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Archive for the ‘marine safety’ Category

I found myself going through the “library” aboard and rediscovered an article written earlier this year for Marinelink regarding a “quandary” for AT/B’s, as the phrase was coined.  I thought it was just so much bullshit when I first read it and I had to every intention to comment.  The comment piece fell by the wayside for a while but I’ve renewed my interest so here goes.

It’s clear to me the term “quandary” was meant to generate a response from the industry and perhaps create a bit of drama.  And even though it has taken me until now to comment, I’d like to add my view and I offer my opinion as Master of one of the aforementioned “quandaries”..

Captain Jeff Cowan, (whose experience regarding AT/B’s remains in question for me) pontificates on the ill-conceived and imminently dangerous existence of AT/B’s in place of ships in the Jones Act trade.  He has drawn parallels that make a “sour grapes” spin sound complimentary.

I read with a good deal of glee the direct and articulate (see what I did there?) response from Mr Bob Hill of Ocean Tug and Barge, and thank Marinelink for publishing Mr Hill’s comments in their entirety.

I believe with all due respect, that Captain Cowan has missed the boat on this one (pun intended).  I have been working on one of Mr. Hill’s AT/B’s since 2003 (see the page header).  We were in the New England trade for many years and this last spring joined our sister unit the AT/B Christian F. Reinauer in the Gulf of Mexico to trade between Louisiana and Florida.  I have no illusions of what these units can and cannot do.

So let me address Captain Cowan’s assertions here;

My boat normally carries a 7 man crew, we have room for 10.

As far as STCW requirements; we are all STCW certified since the charterer requires it.  And yes Cap, we operate more than 200 miles offshore.  It’s a nearly 420 nm long trip from SW Pass to the Dry Tortugas on a great circle route, twice as long if you try to stay within twenty miles of the coast.  The inshore route is held as an option, though rarely used.

We moor with 8 lines, more if necessary.  A two man deck crew generally has it done in 15-20 minutes.  There isn’t any port/facility we call on that requires more than eight mooring lines.  I have witnessed one of the large Crowley 750 class moor and they take an hour or so with a dozen or more lines.  I can’t state with any certainty that’s the norm or the exception.

My company has had a Safety Management System in place since the late 90′s

We are S.Q.E. rated through the ISM Code and ISO 9001 and have been since 2004

We have 3 service gen-sets and one emergency gen-set all 99Kw, whaddaya think this is?

Since we’re talking Jones Act Shipping we’re not dealing with ISPS

Yes I will acknowledge the crew size could be larger.  The requirement for a greater number of people on board will have to be mandated by the charterers since the USCG and US Congress are unable or unwilling to force the issue.

I don’t have any illusions as to why this issue garners the attention it does from the “upper level license” community.  The Jones Act tanker trade is being somewhat eclipsed by AT/B’s, but not completely.  So let’s just settle down..

Since my AT/B unit was assigned work in the Gulf of Mexico I’m seeing a lot of AT/B’s working in the Gulf and I do mean a lot.   I’m seeing state-of-the-art rigs trading in Tampa, Jacksonville Florida, New Orleans and Port Everglades.  Bouchard (conversions), Reinauer (design-built and converted units), new Crowley designs, and OSG behemoths all taking bigger bites of the coastal trade away from tankers in the 350+ bbl range.  Crowley just completed building 17 new AT/B’s at a total cost of $1 billion USD, that ain’t small change.  AT/B’s are and will continue to be the future, but the tanker won’t be disappearing any time soon.

It’s true that for the most part we burn less fuel, we have fewer crew members (something we didn’t have a big say in), and yet we’re getting charters from the big guys on a regular basis. (As a point of order here; the majors don’t put their eggs in risky basket if you catch my drift.)

That’s not to say we’re not getting tons of rules; in addition to the rules quoted by Mr. Hill being satisfied to just build an AT/B, we’re tasked with tons of procedural and operational (ahem) guidance from our charterers.

We’re being inundated with terms we were more or less oblivious to a decade ago.  SOLAS, ISGOTT, OCIMF, SIRE, ISM, SMS, all these acronyms are in our daily lexicon and we’re subject to the same standards as ships in many cases.

A Cat 1 SIRE (similar to a full blown colonoscopy) is an audit that is generally reserved for ships, my rig has had more than a few of them so far.  We’ve tried to explain to the auditors that we’re not a ship with precious little success.

