It’s a regular occurrence, we take the novices aboard and get them oriented. We show them the pointy end (the bow), the port side rail, the starboard side rail, and then the not so pointy end (the fantail) all the while extolling the virtues of remaining within those boundaries, no swimming without authorization if you please. We teach them the basic chores and how we want them done, and then try to imbue them with our knowledge and experience so that they too will eventually be equipped to think and act as a full share member of the team. We are keenly aware that until they’ve got some time under their belts we’ll need to coddle, cajole, and harangue some of these hopefuls in order to keep them from killing themselves or anyone else on our watch. The entire crew is involved.
One of the many questions asked by newcomers to the trade is; “What do I need to know right out of the gate?”. In an effort to clear up the mystery, here’s the first few things a new hire should commit to memory as he or she steps aboard the tug (or any work boat) for the first time.
The first thing you need to know is that working on a tugboat is a real job, you can’t fake the proficiency you’ll need to survive. The environment is dangerous and demanding. Learning on the job is traditional and training new hires is a common practice for us, we expect it to take some time.
We prefer that you have no experience at all, it’s easier for us if you have no bad habits that we’ll need to overcome. If you’ve been fortunate enough to graduate from an academy please keep in mind we don’t need to hear how smart you are, you’ll need to demonstrate your intelligence and learn what we teach you.
Please know that we won’t ask you to do anything that we ourselves haven’t done. We know how to get you up to speed and you’ll either learn to follow orders, or end up “back on the beach”. After that the next thing you’ll learn may well be when to say, “Ma’am, do you want fries with that?”. If you want the job, pay attention.
No one expects you (as a novice) to know what is expected when you step aboard a boat to work for the first time. If you’re lucky enough to have scored a job with a tugboat outfit, there are many things to be learned but, before you’ve stepped aboard the one thing you should have already mastered is your manners.
Report to the captain and show him your paperwork. Although the atmosphere on a tugboat is less formal than what you would find sailing “deep sea”, you would do well to remember that the Captain is not your buddy, pal, father, friend, or peer, he’s the Boss, be prepared to show him respect.
Listen carefully to what you’re told and find your room and bunk. Introduce yourself to your new shipmates.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that you should pay particular attention to practicing good hygiene habits. The tight living quarters on a tug are tough enough, we don’t need to put up with your funk. Flush and wipe the bowl if your aim is bad. Wipe out the sink, no one wants to see globs of your toothpaste floating around the drain or splattered on the mirror. Make sure you always clean up after yourself, learn how to change a toilet tissue roll, your Mama ain’t here.
Keep yourself and your work area clean and orderly, and before you handle any food whether you’re making a sandwich or starting dinner, wash your hands.
Find out what your responsibilities are in an emergency, check the Station Bill for your duty assignment during drills and emergency response. Learn and remember the location of all the emergency equipment on the boat, you’ll be expected to know how everything works in short order. Pay attention during the drills. You’ll be shown what everything is and what it’s called, your task is to memorize it so you understand what you’re being told.
You’ll be assigned a watch. Get out of bed when you’re called for the watch, don’t try to catch “just 5 more minutes”, we’re not your personal snooze alarm. You’re expected to show up a few minutes or so before you’re due on watch. Napping on watch is forbidden.You should be properly dressed, fed, sufficiently caffeinated, and ready to work.
Showing up prepared to work “properly equipped” means a deckhand should have a work knife in his pocket or on his belt and be wearing a good pair of work boots and gloves, sneakers don’t really cut it. During your first tour you should keep a list of the items you’ll need to fill out your gear for the next hitch. Like a better set of rain gear, boots, glove liners, etc.
If you don’t understand something, ask. Common sense (while not so common) is second only to showing respect for your shipmates and vessel. That includes pulling your weight and respecting the privacy of others. Like I said, good manners.
You are here to work, put the cell phone, Ipod, and laptop away until you are off watch. You aren’t here if you’re on the phone or whatever.
Practice, practice, practice your line-handling. The only way to become proficient is to take a lot of throws at bitts and cleats. Every deckhand breaks in the same way by throwing lines on the fantail. The exercise isn’t all that different from a hundred years ago, it’s a rite of passage for all of us. We’ve all done it and I can assure you it’s not about strength, it’s about technique and finesse. “It’s in the wrist”.
These are just a few of the things you’ll be expected to do once you step aboard. Remember, there are no stupid questions except for the one you didn’t ask.
You only get one chance at making a good first impression and if you show us you’re ready and willing to learn, we’ll be more than happy to teach you everything we know.
By the same token, if for one minute we get the idea you’re trying to blow smoke up our ass or just trying to get away with the least you can do, you’re done. Then we’ll find someone else who’d like to earn $45,000.00 per year + benefits to start, with no experience required. Comprende?