Charleston Harbor Police & Harbor Pilots | Project Discovery

A harbor is a very busy place. At the Charleston Harbor in Charleston, South Carolina, the waters are patrolled by the harbor police, whose job it is to monitor the waters for boater safety, investigate accidents and suicides, man a dive team, and serve as backup for the U.S. Coast Guard. The Charleston Harbor Police operates 13 boats and jet skis. Blue lights and sirens are mounted on fast boats that are similar to other police vehicles.

The underwater recovery team is an elite group of harbor police officers. This part-time team recovers such items as guns, bullets, and cars. To be able to function underwater, the underwater recovery team requires a lot of equipment. Each diver must have an air regulator, an aqua mask, and a dry suit for protection in water that can reach temperatures of 45 to 50 degrees. The divers also use such equipment as metal detectors to search areas in patterns. A speargun or a bang stick is used in an attack by ocean creatures. An oxygen kit and a backboard are also readily available in case of injuries.

The harbor police work with the U.S. Customs Department and the DEA to prevent the importation of drugs. An underwater camera system is used in many of the drug investigations.

Harbor pilots are another specially trained group of people working in the Charleston Harbor. All pilots must have a captain’s license, which requires completion of a three-month training program.

Harbor pilots are responsible for safely getting ships into the harbor, so there is a working staff in the pilot organization 24 hours a day. Harbor pilots drive a boat 16 miles into the ocean to meet incoming cargo ships. The boats used by the pilots are well equipped for extended stays in the ocean. They house 16-cylinder engines, a shower, a galley, and staterooms with beds. Mounted and accessible on the pilot’s boat are a GPS (Global Positioning System), a depth finder, a compass, and a radio.

Because 95 percent of the ships that come into the harbor are from foreign countries, there is often a language barrier between the harbor pilots and the pilots of the cargo ships. The pilots communicate with each other using hand signals and blackboards.

The ships run at approximately 8 knots, and they must stay within the channel. Channels are marked with red and green buoys.

The requirements for becoming a harbor pilot include college graduation, selection by the Commissioners of Pilotage, U.S. citizenship, and good physical condition. The Merchant Marine Academy trains future harbor pilots.