Here’s a Sample SIRE Report, how’s that for a fun-filled afternoon?

Captain Cowan cites the delays associated with tug and barge operations and the added time and costs that come with it, again I call b*llsh*t.  We are chartered with a clear statement of expected speed we’ll average and delivery times we’ll make.  The customer is well aware of what they are buying, if it was unacceptable we wouldn’t be so busy.

We don’t sail into storm systems, the customer wants all his cargo, not just most of it. We take a beating like everyone else if we get caught but we’d rather not.  Everyone knows it comes with the territory.  Ask anyone who has sailed through a hurricane and I’m damn near certain they’ll tell you to a man they’d rather not do it again.

The Scandia/North Cape was a single skin barge lost in a storm nobody should have sailed into.

The Valdez (with a crew of 24 plus) was not a total cargo loss, a large volume of her cargo spilled in Prince William Sound, but certainly not all of it….everyone seems to think the ship went away after the grounding.  It kinda did, the ship was towed to California, repaired, renamed and placed in service again with a different name.

Do we need to mention the Costa Concordia?

Those of us who are running these rigs are not breaking any rules, we’re doing our jobs.  And we’re doing it with “lower level licenses” in many cases.  Now I’m not particularly fond of the term but I can accept that there has to be a distinction.

Tankers run aground and spill cargo just like barges.  A detail frequently overlooked in this kind of argument is that a total loss means everything ended up in the water (and it’s a rare occurrence), let’s coin the phrase correctly shall we?  Double bottom technology isn’t perfect, but it’s helping prevent bad things from becoming disastrous.

With the number of disasters in the news these days concerning ships breaking in half, catching fire, sinking, colliding, and grounding; there aren’t many stories where I see someone claiming how much safer ships are.   The fact is that any vessel that puts to sea must assume risk.  Weather, training limitations and sometimes dumb luck are involved to make or break a journey.  We like to believe dumb luck has little influence on the outcome but anyone who has piloted their way unscathed out of a zero-dark thirty fog-bank in heavy traffic knows better.

I doubt that the ship drivers are worried at all, it’s the writers of blogs and magazine articles needing something to write about.  Nothing like creating a tempest in a teapot for a little entertainment.

If we’re going to discuss things in a constructive manner let’s agree that there’s little room for half truths.  After all this isn’t Fox News is it?

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My last piece was generated from a rant I expressed in my pilothouse on my last trip down the East River heading for an anchorage in New York’s Bay Ridge Anchorage 21B.  Generally, my postings originate as rants that are rendered raw and then tempered with a good bit of editing for language and content.  I don’t just go off and shoot from the lip. Usually.

Of course, my professional perspective is what I draw on and my opinion is given full sway, it’s my blog after all.  But since my last post I’ve had some feedback that puts a neat spin on the ultimate aim of the article.  Education, for me as well as others.

A rather brave young woman decided to upbraid me for what she believed were insults to the Kayaking Community.  She was right on the money on some points and I give credit where it’s due.  She provided a couple of links I had not previously seen and found them to be really thoughtful and comprehensive in their advice on mixing recreational traffic with commercial vessels here in New York.

So in the interest of passing along the lesson of “you’re never too old to learn”, I wanted to recognize these organizations for working to make everyone safer in the pursuit of their particular vision of happiness.

The first one I’d like to share is one that includes enough information to rate as a must read for any recreational boater seeking to play on the waters of New York Harbor, or any busy waterway for that matter.

I Boat NY Harbor  The content of this site warms this lil’ old  tugboatman’s heart.  It’s comprehensive, articulate and clear and I ‘m glad someone has thought to do such a thorough job.  Kudos.

Safe Harbor.US Listing educational videos and notices of the events taking place in the harbor and good concise articles relating to interacting and avoiding close encounters with the behemoths that ply the waters of N.Y. Harbor.  The video catalog alone is worth a click.

I think it bears mentioning that the State of New York doesn’t recognize paddled craft as “vessels” subject to the rules as we understand them, that’s a big WTF as far as I’m concerned. This story just boggles the mind.

Everyone on the water has to have an understanding as to their responsibility when they take to the water for any reason.

And for now I’ll close with a thank you for the comments I’ve received.  Be safe.

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photo by J. Milton

Who’s the mental midgit that came up with the idea of kayak tours of the East River’s waterfront?  There’s a growing trend of flotillas of multi-colored kayaks and canoes in all the wrong places in the recent past.  Not long ago I read an article somewhere extolling the beauty of the New York skyline from a kayak and all I could think was, “Hey Jackass, that’s what the Circle Line boats are for”.  Kayaks aren’t meant for a commercial waterway.

