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BECOMING A BAR PILOT


While the fi rst Columbia River Bar “pilot” was a Chinook tribal chief named Comcomly, who guided sailing ships through the shallows in his canoe as early as 1795, the requirements have become more rigorous since then. Since 1846, all ships engaged in foreign trade must take on a Columbia River Bar Pilot licensed by the State of Oregon to navigate the vessels through the Columbia River Bar.


Obtaining that license requires much more experience than passing the better known bar to practice law. Each of these special bar pilots holds an unlimited tonnage Master Mariner’s license. This means they must have sailed as master for at least two years on ships of at least 5,000 gross tons. It’s one of the highest licensing standards in the United States, and applicants typically have 15 to 25 years of experience. Then to obtain a federal bar pilotage endorsement on that master license, along with passing other tests, applicants by memory have to draw the Columbia River entrance and write out a complete list of navigational lights along the stretch. If they pass and are accepted, then the pilots must complete a minimum of 100 crossings with a licensed bar pilot, and pilot independently on many of those crossings.


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September 2015


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