1718: As long as there was a Louisiana, there were Bar Pilots. There the French built a Pilot station called the Balise, also spelled Belize or Balize, which means beacon; because the Pilots erected fire towers to mark the entrance.
1720s: The early Pilots faced considerable dangers boarding the ships from very small boats and consequently many died from drowning accidents. Attempts were made using harrow-like machines to scour out and deepen the channel but because of storms and silting they would fill in and shift to another location.
1762: Louisiana was ceded to Spain by secret treaty. When Spain took over Louisiana, they built a station in the same general location and it was called Spanish Balise.
1800: In the early days of the Balise, the Pilots and their deputies were required to take frequent soundings of the bar with lead lines to determine where the deepest parts of the channel were. Competition among the Pilots got violent and the toughest with the fastest boats got to the ships first and got the job.
1800: The Balise was also to be a fortress to protect Louisiana from pirates and nations at war with France.
1805: The Pilot Act of 1805 sought to regulate the appointment of branch Pilots and eliminate the abuses of the Spanish Pilot concession.
1813: The Pilots were sometimes called Branch Pilots because they piloted the branches of the Mississippi river delta. Link to more: Many were from Massachusetts, Maine and Nova Scotia. Some were from England and Scandinavia. Before they became an association, they would combine themselves to particular sailing Pilot cutters, and cruise off the coast looking for sails on the horizon.
1846: A Legislative report stated, "Order succeeded confusion, soberness of living followed the scenes of riot and debauchery and a village of comfortable and convenient houses has sprung up like bright exhalations."
1847: DeBow's Commercial Review of May 1847 claimed the population of Balise was about 350.
1878: The Louisiana Pilots Association was formed. The first sailing Pilot boat to get to an incoming ship and board the Pilot got the job. First come, first served.
1879: A group of the Pilots got together, pooled their money, and built a steam Pilot boat which they named, Jennie Wilson after the wife of one of the Pilots. The Jennie was the first steam Pilot boat in the United States. It was faster than any of the sailing Pilot cutters and would arrive first to the ships, especially when there wasn't much wind.
1879: The charter of the Associated Branch Pilots consisted of thirty-eight bar or branch Pilots who signed the papers. This established a business partnership agreement which also put the responsibilities of the individual Pilots and the organization into print.
After the war, in 1879, the jetties of James B. Eads opened South Pass to navigation, which was a depth of nearly 31 feet, giving it the greatest depth of water over the bar the river had ever known.
1881: The Pilots built another steam Pilot boat and named it the Underwriter. It was larger than the Jennie and could go out in rougher weather, even in the hurricane of 1905.
1899: The rest of the combination Pilots joined with the Jennie Wilson Pilots. and the association was reorganized for a period of 50 years and was known as the Associated Branch Pilots. Each Pilot had to own equal stock in the Pilot boats and all other equipment used in the service. They shared the expenses equally and divided the rest of the pilotage income among themselves.
1942: It was a dangerous place at this time, because German submarines running in "Wolf Packs" were torpedoing ships as they lay dead in the water to pick up or discharge their Pilots. This method of boarding ships was slow and dangerous because the Underwriter or Jennie would go out to a ship and lower a small yawl boat for the boatmen to row the Pilots to go aboard. The Coast Guard provided fast picket boats so the Pilots could board with the ships underway at speed. This was very dangerous and while boarding a ship with its lights blacked out a Bar Pilot named George Peterson missed the ladder and was drowned.
1946: The Bar Pilots bought a wooden hulled trawler named "Young Georgia" and converted it to an alongside boarding boat which they renamed "Louisiana" This method of boarding worked well and another trawler was converted to Pilot use.
1960s: The Bar Pilots started acquiring high speed aluminum crew type boats that could service numerous ships at a time and over larger areas.
Over the long history of the Bar Pilots, commerce for the Port of New Orleans has steadily increased with minor setbacks due to destructive hurricanes. The Bar Pilots have served the port and the State of Louisiana with pride, honor and distinction with excellent records of safety and progress. They have kept up with the changing courses of the Passes and the parade of technological advancements from magnetic compass to gyro to radar to VHF radios and AIS. The ships have steadily increased in size and draft, ever challenging the Bar Pilots training and expertise. From the Balize to the new station at Southwest Pass, the Bar Pilots have exhibited continuity and dedication and service.
For more in depth information about the Bar Pilot's History click here.