In the 18th century Vallisaari was home to pilots who used to guide ships into and out of Helsinki. These pilots lived in humble cottages in the northwestern part of the island, just by the narrow Kustaanmiekka Strait where ships especially needed guidance. The pilots caused considerable public order problems, since their other activities included distilling moonshine and running illegal bars. These distractions sometimes led them to neglect their safety work. It was also suspected that the islanders were smuggling and selling other illicit spirits. After the Russians took over in 1808, these activities were limited, and a special area for distilling liquor was set aside behind brick walls.
In 1878 the pilots were rehoused in a specially built Pilots’ House on the island’s northern shore, further away from the artillery base. In 1910 the island of Hylkysaari, near today’s Helsinki Zoo, was assigned to the pilots, but some remained on Vallisaari due to the lack of space on Hylkysaari. The last pilots based on Vallisaari finally moved away in the 1920s. The Pilots’ House stands today as the most prominent reminder of this colourful community of islanders.