Capt. John DeCruz
Sandy Hook Pilots Association
Capt. John DeCruz grew up watching oceangoing ships coming and going into New York Harbor from his hometown of Jersey City, N.J. Perhaps not surprisingly, he chose a career in the maritime industry, following a path blazed by his father and grandfather before him.
DeCruz, 52, joined the Sandy Hook Pilots 25 years ago, becoming the first Black pilot to join that storied and elite group of mariners. For the last seven years, he has served as the group’s president. The role involves managing the pilots’ operations and safely guiding ships to and from the busiest port on the U.S. East Coast.
“I like the freedom of working for myself,” said DeCruz, who like most maritime pilots is an independent contractor. “My license is given to me only — it is not in the company name. Anything I do is on me, so I need to make sure I am at the top of my game every time I go to work.”
DeCruz’s grandfather worked on the New York waterfront, and so did his father, a master mariner who worked in many maritime roles including captain of self-propelled tankers and tugboats along the coast after leaving the U.S. Navy.
“He would bring me down to the local yacht basin, what is now Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, and I would see tugs and all kinds of ships coming into the harbor,” he recalled. “I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
DeCruz graduated from SUNY Maritime College and sailed on deep-sea ships for four years before joining the pilots. He spent five years as a pilot trainee before becoming a deputy pilot in 2002. In that capacity, he boards ships up to and over 1,000 feet long and navigates the vessel safely into its berth. He considers it a dream come true to serve as a pilot in his home port.
“Every day is different, and there are days that are challenges and days that are boring,” DeCruz said. “Like anyone, I prefer the boring days.