Standing watch: A river and its pilots

Learn about the history of marine pilotage on the Saint-Lawrence river and what it means to be a pilot!

The St. Lawrence River

Ah! The St. Lawrence River …! Majestic, immense, essential. However, of all the rivers in the world, the “Mighty River” gives sailors many a headache. The old salts of the sea claim it is indomitable and younger captains dread it. The St. Lawrence is known as one of the world’s most difficult rivers to navigate. Yet, thousands of ships with various cargoes travel this trade route into the heart of North America every year.

Increasingly larger ships from all over the world also mean more challenges, preparation, and planning. This is where maritime pilots step in, faithful watchmen on duty to ensure the safety of inland navigation.

But who are these pilots? What is their job? Are they still necessary despite all the current technologies? And is the St. Lawrence River as capricious as they say?

Chart showing major and intermediate ports
Source: CPSLC

Pilot Arthur J. Gariépy aboard the SS BELLE ISLE, July 6, 1933.

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CPSLC 2022