The history of the Sandy Hook Pilots begins in 1694 when the population of New York City was under 3,000. In those days, the harbors of the Northeast were the commercial arteries of the New World. It soon became apparent that the aid to vessels entering and departing the port was necessary, and the Colonial Assembly commissioned a small group of local seamen to assist the ship masters as pilots. This port would eventually become one of the greatest commercial centers of the world.
The first harbor pilots in New York relied on oars and sails, and their history was marked by unusual skill and speed from the first. Among the noteworthy events was the winning of the America's Cup race by a boat developed from designs used by the Pilots and skippered in the race by one of their own, Captain Dick Brown.
The modern history of the Sandy Hook Pilots started towards the end of the 1800's. It began with a tragedy-the loss of nine boats and 17 pilots in the savage blizzard of 1888. After that event, the New York State Board of Pilot Commissioners forced the many competing local pilot groups to combine and cooperate. As a result, the New York and New Jersey Pilots merged in 1895, pooled their resources and built their first steam pilot boat, the NEW YORK. Shortly afterwards, the NEW JERSEY was added, and the modern era of commercial traffic in New York harbor was underway.
The Sandy Hook Pilots have been key participants in the rich history of the Port of New York/New Jersey as well as the country. It was their pilot schooners that broke through the British blockade of New York to warn the young country of the start of the War of 1812. Sandy Hook Pilots served with distinction during both World Wars. During World War II the pilots worked tirelessly to pilot three times the usual number of vessels to safely guide the vital convoy vessels bound to Europe for the war effort.
The pilots and their apprentices have also been involved in many life saving operations just off the coast of New York and New Jersey. For example, it was the Pilot Boat NEW YORK that not only rescued survivors at the scene of the MORRO CASTLE disaster, but actually took a line from the burning vessel in an attempt to tow her to safety. The pilot boat WANDERER went along side of the U.S. Navy destroyer TURNER after she had exploded and was afire. During a series of minor explosions, and at the risk of a major explosion, which might destroy both vessels, survivors were taken off. After the rescue was completed the Turner blew up and went to the bottom.
In the 90's, apprentices operating several Pilot Boats aided in the rescue of passengers aboard the fishing boat BRONX QUEEN after she began taking on water and then sunk. They also saved several lives of a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew that crashed into the water while making a landing on the Ambrose tower light structure.
Recent history saw the Sandy Hook Pilots deeply involved with the response and recovery efforts that occured on September 11,2001. All Pilots, apprentice pilots, and many of the employees were recognized with the presentation of individual 9-11 Transportation Medals and Ribbons by Norman Minetta, Secretary of Transportation.
These are examples of the history and dedication to service throughout their history that prompted then New York State Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt to write of the Sandy Hook Pilots. "Your staunch pilot boats are always ready in storm and fog, and it takes skill, courage and long years of experience to carry on this important and hazardous work so necessary to our commerce. I congratulate you on your remarkable record..."