You may notice that I post to another site “Master of Towing Vessels Assn.” with these articles. Though you’ll see some subtle differences editorially, essentially they are the same.
The responsibilities of the pilothouse watch stander by definition are to stay awake and alert. The number of tools at hand to facilitate a proper lookout and safe passage include compasses (magnetic and gyro), radar, DGPS, AIS, or a combination of all in a chart plotter, radios, cell phones, engine room monitors, and alarms. The pilothouse watch stander is tasked with the duties of piloting and navigating his vessel safely for the duration of his watch which can last anywhere from 4 to 8 hours at a stretch. In the towing industry it’s usually a 6-hour watch and it has been this way for decades.
The new Crew Endurance Management Systems that are being marched out are testament to the level of concern and struggle for solutions.
Now generally speaking I’m not interested in arguing against the C.E.M.S. idea, in fact I agree with much of it but I believe the “tugboat reality” is being ignored for the most part when it comes to this approach.
The four-part evaluation called for with the C.E.M. system addresses the basics regarding reducing noise levels, darkened sleeping quarters, minimizing extraneous noise, and a proper diet. The evaluation is by no means a cut and dried schedule of requirements, it’s more of a guide, subject to fine-tuning over time. It gets complicated enough that a “mature system” would make provisions to ask the operator to use less throttle to minimize shudder and vibration. Aww Jeez, are we going to sing Kumbaya now? For crying out loud it ain’t the Love Boat!
On a tugboat, these criteria are not easily met at the outset since the environmental factors and noise levels would be nearly inescapable. Sometimes you just need to “hook it up”.
The rooms can be darkened and the hours shifted, but the biggest catch comes when the vessel needs to complete its deck and engine maintenance items.
As it is, the C.E.M.S. schedule doesn’t really allow for the really noisy work to be accomplished since there is always someone trying to sleep. We don’t have cooks anymore (gourmet or otherwise), the deckhands try but it’s really a crap shoot.
A tugboat is usually too small to have a quiet zone. H.V.A.C. systems are generally common or zoned as little as possible. So cooking, smoking, and general odors are always present to one degree or another.
And to have a “coach” wandering around shushing everyone wouldn’t be very well received.
So, throwing caution to the wind and giving a nod to 3 of the key precepts of the C.E.M.S. pamphlet, I decided that my crew and I would give the altered watch schedule a try. Mainly to see whether we derive any clear benefit from a slightly longer sleep period once a day.
There were no major changes made aboard as far as noise reduction or room darkening or even diet modification. Most of the exterior maintenance was complete for the year, the rooms were already as dark as they were gonna get, the dietary picture was a foregone conclusion since we don’t have the luxury of a cook, so that’s it. Everyone had an opportunity to make his opinion known during and after the trial.
On crew change day we set up our watches based at 0600. (7 hours on, 5 off, 5 on, 7 off) We did not attempt to alter the Mate’s watch to avoid the dawning day since he wouldn’t see the sun rise this late in the year anyway. All watches were based at 0600.
The captain’s watch serves 0600-1300 then rests for 5 hours and then stands a 5 hour watch 1800 till 2300. The Mate’s watch has the 2300-0600 watch and is relieved at 0600 and off till 1300.
I asked the crew to conduct this experiment for one week to see if anyone had a good or bad reaction to the altered watch.
The end result showed that the Mate’s watch was being robbed of any benefit since they would not get any real rest on the short off watch. They reported not being able to fall asleep.
This would make the following long watch nearly insufferable in the last hour. Rather than more rest, they were getting less.
There isn’t any provision personnel-wise that can be made for a “nap” so soldiering on for the week was in order.
The term of the test is acknowledged as being a short time frame but I think the glaring issue has more to do with the fact that the Mate’s watch was getting less rest with a longer rest period. It was apparent within a couple of days that they just weren’t tired enough to get any meaningful rest on their short off watch following the evening meal. Dragging the experiment out any longer would have created a real fatigue issue.
Mr. Thomas A. Alegreti, the C.E.O. of the A.W.O., used a study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute for the U.S. Department of Transportation to address the Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Committee, regarding Transportation and Infrastructure. With it he addressed the congressional representatives in Washington, DC on September 16, 2008, in discussions related to the T/V Mel Oliver incident in New Orleans he quoted from the Texas study regarding the inland waterways of the United States as being “the safest and most environmentally friendly and economical form of freight transportation”. The statement also quoted the study to say that our industry achieved record lows for crew fatalities and tank barge spills. It stated that tank barge spills between 1994 and 2007 declined 99.5%. The compliance data states the inland fleet is 85% double hulled, well ahead of the O.P.A. 90 due date.
Once we look past the high profile idiots making the news, the rest of us are quietly plugging away at 99.5% efficiency. The struggle continues as we strive for 99.9%.
Originally I wrote this as a response to a letter I read in Workboat that stated the 6 and 6 rotation was deadly. I have never believed that to be so, I think calling 6 and 6 deadly is unwarranted. The commenter did not represent himself with facts, merely unsubstantiated opinion. That said, I’ve been standing 6 hours on and 6 hours off for 30 years and I don’t see anything getting better by dividing the day up any differently. It would be nice to have the right amount of crew and the right watch schedule, and the perfect corporate attitude to allow for the perfect work environment. But we all know that doesn’t exist on this side of Neverland.
The work needs to be done and someone will be disturbed. We’re moving in the right direction but we have to give a nod to reality. Some things will work, others won’t.
It remains to be seen how the C.E.M.S. situation will play out. It has many thoughtful and practical recommendations, but it’s not the panacea when it comes to tugboats. It’s a near certainty we’ll be required to implement some form or another, any progress would be better but there is no magic pill that will alleviate crew fatigue completely. The system’s cheerleaders notwithstanding, it doesn’t try to, and could not, address all the different scenarios one would encounter on a tugboat.
A tugboat is a noisy, dynamic and dangerous place to spend time and it requires a level of awareness that requires one to be sleep deprived from time to time.
You’re going to miss some sleep participating in drills, emergency call outs, and overtime events that have little concern for normal sleep patterns. Mealtimes will be rushed and sometimes missed. The choice of meals may not meet with healthy dietary guidelines and that’s a fact, we’re lucky if the meals get served on time.
Corporate bottom lines will become even more important with the arrival of the financial markets new “Ice Age”. And it appears that nothing will prevent the powers that be from continuing to heap regulations and procedures upon us while showing little concern for reality when it comes to meeting these mandates.
Family and financial stresses will always be with us especially since we are all watching our 401k’s eating its tail (thanks Wall Street).
Many can say that my experience with this idea was not primed for success from the start since I didn’t go through the evaluations, audits, and investigations addressing the main aspects of the C.E.M.S. design, but I don’t see it as being necessary or that complex an issue. When you boil it down its easy to see that the amount of energy expended will outweigh the end result when it comes to tugboats.
So right now I’ll just say that I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.