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Board of Commissioners of Pilots of the State of New York Records, 1845-1994

Identifier: SC-0001

Contents of Collection

The Records of the Board of Commissioners of Pilots of the State of New York document the Board’s customary activities, including the training, licensing, and regulation of maritime pilots, the creation and emendation of bylaws, and correspondence with its licensees and other state agencies. The records comprise the following formats: log books (384 volumes, 1845-1964), meeting minutes (47 volumes, 1845-1994), personnel records (four volumes, 1849-1966), and tide-table books for the pilots’ use (four volumes, 1985-1993). The log books are of several types, corresponding with the functions they serve: pilotage logs, station boat logs, and pilot boat logs.


  • 1845-1994


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Appointments to examine materials must be made in advance. Please e-mail for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproductions may be provided to users to support research and scholarship. However, collection use is subject to all copyright laws. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Historical Note

The maritime pilots’ profession dates back to the seventeenth century, when the increasing size of sailing ships, particularly their larger draft, placed them in danger of running aground when attempting to enter or leave a harbor. Initially, ships’ captains would hire experienced local guides, who were familiar with the depth and potential hazards in and around their harbors, to guide their ships through these potentially treacherous waters. Ship piloting as an avocation began in the Netherlands. On March 9, 1694, the British Colony of New York passed a law appointing experienced local seafarers as “Sandy Hook Pilots,” and a pilots’ association was chartered.

In 1784, the New York legislature licensed its first maritime pilot, a measure intended to prevent insufficiently skilled boat operators from posing as pilots and endangering shipping. During the first half of the nineteenth century, however, as political corruption became rampant, politicians often appointed pilots on the basis of favoritism, not expertise. Moreover, pilots competed to be the first to reach a ship approaching New York Harbor, for the first pilot to reach the ship would be rewarded with the commission of piloting it into the harbor. These practices made the potential for error, and thus for tragedy, all the more likely. Indeed, several well-publicized maritime disasters paved the way for tighter regulation of pilots’ training and licensure, including the power to take disciplinary action against violators.

On November 22, 1836, the American flagship "Bristol" ran aground in gale-force winds because no pilots came to its aid. The "Mexico," an American barque, met a similar fate on January 1, 1837. At the time, the limited regulatory climate did not permit the negligent pilots to be held liable. In December 1836, the New Jersey legislature created a State Pilot Commission, appointed the sole licensing body for ship pilots, who could only become eligible after taking an examination and presenting references to their character and training. New York appointed its Board of Commissioners of Pilots in 1853. The New York legislature did make regulatory efforts for pilots prior to that—first in 1819, with the establishment of the Board of Wardens, predecessor to the current Board of Commissioners, and then in 1845, when the Board was to be overseen by the state Chamber of Commerce and the New York Board of Underwriters. However, political corruption continued to hamper the Board of Commissioners’ efforts to ensure maritime safety in New York Harbor. It was not until the 1853 legislation that the Board was fully empowered to pursue its regulatory mission.

An additional challenge to maritime safety was presented by the gradual replacement of sailing ships with steamships. Few steamship companies wished to risk their profits by requiring their captains to slow down enough for the pilot to board safely. Moreover, the pilots could not afford to exchange their sailboats for steam-powered pilot boats. On December 3, 1883, a collision between the steamship "Alaska" and the pilot boat "Columbia" (Pilot Boat #8) resulted in the deaths of Columbia’s entire crew. In response, the Board of Commissioners passed a bylaw requiring steamers to stop and allow the pilot to board. If either the steamer’s captain did not stop, or if the pilot delayed the steamer unduly while boarding, either one would be subject to a fine.

On December 1, 1895, the separate New York and New Jersey pilots’ associations consolidated into the United Pilots’ Benevolent Association of New York and New Jersey (now known as the Sandy Hook Pilots Association). One of their first actions was to purchase the entire fleet of pilot sailboats from the pilots and, using the proceeds from the subsequent sale of these boats (many of which begun second lives as racing vessels), provided the pilots with a fleet of steam-powered boats. These included two station boats, the "New York" and "New Jersey," which remained at the entrance to New York Harbor and provided accommodations for pilots awaiting duty, and four smaller pilot boats that transported pilots between the station boats and the ships they would pilot, as well as to and from shore. The association also instituted a rotation system, which eliminated the practice of competing for ships and ensured steady work for all pilots, with regular hours and pay.