A quick Google search reveals quite a few sites for kayaking in the New York City area.  I visited a few of these sites and saw little in the way of educating kayakers to the danger of playing in the midst of commercial traffic, although to their credit they do keep novices quarantined in protected coves or basins to start. These stalwart if misguided souls that venture into open water relate how awestruck they are by the experience of New York Harbor kayaking, but I don’t think they’ve given serious thought to the environment they’ve entered.  We’re just a quaint backdrop to their vistas. Awestruck is what they will be when they’re caught in a back eddy off Hallet’s Point and I come around the corner in a full slide…but I don’t think the word can begin to describe the feeling they’ll have.

The sites I visited expressed no caveats or understanding of  how dangerous we are to them.  Yeah I get that the waterways are public, but do you really think that a ship is going to be able to wait for your pals to catch up to the group?

With kayaks paddling along in the East River, jet skis blasting by with more than two riders, water skiing on the sea plane approaches off 23rd St on the East River, NY., fishing in the channel, chasing tugboat wakes on jet skis, it’s going to get real ugly.  It all adds up to a situation where recreational boaters end up in the midst of heavy commercial traffic and they just don’t get it.

So here it is, the 4th of July weekend and I’m watching kayaks paddling up the East River off the Brooklyn piers and along the ferry slips of Lower Manhattan as I make my way to Bay Ridge Anchorage.  I mean really, kayaking on the East River!  C’mon already, you’re so low to the water that you’re barely visible to traffic at half a mile.  With no less than a dozen ferries and tows tossing wakes and flying by at a fair clip a disaster is only a matter of time.  God help you when you’ve finally figured out why you made such good time up the river only to find yourself paddling you ass off against the current to get back to your expensive SUV before dark.  Are you having fun now?

Every day during the recreational season boaters submit themselves to potentially fatal exposures and are completely oblivious to it. Thousands of pleasure seekers take to the water and expect their days to be just like the catalog pictures they perused before they bought their boat. Carefree and sunny days afloat without a care in the world, just bring enough sunscreen, granola bars and water.  No concern for proper radio etiquette or the correct channel to call for a radio check…jeez if they even have a radio.  Hell, most don’t understand a GPS unit enough to relay their position when they do get in trouble.  Kayaks? They may have a flashlight or even a small strobe, riiiight….another bouncing glittering light lost in the city’s skyline.

There’s an urgent need to educate the recreational boater and identify the issues that commercial traffic faces in everyday operations and that information should be spread far and wide with notices of “no-play-zones” enforced to minimize the dangers the recreational community is up against by being on the water along with the commercial community.

I submit that these enterprises should at least make an effort to have their presence announced or perhaps provide some sort of radio equipped motor escort on their little jaunts.  At least there would be someone to talk to.

For the life of me, I can’t seem to wrap my head around this kind of nonsense of playing in a commercial waterway, you might as well be playing hopscotch in the truck lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Here’s an offer, if you or your friends are part of this madness, drop me a line.  I’d be willing to address the issue of education with your group (for carfare and lunch, gratuities will be accepted).  You’ll be safer for it and so will I.

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Tugboats or towboats (whatever you prefer), share the fact that they go bump. More than a little and most of the time. It’s dangerous work and always has been.  That’s why they’re wrapped in rubber all the way around. The first time a new crew member steps on the boat we want to impress on them to be aware of their handholds at all times. “One hand for the boat, one hand for yourself”.  You definitely have a responsibility for your own safety.

The bump can come at any time of the day or night, in any weather, fair or foul. Getting “waked” by a passing boat or a hard contact under the bow of a container ship or maybe laying up alongside a raft of barges, it always has the potential to be a substantial impact.  Adding a little twist to that is the deckhand will usually be a couple to a few hundred feet away from the wheelhouse and may be out of our direct line of sight.  A radio in one hand and the other holding on during the approach is the rule.

If you give the facts their due, all that rubber wrapped tonnage has to make contact with unwrapped tonnage to do its job. It’s our raison d’etre. Sometimes the bump is gentle, sometimes it’s hard enough to jar a few fillings loose. The “bell-ringer” happens frequently enough that it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Someone is always training, but it’s not just the novices that score a hit every now and then.

