The first government-licensed free-floating raft pilot on the Rock Island Rapids between Le Claire and Davenport. Consequently, he was responsible for safe passage over a very dangerous stretch of the Mississippi River. Suiter was the first to hold the prestigious title of “Rapids Pilot.” Under his temporary command, rafts and boats were safely delivered over the treacherous waters of the Rock Island Rapids. Gordon Kilgore, President, National Rivers Hall of Fame, commented “Philip Suiter was one of the true pioneers of America’s rivers. When the young Lt. Robert E. Lee came to survey the Rock Island rapids in 1837, it was Philip Suiter who he turned to tell him where every channel and turn could be found.”

Suiter, recognized as an expert in piloting the rapids, was called on to testify in Hurd v. Rock Island Bridge Company in which the steamboat Effie Afton struck a pier, the Rock Island bridge, the first bridge to cross the Mississippi. Suiter testified on behalf of the railroad company. Suiter testified that the bridge was no obstruction to a good pilot, winning the case for the railroad company and their lawyer, Abraham Lincoln.

During the dry season of 1864, the Mississippi was at the lowest known level. Suiter made a mark in a ledge of rock near his home on the bank of the river. That mark became the standard gauge for low water mark and was adopted by the government.