Pilot groups and port authorities have worked together to grow East Coast ports in a safe and environmentally responsible way. This growth has happened under strict safety and environmental regulations, including seasonal vessel speed regulations imposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to protect North Atlantic right whales (NARW). Last year, however, without sufficient scientific or economic impact data, NOAA proposed radical changes to these regulations. The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) and the American Pilots’ Association (APA), organizations representing key parts of the maritime supply chain, have serious concerns and have urged NOAA to modify its proposal.
Current NOAA regulations, which limit vessels 65 feet and longer to 10 knots from November through May, have been in place since 2008, and ports and pilots have adapted to comply with these regulations. In August 2022 NOAA proposed additional changes to these regulations that would, among other things, apply speed restrictions to vessels 35 feet and longer, including pilot boats, and alter the existing “navigation safety deviation clause.” Applying speed restrictions to a larger class of vessels, including pilot boats, and altering the navigation safety deviation clause as proposed would be dangerous, negatively impact port efficiency, and unduly burden pilots who need to be focused on safety.