The boys working the decks of boats doing scow work are accustomed to the bump. Scows don’t get all that much TLC, they’re built for the banging around they get. They bump and grind more than Gypsy Rose Lee.

Ship work involves getting “up close and personal” with the walls of steel that seem to pull you in with their own special kind of gravity. We really don’t want to land hard on a ship, but….

Even though oil barges are built with substantial steel framing and double hulls, we try very hard to avoid banging them around.   All that “explosiveness” should give one pause….not to mention the liability of opening one up anywhere.

Timing, weather and skill play a part in it all. But even the best boat handler’s have a hard bump now and again. It’s part of the job, tug boating is definitely a contact sport.

A deckhand has the primary risk to fall victim to a hard contact if he doesn’t have an eye on what’s happening and have a firm grip on something. The easiest way to go swimming (or worse) is to be approaching the berth and you’re on deck with your head up your ass dreaming of crew change, cold beer and warm women.

If you take the time to examine the way things happen it should come as no surprise that when you’re about to land alongside a couple of moored units they are not necessarily laying tightly packed together. There will be some slack in their lines, especially if the other units have been laid up for a tidal cycle or two.

Even though you’ve made the initial landing “eggshell safe”, once your first line is out and wrapped up the force of the tug working ahead or astern will now move ALL the barges until everything fetches up. Think “billiards”, one contacts another and so on until all the lines have taken up the strain.

It probably won’t be the initial contact that gets you, it’s the after shocks that are the killers. After some time aboard a tug and if you’ve really honed your “situational awareness”, you’ll learn that when two or more large steel boxes are in close proximity, there will be bumps (note the plural). The sometimes fatal mistake occurs when one forgets that simple fact.

In bad weather you’d probably (hopefully) have a keener awareness of how dangerous things are since footing becomes difficult in heavy snow or visibility is challenged in darkness, rain and wind. Work vests can restrict movement, safety glasses may be fogging and diesel exhaust will impair your vision, all good reasons to be cautious.

Fair weather dockings would seem to be of less concern, but you should be holding on anyway since you can be lured into that false sense of security by the balmy breeze and not notice how quickly the boat is closing with the berth.


Bumpity, bump, freakin’ bump.


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We seem to take for granted the learning process when it comes to many things, not the least of which includes our physical motor skills and our cognitive ability to quantify a situation as good or bad.  Let’s take walking for example, you learn how to balance and toddle along very young, much to your mother’s delight.  Soon after that, the joyful look on Mom’s face becomes terror when you’ve learned how to run, and of course, you run with abandon everywhere.   You haven’t learned when it’s okay to run, you just run.  But in trying to teach you, Mom and Dad had to let you take a couple of  falls. Soon enough you get the idea that running is good some of the time, but not a good idea all of the time.  The first time you touch something hot serves a painful lesson, but it’s then we learn that fire is hot and ice is cold.  All the skills we acquire as we grow lead us to becoming an adult with the capacity to view our world as a collection of safe/unsafe, fun/scary, dangerous/fun or stupid moves.

“The triple bridges up the Hackensack closed on him after giving him permission to proceed. This was about 2 am and everything up there is pitch black. As soon as he realized the bridge was coming down, he threw it into full reverse, but it wasn’t soon enough. He did lose his job but the USCG did not take any action against him. They had the radio conversation on tape and exonerated him.”

When in comes to tugs and tows one could spend all day describing the mind-set needed by a boat handler but in the end it has to be learned.  The training wheels come off pretty early and the actual boat handling begins  as soon as the ticket  is in hand.  The hard part isn’t what one might think, it’s not the timing of the throttle or depth perception, it’s situational awareness.

All of the things that come into play while maneuvering a tug and tow for transits, docking, sailings, or re-configuring are subject to being re-evaluated as they progress or deteriorate using every input, hunch, suspicion, or sensation. Recognizing that things have gone bad is not easy.  You’d think it would be in your gut, but novice boat handlers don’t have the judgement or experience that exposes the “bad stuff” early in the maneuver. Knowing when to pull the plug is the hard part.  Recognizing it too late and then pushing a bad situation in the hopes of saving the day will end badly.  So it serves a boatman to understand his limitations well before any operation is undertaken.  Proper planning prevents piss poor performance.

