Pilot Town


Originally known as Balize, Louisiana, Pilottown is the southern border of the Crescent Pilots Route, and the exchange point for the Crescent and Bar Pilots.  Vessels headed upriver are piloted by the Crescent Pilots and those headed down river are piloted by the Bar Pilots. Pilottown was settled about 100 years ago when traffic on the Mississippi river shifted from one channel to another. This forced river pilots to abandon their station about five miles downriver. Other people followed, attracted by the nearby National Delta Wildlife Refuge.  In the 19th and early 20th century, many pilots and their families lived here. The peak population was likely reached in the 1860's, when Balize had a population of over 800 people. The repeated devastation caused by violent storms and hurricanes caused most residents to relocate. Today the permanent population of Pilottown is less than 20 people.
The town now consists of a few buildings built on piers and connected by raised sidewalks. Only the Crescent River Port Pilots’ Association has housing in Pilottown for their members on call. 

Accessible only by boat or by helicopter, Pilottown is located in the swampy ground of the lower Mississippi River Delta, about 85 miles down-river of New Orleans (65 miles by air) and about 10 miles south of Venice, Louisiana. It is just upriver from the point where the river splits into multiple branches.  Despite the remote location, the Crescent Pilots’ Station has the latest technology and communication equipment to ensure the safe and efficient flow of maritime commerce. 

Pilot Boat

At boarding, pilots must climb onto moving ships via a 30-foot rope ladder leading up the side of the hull from the deck of a pilot boat. This can be a dangerous undertaking, with the ship and pilot boat pitching back and forth and the ladder swinging from the ship. Once on board, a pilot acts as advisor to the captain, setting the ship’s course and speed, while steering the vessel to avoid hazards and other ships. Often pilots must overcome language barriers to direct and coordinate the activities of a foreign crew.