Logo At least 300,000 ships have transited Miami Harbor since 1911, and the safe navigation of almost every one has been the responsibility of a member of the Biscayne Bay Pilots Association. Formerly known as the Miami Bar Pilots, these 44 men have been the sole providers of pilot service to ships calling in Miami for over a century. Today the Association is one of the most venerable enterprises in the area, and its history is an integral part of the story of Miami itself.


Prior to 1896, the year which saw the arrival of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway and the incorporation of the City of Miami, commercial maritime activity on Biscayne Bay--and hence the need for ship pilots--was essentially nil. However, as Flagler developed port facilities just north of the mouth of the Miami River at the turn of the 20th century, and with the simultaneous dredging of the Cape Florida Channel to 12 feet deep, ship traffic quickly increased.

The risk of maritime casualties—loss of life, personal injury, environmental damage, property loss, channel blockage and traffic stoppage--increased at the same time, and a movement within the local maritime community to require ships to take an officially qualified pilot gradually gained momentum. This scenario was nothing new; it had already transpired in virtually every other seaport in the world, including Jacksonville and Tampa, the two older ports in Florida.

A consensus was finally reached among Miami’s waterfront stakeholders that pilotage should be compulsory in 1911. The same parties also favored the precedent which had been set in most American seaports in the latter part of the 19th century: that is, limiting the licensure of local pilots to a single associated group. At the urging of shipowners, pilots around the country had begun to pool their resources and associate themselves into local groups with a single pilot station, in order to ensure both the availability of a pilot and the uniformity of procedures and locations for pilot embarkation. Pilot fees were then arbitrated by the pilot licensing authority.

Because the First Continental Congress in 1789 delegated piloting jurisdiction to the several states, pilots for the new port of Miami would have to be licensed by the state of Florida. Local Port Wardens in Miami had been appointed by the state in 1893, but it was not until 1911 that this body constituted a Board of Pilot Commissioners.