Dedicated to safety, environment

The Charleston Branch Harbor Pilots’ Association is dedicated to maintaining safety and preserving the environment.


Pilots must navigate vessels in a myriad of conditions: strong winds, precipitation, thunderstorms, fog, shoaling and more. The majority of vessel movements are under the cover of darkness.  Pilots must combine their extensive navigational training and vast experience in the local waterways to safely steer these ships into the harbor every day.

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Further, pilots face significant personal risk during the boarding process.  At about 15 miles offshore of Charleston, a pilot steps from his pilot boat onto a rope ladder hanging on the side of an incoming vessel, and climbs up to the deck – all while both vessels are moving at about 10 knots.  Nighttime moves and inclement weather are the norm. This is the single most dangerous aspect of the job, one that can have deadly consequences.  Unfortunately the industry has suffered a handful of tragedies in the last decade.

Because of this, our Association strives to be the safest we can be. We employ a two-person boat crew to support the pilot on every boarding, and operate vessels outfitted with the most current safety features. Pilots are outfitted with floatation coats and emergency beacons on their person, and heat-seeking cameras on the pilot vessels add another layer of safety in the case that a pilot falls into the water.  With two 75-foot launches and a new 65-foot launch, our fleet has the largest pilot vessels on the East Coast.

The environment

The beauty of Charleston Harbor and the surrounding Lowcountry is undeniable.  The waterways are also critical to the allowing the port to prosper and many local businesses to thrive.

IMG_0977The Charleston Branch Pilots protect this fragile resource by ensuring the safe and efficient movement of goods through our waterways.  Pilots serve as guardians of the environment in the Lowcountry. Through our work, we prevent major damage that could come to our waterways through accidents, oil and chemical spills or other catastrophic incidents that could cause irreparable harm to the ecosystem.