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Navigating oceangoing vessels requires extensive maritime skills, with strong currents or bad weather conditions adding to the risks. A U.S. Coast Guard certified pilot is required for vessels engaged in foreign trade transiting the canal, the Delaware River and Bay, and Chesapeake Bay. Many shipping firms use pilots from the Delaware River and Bay or Maryland pilots' associations.
Typically a Delaware River and Bay pilot boards a ship as it passes Lewes, Delaware, entering the Delaware Bay, and guides the vessel up the bay and into the canal to Chesapeake City. A Maryland pilot then takes over and continues the ship's transit into the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore or Annapolis, Maryland.
The procedure is reversed for eastbound ships. At Chesapeake City a "changing of the pilots" takes place, while the pilot launch maneuvers alongside a vessel as it continues its journey without stopping. The pilots use the ship's gangway, Jacob's Ladder or port entrance to climb aboard or leave the vessel.
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