Calif bill highlights handsome pay of ship pilots

June 14, 2011 - 7:14 PM
California Ship Pilots

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, urges lawmakers to approve her measure to increase the pay of the harbor pilots who navigate massive cargo ships through San Franciso Bay, during a hearing at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, June 14, 2011. The bill would raise the annual salary from about $400,000 annually. The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association contends San Francisco Bay's pilots are among the best paid in the industry and that any increase will hurt Northern California ports' competitiveness. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California lawmaker's bill to increase the pay of pilots who navigate massive cargo ships through San Francisco Bay is focusing attention on the handsome incomes of these little-known mariners.

A state Senate committee heard debate Tuesday over Assemblywoman Fiona Ma's proposal to raise the rates of San Francisco Bay's bar pilots, who earn about $400,000 annually.

The pilots claim stagnant rates over the past several years have made it difficult to retain experienced pilots and attract new recruits to the high-skill, high-risk profession.

The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association contends San Francisco Bay's pilots are among the best paid in the industry, and that any increase will hurt Northern California ports' competitiveness.

The bay's 55 pilots operate as independent contractors who split all annual earnings equally.