Commerce Club-Captain Mitchem

Houston Pilots lead the way in Ship Channel navigation

Captain Mitchem
Houston Pilots

Captain Mark Mitchem, presiding officer of the Houston Pilots, offered an overview of the Pilot’s work and his perspective of the outlook for the Houston Ship Channel at the Port Bureau’s February 8 Commerce Club Luncheon at Houston Marriott South.

Describing the path a new Pilot takes, Mitchem explained that a Houston Pilot begins as a Deputy Branch Pilot, serving an apprenticeship with a commissioned Branch Pilot. In this capacity, the Deputy Branch Pilot will undergo 1,000 transits on the Ship Channel to hone the navigational skills needed on the waterway. The Houston Pilots also partner with San Jacinto College Maritime, utilizing their full-mission bridge simulators.
Using maps and charts, Mitchem demonstrated how the Houston Ship Channel has grown from its inception in the last century. He named traffic density, visibility off the new larger ships, increase in vessel size, longer transits due to bigger ships/more docks, and weather-related events as challenges managed by the Pilots. In relation to the Ship Channel’s busy traffic schedule, Mitchem said, “We don’t have congestion. We can always work the traffic needs out.”

He also referenced a variety of measures underway to meet industry’s growing needs. Mitchem indicated the final report from the Section 216 Study was due for release in July 2019, and that Ship Channel project improvement approvals could be received as early as 2019. In considering the future on the Channel, Mitchem stipulated, “The goal is always to run two ways.”

The ever-expanding vessel size, particularly of container ships, is a facet that is far reaching on the Ship Channel –

Figure 1:Size Comparison

affecting dredging requirements, dock capabilities, and navigation. Mitchem showed the growth in size via a view of a Maersk Triple-E class container vessel sketched between an outline of the Empire State Building and the Titanic. While the Empire State Building is slightly taller in the grouping, the container vessel overshadows both structures. (See Figure 1).

“Maintenance dredging, the deepening and widening of the Ship Channel, dock enhancements, and vessel traffic efficiency are the keys to keeping the Houston Ship Channel prosperous and competitive,” concluded Mitchem.Captain Mitchem has been a Houston Pilot for almost 22 years. He was elected to the position of presiding officer in the organization’s annual election in 2017.

  • Date March 19, 2018
  • Tags 2018 March