Overview

Texas state legislation enacted in 1923 tasked the members of the
Port of Houston Authority’s Port Commission
to provide oversight of the Houston Pilots.

Chapter 66 of the Texas Transportation Code provides that the Houston Port Commissioners serve as the Board of Pilot Commissioners for Harris County Ports, with exclusive jurisdiction over the Houston Pilots, as they undertake the piloting of vessels in Harris County port facilities.

The Houston Pilots serve a crucial role in ensuring safety of vessels at the Port of Houston by taking direct command or transferring directions to a ship’s captain while navigating the 52-mile long Houston Ship Channel.
   
The primary responsibility of a Houston Pilot is to protect the public interest by facilitating the safe and efficient movement of vessels in our state waters along the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bar.


The Board of Pilot Commissioners, also known as the Pilot Board or Pilot Commission, has a number of statutory duties:

  • • It approves the number of pilots necessary to provide adequate pilot services for the Port of Houston.
  • • It accepts applications for pilot commissions and deputy pilot certificates, and determines whether applicants meet the qualifications for a pilot. Once the Pilot Board determines that an applicant is qualified, his or her application is submitted to the governor for appointment as pilot.
  • • The Pilot Board establishes pilotage rates. It also approves the locations for pilot stations, establishes times during which pilot services are available, and adopts rules and issue orders to pilots or vessels “when necessary to secure efficient pilot services.”
  • • The Pilot Board hears and decides complaints relating to pilot conduct. It makes recommendations to the governor when a pilot’s commission or certificate should not be renewed, or should be revoked.
  • • It can institute investigations and hearings to consider casualties, accidents, or other actions that violate the Houston Pilots Licensing and Regulatory Act.
  • • Finally, the Pilot Board can impose penalties on a person who pilots a vessel into or out of the Port of Houston who is not a licensed Houston pilot.


The Executive Director of the Port of Houston Authority serves as Secretary to the Pilot Board, and the General Counsel of the Port of Houston Authority provides legal counsel to the Pilot Board.

Staff members of the Port of Houston Authority’s Legal Department work with the Application Review Committee appointed by the Board of Pilot Commissioners. The committee includes voting members from the Houston Pilots Association, the Port of Houston maritime industry, the Harris County community at large, and the Port of Houston Authority. This committee conducts the preliminary review of pool applicant, deputy branch pilot and branch pilot applications.

Legal Department members also work with the Board of Pilot Commissioners-appointed Pilot Board Investigation and Recommendation Committee, comprised of members from the Houston Pilots Association, the Port of Houston maritime industry, and the Port of Houston Authority; and nonvoting advisory members from the U. S. Coast Guard. This committee conducts investigations and hearings of complaints and incidents, and recommends action to the Board of Pilot Commissioners.

The Port Authority’s Managing Director of Health, Safety, Security and Environmental (HSSE) chairs both committees and a Port Authority staff member serves as Compliance Coordinator..