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Riding along with the port pilots of Los Angeles (Photos)




Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Port Pilot Brett McDaniel gets onto large cargo ships like the Hyundai Faith to direct them into The Port of Los Angeles.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Port Pilot Brett McDaniel will climb the ladder to board the Hyundai Faith ship and lead it into The Port of Los Angeles.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Cargo on the Hyundai Faith's ship will be unloaded at The Port of Los Angeles.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Boat captain Raymond Maese brings port pilots out to incoming vessels.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
A member of the Hyundai Faith vessel waves to Brett McDaniel and his crew as the approach the vessel.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Members of the Hyundai Faith from Korea wait for Port Pilot Brett McDaniel to board their ship.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Port Pilot Brett Mc Daniel boards the Hyundai Faith ship.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
A cargo vessel from Korea carries goods that will be distributed in the U.S.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Robin Craigen is a deck hand on the boat that takes port pilots out to large cargo vessels.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Sea Lions relax on a buoy in The Port of Los Angeles.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Cranes pick up containers from cargo ships in the Port of Los Angeles which received 2,180 vessels in 2012.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Port Pilot Brett McDaniel talks with colleagues before heading out to guide large vessels at The Port of Los Angeles.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Port Pilot Brett McDaniels prepares to get onto a large cargo vessel at The Port of Los Angeles
Port Pilot Brett McDaniel started working at The Port of Los Angeles in 1987.
Mae Ryan/KPCC


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Nearly everything imported from Asia has to get here somehow, from the iPhone in your hand, to the car you're driving, to the socks on your feet. Often the first US stop in that journey is the Port of Los Angeles.

More than 2,200 ships docked here last year, bringing in over $280 billion in cargo. At the port, you'll find one of the highest-paid LA city employees: port pilots. There are about a dozen port pilots in LA, and on average they earn around $320,000 annually.

Los Angeles is also the only place where these pilots are city workers.; elsewhere, they're usually subcontracted through private companies.

We wanted to know what they do to earn that paycheck, so we hopped aboard a boat carrying pilot Brett McDaniel. He was en route several miles out to sea to greet the incoming container ship the Hyundai Faith.

It was on the last leg on its month-long journey across the Pacific from South Korea, and McDaniel is there to help navigate it in.

LA port pilots must know from memory the entire 6,000-acre complex of the port. McDaniel uses that knowledge as well as his maritime experience to nudge this massive ship into the dock.

Once he boards the ship, he'll talk with the ship's captain and crew about the weather conditions, what the ship is capable, and more in order to assess how to safely bring it in. It's a delicate job, as one wrong move can cost millions of dollars. Sometimes it takes hours to move large ships into the port.

Once it docks, its cargo can be unloaded onto trains and semis bound for the rest of the country -- port pilots are an important link in global trade.

But for Brett McDaniel, continuing his decades-long career being at sea and meeting new people is enough. "I don't care what they pay because I'd be doing it anyway," he said. "But I'm happy to know I'm one of the highest-paid. I just hope my boss doesn't find out."