Scott Satchfield / Eyewitness News

NEWORLEANS - For Capt. Steve Hathorn, a river pilot, this is where years of experience are critical.

Hathorn's assignment -- guide the Clipper Mars, a 43,000 ton Norwegian tanker, from the Reserve area past New Orleans, at a time when the Mississippi River is churning and swirling with increased force.

'You have to be more alert,' Hathorn said.'Everybody's on their toes out here, because, just everything happens a lot faster than it does in low river, or normal river.'

The view from the pilot's quarters -- known as the bridge -- tells you, the river is far from normal.

'It's deeper but you need more room because of all the hazards that you encounter,' Hathorn said.'Some of the ships slide, and it just takes more room to operate for everybody.'

The elevated river beds known as battures are now completely submerged, as water creeps toward the tops of levees, with rooftops of homes sitting on the other side.

For pilots, the stakes are high.

With it this high, you could actually get up and hit the levee if the water level is high enough and the ship had the right draft on the bow,' Hathorn said.

It's a reason restrictions are in place.

Vessels with a draft of more than 30 feet must have a pilot on board at all times, even when anchored, and southbound traffic can move only in daylight hours.

Passing the Bonnet Carre Spillway presents more challenges.

The tremendous force of the water being directed into the lake creates a pull on ships. Because of that, only one vessel is allowed to pass at a time.

As the Clipper Mars maneuvers through numerous riverbend sand past dozens of other vessels, the crew is locked in to the task at hand.

Hathorn says up and down the river, coordination is key.

'I think with the river like this, it takes everybody pulling together to make it safe: the pilots, industry, shipping interests, towing interests, the Coast Guard, (Army) Corps of Engineers -- it takes everybody working together as a team, to make it safe during this time,' he said.

A time on the Mississippi, unlike any he's ever seen.

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