The centuries-long history of maritime pilotage is not only about the hardy spirits who help manoeuvre ships through rivers and channels and into and out of ports. It is also about their boats. Although a pilot’s job has remained unchanged, pilot boats have undergone a slow but dramatic evolution. Gone are the sail– and steam–powered types, but they will forever be remembered through old prints and paintings.

Extraordinary Express Across the Atlantic — Pilot Boat William J. Romer, Captain McGuire, Leaving for England February 9th, 1846
Lithographed and published by Nathaniel Currier
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

About the boat:

Built in 1841 by John & James Friend for New York pilots. Launched in 1841. Length 70 feet (21.34 m); depth 10 feet (3.05 m). Sank on 20 July 1863 after hitting a submerged rock in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. (Source: Wikipedia)

The pilot boat Charles H. Marshall, 1860
Illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 14 July 1860 edition

About the boat:

Sandy Hook pilot boat built by Henry Steers for New York pilots. Launched on 20 June 1860. Length 78 feet (23.77 m); beam 20 feet (6.10 m); depth 7 feet (2.13 m). Sold in 1896 as New York pilots began switching to steam pilot boats. (Source: Wikipedia)

The pilot boat Pet, No. 9, c. 1880
Painting by Elisha Taylor Baker (American, 1827–1890)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About the boat:

Built 1866 by Edward A. Costigan at Charlestown, Massachusetts, for Boston pilot Captain Abel T. Hayden. 78 feet long, 21½ feet beam, 8½ feet depth of hold, draws 11 feet aft, and 6 ½ feet forward, and spreads about 1,800 yards of canvas to the three lower sails. Sank on 21 November 1889 in Newport, Rhode Island. (Source: Wikipedia)

Pilot boat Caprice iced up in a winter storm, between 1881 and 1882
Illustration from the Century Magazine, November 1881 – April 1882 edition

About the boat:

Built in 1871 by Brown & Lovell in East Boston, Massachusetts, for Peter McEnany and other New York pilots. Launched April 10, 1871. Length 80 feet (24.38 m); beam 20 feet 3 in (6.17 m) depth 9 feet (2.74 m). Sold in 1890. (Source: Wikipedia)

New York, the first steam pilot boat in New York Harbor, 1897
Sketch from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, issue of 11 July 1897

About the boat (excerpt from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle news article):

“The steam pilot boat New York, designed and modeled by Mr. A. Cary Smith, for the Association of New York and New Jersey Pilots, will be placed on the station on March 18 of this year, at the yard at the Harlan and Hollingsworth Company of Wilmington, Del…. The vessel is 154 feet long over all; 28 feet wide, outside measurement, and 20 feet deep, having a mean draft of 13 feet when in sea going trim. A compound surface condensing engine of 800 horse power furnishes her with motive power. She is built wholly of steel.”

The steam pilot boat New Jersey, 1903
Oil on canvas by Antonio Jacobsen (Danish-American, 1850–1921)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About the boat:

Built by A. C. Brown & Sons of Tottenville, Staten Island, for the New York and New Jersey Pilot Boat Association. Launched 28 May 1902. Length 158 feet (48.16 m); beam 28 feet (8.53 m); draft 13 feet (3.96 m); depth 19 feet (5.79 m); sail and steam motor propulsion. Sank on 10 July 1914 after being rammed by the United Fruit steamship Manchioneal in heavy fog off the Ambrose Lightship; crew of 17 rescued by the Manchioneal. (Source: Wikipedia)

The pilot boat Sandy Hook, 1923
Illustration from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “Brave Sandy Hook Pilots Who Guide Half the Shipping Wealth of America Into and Out of the Port of New York”, 7 October 1923

About the boat:

Built in 1902 by Lewis Nixon at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Launched 12 September 1902. Length 168 feet 6 inches (51.36 m); beam 24 feet 4 inches (7.42 m); depth 12 feet 6 inches (3.81 m). Sank on 27 April 1939 after being rammed in dense fog off Ambrose Lightship by the Norwegian America Line Oslofjord; all 26 crewmen and harbour pilots on board rescued. (Source: Wikipedia)

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