My name’s DiamondDug LaLonde.  And I AM a Great Lakes Self-Unloading Bulk Freighter Pilot.  I’ve been navigating ships on the Great Lakes of North America for 19 years.

Besides “piloting”…  I’ve been working aboard Great Lakes Freighters for about 38 years.  I’ve been a Dishwasher, Deckhand, Wiper, Gateman, A.B. Watchman and Wheelsman.

My Dad retired from this industry too.  My Mom says “it’s in our blood”.  I only know that I’m only truly “comfortable” when I’m in my room on a Great Lakes Self-Unloading Bulk Freighter “Steaming” down the Lake.  I LOVE being home with my Beautiful Wife – Linda LaLonde.  But when I’m at home – while she sleeps,  I don’t sleep – because I don’t feel the ship’s big Diesel Main Propulsion Engines vibrating underneath me when I’m living at home.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I won’t be happy to retire and finally go home for good.  I know that I’ll eventually get used to being at home.  The biggest reason I want to go home is so I can spend the rest of my years with the people I really love.  I really like the people here at work though too.  Some of my best friends are a few of the folks that I’ve worked with for so many years.

Life On A Great Lakes Self-Unloading Bulk Freighter

Life on a Great Lakes Ship is “different”, to say the least.  To begin with….  you must be willing to work 7 days a week, 8 hours a day.  To make it even MORE unusual a “Watchstander” must work 4 hours on and 8 hours off – around the clock.  The watches begin at midnight.  So the watches are called:  The 12 to 4 watch, the 4 to 8 watch and the 8 to 12 watch.

Now you can see how we work 2 four hour watches per day with 8 hours off between them.  These “watches” would be extremely unusual if you were to work these hours at a shore job.  But on a ship this is NORMAL.  Even on ships of other Countries.  But, not everybody on a ship is a “Watchstander”.  There are others who work “straight 8 hour days”.  It depends on if your job is necessary for the navigation of the vessel.

While Engineers of course don’t navigate – they are still necessary for navigation because there are so many mechanical contraptions we count on to keep the ship moving.  So there are 3 Engineers plus the Chief Engineer on board a ship to keep us moving.  But the Converyormen, for instance, are necessary for unloading the ship but not the navigation.  So they don’t stand watches and neither do the Galley crew and some other maintenance personnel.  But don’t worry – ALL of us work 8 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Why Do Great Lakes Merchant Seamen Make A Lot Of Money?

Some people who work ashore think Great Lakes Sailors make more money than is reasonable. That idea is absurd when you think about it. To begin with… Don’t you think we should be compensated a little “extra” for spending our lives away from our loved ones? Of course we should. But, we’re NOT – not really.

Hour for hour we don’t make more than people who work ashore and sometimes we make less. But since we work more than 40 hours a week – we are of course paid at an overtime “rate” for many of the hours we work. And of course we are paid at a “holiday rate” when we work on Holidays. But shouldn’t we be? Especially since we spend so many Holidays away from home?

You see, we “seem” to make a lot of money simply because we work a lot of overtime. But many people don’t see it that way and they “begrudge” us the money we make. These people do not see things the way things really are. They don’t look at the situation realistically. They don’t realize that anyone who works a job that KEEPS them from going home at night is usually compensated for living without seeing their loved ones. It saddens those of us who work here to think that some people believe we’re paid more than we’re worth.

Do You Want To Know MORE About Life On Great Lakes Ships?

If you do want to know more about how a Great Lakes Sailor lives when s/he is at work – simply keep coming back to this “Blog”.  Also, you can sign up for our (when I say “our” I mean “me”), bi-weekly Newsletter.  I go to great lengths to help people understand life and work on the Great Lakes Ships.

But right now, I have to get ready to stand my watch.

Your Friend,

PS:  I am on the 12 to 4 watch, (12×4) – because I am the 2nd Mate/Pilot.

    3 replies to "I Want To Be A Great Lakes Pilot"

    • Galen Witham

      Looking forward to this Doug!

    • greg jardine


    • Rob Woodman

      Terrific idea, Doug. Your an authentic expert on the subject and a first rate story teller. I’m in. woody

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.