California’s 56 bar pilots provide a vital service, boarding commercial ships as they approach a buoy west of the Golden Gate Bridge and guiding them through dicey Bay Area waters. A giant sandbar in the bay gives bar pilots their name and helps make the zone one of the most treacherous ports in North America.
Bar pilots also make a handsome living, splitting the spoils of a state-sanctioned monopoly that earns them about $400,000 a year each – costs borne by the shipping industry. They take business-class trips to France for training, which they sometimes combine with European vacations. And they work seven days on, seven days off – enough for one full-time pilot to spend more time working as a real estate agent, according to a legislative staff report [PDF].
This week, a legislative oversight committee considered some reforms to the state's Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun, which licenses and regulates the pilots. The goal of the Joint Legislative Sunset Review Committee is to ensure that various government agencies are "still necessary and that they’re running as efficiently and effectively as they can," said the committee's chairwoman, Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, D-Lodi. The committee will vote on staff recommendations at its next hearing.