Trained Professionals Ensure Safety
Commercial vessels operating on the Great Lakes-Seaway system are under the control of highly-trained professional mariners. These individuals have not only received specialized educations, but have also been licensed by government authorities. It takes a minimum of between 6 to 8 years to become certified as a Captain of a vessel in Canada and the United States.
Safe ship operation is the consequence of a rigid chain of command. Complete authority is vested in the captain, who is responsible for all aspects of ship operations including safe navigation, cargo handling, crew management, equipment maintenance, regulatory compliance, inventory control, record keeping, and maritime security. Under the captain's direction is a cadre of professional officers. These include the first mate (chief mate), the second mate, and the third mate. Each of these individuals have either graduated from an accredited maritime academy, or worked their way up through the ranks of unlicensed crew positions, accumulating years of experience, and taking training courses. After satisfying requirements for education, training and on-the-job experience, officers may apply to be licensed by the country in which the ship is registered. In the United States licensing of merchant mariners is the responsibility of the United States Coast Guard. In Canada, licensing is the responsibility of Transport Canada.
Great Lakes Pilotage
Under U.S. and Canadian law, any foreign ship (non-U.S./Canadian) entering the Great Lakes-Seaway System from overseas is required to hire an American or Canadian pilot to assist with navigation. Pilots are expert navigators who are familiar with local geography, weather, currents and sailing conditions. The pilot's expertise supplements the captain's expertise to ensure safe navigation.
U.S. and Canadian domestic ships meet this requirement through demanding USCG licensing programs for U.S. deck officers. Canadian deck officers follow a similar system through the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority's Certification Program.
Pilots are made available to ship operators by organizations that provide pilotage services. There are five pilotage service providers in the Great Lakes-Seaway region. Two are Canadian, and three are American. These organizations provide services according to geographic area.
Like other vessel officers, pilots undergo extensive education, training and government licensing to ensure competency and professionalism.