Sandy Hook station boat provides rest for pilots and training for apprentices

New York, the station boat of the Sandy Hook Pilots, was new in 1972. Thirty-five years later, the boat is good as new.
The trend among pilot groups is to move away from the big, expensive floating dormitories that serve as station boats. Instead, most pilots these days are whisked between ship and shore by smaller, fast aluminum-hull boats that can make 25 knots even in rough seas.
The Sandy Hook Pilots plotted a different course. Several years ago they decided to have the aging 185-foot, steel-hull New York refurbished and repowered. In the

Pilot apprentice Joe Paulis serves as captain of the station boat when he is not riding ships with pilots. Apprentices spend one week out of every three as crewmembers aboard the station boat honing the seamanship skills. [Brian Gauvin photos]

summer of 2004, New York entered the GMD Shipyard, which operates in what used to be the Brooklyn Navy Yard. A hundred days and $1.7 million later, the Sandy Hook Pilots took delivery of a boat that could operate at 16 knots rather than 12, while consuming 15 percent less fuel and emitting much less pollution.

New York‘s twin screws are now powered by two Caterpillar 3512 diesels that put out 1,100 hp each. The engine controls are all electronic, and state-of-the art monitoring and alarm systems were installed.
“This repower was a complete home run,” said Edward Burns, the pilots’ port engineer, who served as project manager of the repowering. The boat, he said, is now “more powerful, faster and more fuel efficient.”
The fuel savings are so significant, Burns said, “the fuel comes pretty close to paying for the project.” And the engines run much cleaner. “When you look at it while it’s running, you don’t see anything coming off the stacks,” he said.
Tim Haley, the chief engineer, is also pleased with the outcome. After two years, the engines had logged over 5,700 hours without any problems. “All we’ve done is change the oil,” he said.
With two rooms each with two double bunks, New York can sleep eight on the main

Chef Roy Jirak presents a hearty serving of beef prime rib. [Brian Gauvin photos]

deck. Down below there are 12 rooms, each with two beds. That means the boat has bunks for 32 pilots. There is also a full galley with a staff of three and a spacious lobby-like lounge where pilots can relax. There is also a separate area for watching TV.

“It is like a floating hotel,” observed Capt. Edward Sweeney, New Jersey president of the Sandy Hook Pilots. “It’s also a rest station. It’s nice to have a place to lie down. We usually keep an extra man or two out there for ships who just happen to show up.”
The boat’s builder’s plaque in the engine room shows that New York was Marinette Marine Corp.’s hull No. 799 and was launched on Nov. 20, 1971. More than three decades later, when the pilots had to decide what to do about the aging station boat, their deliberations were made much simpler by an astonishing fact: “The hull was effectively brand new,” Burns said.
That was because the boat was equipped from the beginning with an anticorrosion system that puts an electronic current through the hull to counteract electrolysis of the metal. “It’s an expensive system,” Burns said, but over the years is has proven to be “worth its weight in gold.”
The excellent state of the hull meant that the pilots had the option of refurbishing the ship rather than replacing it with a brand new vessel (at a cost of perhaps $20

Chief Engineer Tim Haley in the engine room with the twin Caterpillar 3512 diesels. The engines increase the boat’s speed by a third while reducing fuel use by 15 percent. [Brian Gauvin photos]

million) or perhaps of following the lead of other pilot groups by giving up station boats altogether and relying on a fleet of pilot launches instead.

The area covered by the Sandy Hook Pilots extends from Ambrose Light at the entrance to New York Harbor east as far as Rhode Island and up the Hudson as far as Albany. “We’d have to have a huge fleet of small boats to keep up with that traffic,” Burns said.
Using helicopters was also something the pilots considered, even conducting a two-week trial. But the costs proved too high. “The expense would have been more than our pilot boat operation,” said Sweeney.
So in the end they decided to stick with the station boats. (The pilots group operates two station boats. New Jersey is somewhat smaller than New York, and operates during the warmer months when weather and sea conditions are less severe.)
The pilots had another compelling reason for staying with station boats: Their apprentice system is built around them.
The pilots now operate with 84 pilots and 12 apprentices. Vessel traffic is growing by

One of the pilot launches pulls up alongside New York to pick up a pilot. [Brian Gauvin photos]

about 7 percent a year. So the challenge facing the pilots is to keep the size of their membership in line with growth as members retire.

Every two years, the pilots create a list of their top 10 candidates for apprentices. Typically, six of those candidates will be enrolled in the five-year apprentice program.
Joe Paulis, a 2002 graduate of Massachusetts Maritime Academy, became an apprentice four years ago. A big part of his training involves serving as captain of the station boat. His duties include conning the boat as it meanders back and forth in the busy rendezvous area near Ambrose Light.
The captain of the station boat functions like “the air traffic control for New York Harbor,” Paulis said. He make sure the ships are on time, checks drafts and ensures that the pilot assigned to a ship is of the proper grade for a vessel of that size.
He also monitors the movement of the smaller pilot boats as they shuttle pilots back and forth between the ships and the station boat. That also means alerting pilots who have been resting aboard the station boat that a pilot boat is about to arrive to take them to their next job.
“Getting the right wake-up calls for the pilots, that’s the most important thing,” Paulis observed wryly.
The training program is built around a three-week rotation:
• One week as a crewmember aboard the station boat,
• One week riding ships to learn by observing the licensed pilots (since an apprentice will ride an average of 12 ships in a week, that means about 1,000 over the five-year apprenticeship),
• One week ashore.
Apprentices start out as deck hands. After a year and a half, they begin serving as mate on the station boat and later move up to captain. After they have completed

Capt. Bill Blake relaxes in the pilot lounge while waiting for his next assignment. [Brian Gauvin photos]

the apprenticeship, they must then pass a state exam to obtain a pilot’s license.

Sweeney became an apprentice in 1972 at the age of 19. At that time he had two years of college but no Coast Guard license. He became a pilot in 1980 after completing what was then a seven-an-a-half-year-long program.
Paulis illustrates how the training and trainees have changed. As a graduate of a maritime academy, he has a degree from a four-year school, which is now a requirement. And his apprenticeship, while it will be shorter than Sweeney’s, will be more intensive.
“It’s an accelerated apprenticeship from what I went through,” Sweeney said. “When I was an apprentice it was six days on, three days off. The emphasis now is educating them as opposed to cheap labor. It’s a nice schedule. We try to mentally challenge them.”

Paulis agreed. “It’s a great training program,” he said. He also had kind words for New York: “It’s a great training platform.” •

By Professional Mariner Staff