Today, the Board of Commissioners of Pilots of New York (along with its counterpart for New Jersey, the New Jersey Maritime Pilot and Docking Commission) continues to regulate maritime pilotage, now on the Hudson River and on Long Island and Block Island Sound in addition to the Port of New York/New Jersey. The board oversees the training and licensure of bar pilots, investigates complaints against licensed pilots, and metes out disciplinary action when a licensee commits a violation. It also works with other agencies on regulations concerning shipping and the marine environs within its jurisdiction.


52 Linear Feet (62 document boxes, 55 half-sized document boxes, 79 unhoused volumes)


This collection documents the activities of the Board of Commissioners of Pilots of the State of New York, the licensing and regulatory body for maritime pilots in the Port of New York/New Jersey, Long Island and Block Island Sound, and Hudson River Districts. The collection includes log books for station boats, pilot boats, and incoming and outgoing ships; minutes of board meetings, personnel records, and tide tables.

Arrangement of Materials

Materials are arranged in four series according to their function: log books, minute books, personnel records, and tide tables. Log Books are further arranged in three sub-series based on the type of ship the logs originate from. Materials are arranged chronologically within each series and subseries.

Physical Location

Stephen B. Luce Library, SUNY Maritime College 6 Pennyfield Avenue Bronx, NY 10465 Telephone:(718) 409-7231

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Maritime College Archives acquired the collection in two separate accessions, both deposited on permanent loan by the Board of Commissioners of Pilots of the State of New York. The first accession occurred on March 1, 1966 and consists of the bulk of the log books. The second accession occurred on May 30, 2014 and consists of the board meeting minutes, four additional pilot-boat log books, personnel records, and tide tables.

Related Material at SUNY Maritime College

The North Atlantic Ports Association Records address common concerns about port and harbor management, including issues pertaining to the Port of New York from 1948 to the present.

The Records of the Hudson River Pilots’ Association pertain to a sister organization to the Sandy Hook Pilots’ Association. Currently, the Board of Commissioners has jurisdiction over the Hudson River District as well as the New York Harbor area.

Related Materials in Other Repositories

The Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago holds a letter from D.A. Nash, then Secretary for the Board of Commissioners, to Richard Ely, furnishing information about pilot boats, pilots, and pilots’ earnings for 1883, as well as annual reports for previous years.


Allen, Edward L. Pilot Lore, From Sail to Steam and Historical Sketches of the Various Interests Identified with the Development of the World’s Greatest Port. New York: United New York and New Jersey Sandy Hook Pilots Benevolent Associations, 1922.

Duffy, Francis J. Always On Station: The Story of the Sandy Hook Ship Pilots. Fleischmanns: Purple Mountain, 2008.

Fiore, Kristina. “Leading Giants By the Helm.” New Jersey Monthly, December 20, 2013. Accessed on September 12, 2016.

Ginzburg, Ralph. “The Pilots at Sandy Hook: 294 Years of Taking the Helm.” New York Times, April 17, 1988. Accessed on September 12, 2016.

Gormley, John. “Sandy Hook Station Boat Provides Rest for Pilots and Training for Apprentices.” Professional Mariner, May 14, 2007. Accessed on September 12, 2016.

Russell, Charles Edward. From Sandy Hook to 62o: Being Some Account of the Adventures, Exploits and Services of the Old New-York Pilot Boat. New York: Century, 1929.

St. John, Warren. “Toot, Toot! Crash!” New York Observer, October 6, 1997: 23.

Processing Information

At some point after the initial accession of log books in 1966 the volumes were numbered and a basic inventory created and published. In fall of 2016 Margaret Hammitt-McDonald created a DACS compliant finding aid for the collection, revising the arrangement of the log books and incorporating minutes books and other materials that were acessioned in 2014. Finding aid edited by Annie Tummino.

Records of the Board of Commissioners of Pilots of the State of New York
Margaret Hammitt-McDonald (Archival Intern) under the supervision of Annie Tummino (Archivist)
September, 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Stephen B. Luce Library Repository

6 Pennyfield Avenue
Bronx NY 10465 United States
(718) 409-7231