“Viking Ship Sailing the Great Lakes Is Getting Conquered by U.S. Regulations”

“After making stops at Canadian ports, the Draken’s crew was told by Coast Guard officials last week that if [the meticulously restored Norwegian Viking craft] wanted to sail through the Great Lakes, it had to hire a certified pilot, paid at an hourly rate that would amount to about $400,000 by the trip’s end. If unable to pay, the vessel would be forced to turn back.” The Coast Guard mandates what must be paid to pilots on the Great Lakes and recently raised its target compensation “to about $326,000 a year…unlike in Canada, the American regulations offer no exemption based on tonnage or size.” [Mike McPhate, New York Times]


  • Here’s a lot more on this awful situation. Apparently the Canadians have the authority to waive the fees under certain circumstances, which is what they did. The Norwegians assumed that the Americans would be just as accomodating – fat chance! Because the ship is selling tour tickets, it is considered commercial rather than recreational, so the US Coast Guard says it cannot grant them an exception. It claims that this is all legislatively mandated, which is probably true. Great Lakes pilots make $300,000 – $400,000 per year, and the rates are set by the Coast Guard. The rates have more than doubled in the last ten years. What a happy situation!

  • So Northern European countries in the early Middle Ages missed this obvious solution to the Viking marauders?

    Who knew?

    King Canute, call your Privy Council!

  • This is not shocking to me. Sure, I would prefer that there be a way to grant exceptions on a case by case basis. But the rule is sound. I would not want commercial vehicles traveling on any coast line without a pilot who has been approved by the Coast Guard. Perhaps it would have been better that it did not apply to this ship. But it does.

    This is much different than needing a license to braid hair or be an interior decorator. Much like you want truck drivers to have a CDL, you want ships to be guided by pilots. And it is government’s duty in this case to protect the public from unproven pilots or drivers.

    • One difference is that (other than the minimum wage and similar things that apply to everyone) the government doesn’t mandate what a company must pay the truck driver. At least I don’t think it does.

      Also, why does it matter if the vehicle is commercial or recreational, if the reason for the regulation is safety? On the roads, you need a CDL if your vehicle is over a certain size/weight. You don’t need one if you’re a pizza delivery guy in a compact car, even though your use is commercial.

      • Vehicle size/weight is not the sole determinant of the requirement for a CDL.

        Wisconsin requires a CDL for any vehicle that is designed to carry more than 16 passengers.

        Wisconsin does not require a CDL for RVs under 45 feet unless they are being used in commercial activity or for farm equipment driven by a farmer or a family member or employee of a farmer.

    • So what good really is an American pilot in this situation. Doubt that any training or prior experience properly prepares them for a traditional viking ship.
      Rent seeking and regulatory capture pure and simple.

      • It is my understanding that xea pilots are not involved in running a ship, that is what a captain does (as opposed to air pilots, who run their planes). Instead, they serve to guide ships through the waters, where there may be significant obstacles and the obstacles may change with the tide, weather, etc. This is unlike airports, where you can see what you are landing on. Given these responsibilities, it is simply irrelevant what type of ship needs to be piloted.

      • Gasman,

        I did followed the links and the “mandatory” pilot doesn’t physically steer the ship. Out on the open lake the pilot doesn’t do that much. In shallower or more congested waters, he advises the captain and navigator of the ship on how to navigate around local hazards.

        This explains why the requirement only applies to foreign vessels. A local crew should already be aware of local hazards.

        Likely the reason the pilot is required at all times, is that the CG doesn’t want to get stuck ferrying pilots between ships and shore constantly, Not to mention, it would be kind of hard to put a helicopter down on the deck of a Viking longship.

        On the other hand the Viking longships were relatively flat bottomed and shallow draft, so a lot of things that would be navigation hazards for modern ships wouldn’t be a hazard for a longship.

  • I wonder how many retired Coast Guard people retire to become Great Lakes pilots.

  • Not sure this is a “commercial” vessel in that it’s not a profit-making enterprise and that any sales activity is just to pay the bills. Im sure that could be source of flexibility.

  • @JF–

    King Canute was one of the Vikings himself. But your suggestion might have saved the reputation of Ethelred Unraed…

  • Apparently the US rule only distinguishes between recreational and commercial vessels.

    Would it be possible for the owners of the Draken Harald Hårfagre to declare that they would collect no fees for tours or rides in US waters, and thereby declare their vessel to be recreational while in US waters?

    The owners could still ask for donations for their vessel while in US waters, as long as they didn’t require a donation for a tour or a ride. Or would only asking for donations somehow render their vessel commercial?

    • They could declare it s religious voyage by cutting a blood eagle into anyone who didn’t contribute.


  • More proof that the Kensington runestone must be a hoax…

  • No Great Lake pilot volunteers?