bar Pilots guide approximately 3,600 vessel crossings of the bar each year – from 100-foot tugs to 1,100-foot tankers, bulk carriers, car carriers, log ships, general cargo ships, container ships and passenger ships.
The Columbia River Bar Pilots are leaders in developing innovative equipment to work in the heavy weather of their exposed boarding grounds. The latest chapter in this illustrious history is the addition of the pilot helicopter SEAHAWK, and the two state-of-the-art, 30-knot pilot boats CHINOOK and COLUMBIA. The current pilot transfer system enables the Columbia River Bar Pilots to board ships up to 15 miles further from the traditional pilot grounds, ensuring ships have Columbia River Bar Pilots on board prior to entering the close-quarter maneuvering areas near the river’s entrance.
The Columbia River Bar Pilots have a rich history of service. As one of the oldest ongoing businesses in Oregon, the Columbia River Bar Pilots take immense pride in their responsibility protecting the environment of the beautiful Pacific Northwest.