The towing industry is a contact sport, shit happens and we’ve all had our share of “bell ringers” and bad days.  The key is to learn from them.  But, recognizing the threshold of disaster is a difficult matter when it comes to to training someone for it.  In order to make that determination, you have to see things go bad and “live it”.  That threshold  is usually reached well before things go wrong.  The chain of failure starts earlier than one might think (these days referred to as the “root cause”).  When a novice is training he practices voyage planning, sailings,  transits, and dockings.  He or she is watched and guided to safely execute the maneuvers, but they need to be allowed to screw it up (to a point).  The best lesson is one that has some “pucker factor” at work.  The greater the “pucker”, the more unforgettable the lesson.

The mark of a mature boatman is apparent when and how he deals with a bad situation.  Any novice who’s had a bit of time behind the wheel can sail and dock a barge when conditions are ideal.  The test comes when everything you thought you knew comes up short, then the fact that you won’t do anything new in an emergency becomes evident.  How you handle an adverse turn of events comes from learning how to expect the unexpected and being prepared to deal with it.

One of the most important skills is to know is when to start over.  It’s “plan B”.

The saying; “Physics is a bitch” couldn’t be more accurate.  The behavior of the tow’s mass and inertia can be calculated and parsed to the nth degree.  But who really does that?  Well actually we do, when we check the current, wind, traffic, and our gut. Quoting a post in the Captain forum from a Captain to a new mate, “Son, never approach a dock faster than you’d want to hit it”.  The approach and landing is generally a controlled crash.  We’re talking inches per second.

Ebb current rounding Tremley Point and losing it in the turn brought this one to a sudden stop. It made one Hell of an “impression”.

Giving thought to how we should proceed involves planning for as many contingencies as we can think of.  Time on deck provides the means to acquire that judgement.  But watching someone having a bad day is not as indelible as having the bad day yourself.  That crystalline intensity isn’t there.

Every deckhand with some time under his belt utters the same monologue when the pilothouse is having a problem.  He knows exactly where the poor bastard went wrong and has the answer to all things “tugboat” until he himself is at the helm envisioning all too late what he should have done.  There isn’t a working boatman alive that can claim he has never had a reportable damage. You can’t be in this industry and not have had an incident.  It’s the nature of the job.  Incidents that don’t get you or anyone else killed or maimed serve as educational opportunities.  You (hopefully) never forget the “lesson learned”.

With luck and determination, a good number of candidates for the wheelhouse survive their “baptisms by fire” and turn out to be competent and capable boat-handlers.  Most recognize that their careers are ongoing educational seminars at “Tugboat U”.   The number of years one is on the job is not insurance against error.  Even with 30+ years at the wheel, errors occur.   They don’t happen as often, but they happen none the less.  Overestimating rudder power and underestimating the wind could turn a simple approach to an “all astern frantic” exercise.  With luck it becomes a footnote and lesson learned, catch it too late, disaster.

Allowing for error during training is one of the most difficult lines to walk in this business.  Every trainer has a different comfort level and each trainee is unique. Some are granted a bit more leash  while others are held a little more tightly until their skills improve and allow for more freedom from intervention. Overall, the aim is to expand the limits of one’s skill level when it comes to error management.  The only practical way to do that is to let the situation develop and address it.  If you haven’t been allowed to deal with a bad situation, you’ll never be able to defuse one.  It sounds like a “Catch 22″ but the many factors that have an effect on decision making can’t be listed in a curriculum.

The U.S. Navy has intensive and expensive training for damage-control and fire fighting.  They practice air combat maneuvers and test the mettle of their people in relatively controlled environments.  The intensity of having water up to your ass while you plug a hole in the hull or flames licking at your heels knocking down an engine room fire, or someone at your six with “missile lock”.  It’s about as real as it can get, but it’s still a training exercise.  The ship isn’t really sinking or afire and that missile isn’t really heading for your tailpipe.

On tugs, we have to create these training opportunities as we work.  We don’t have the luxury of the reset button.  The set-up and execution of specific maneuvers are conducted in the real world with little room for dramatic errors.   Some elements are frequently encountered during the hitch.  We see wind, current and traffic every day.  We deal with strange berth assignments that test our close quarter maneuvering skills daily.  We utilize assist boats not too differently than docking masters on large ships.  When an assist boat is used, the equation now includes another whole set of considerations.  Not the least of which would be keeping it in position safely and using it to its greatest advantage.  All of these skills are learned on the job, not in school.

It’s been mentioned that simulators would be useful in giving wheelhouse candidates a safer environment to experience their “Kobiyashi Maru Incident”.  I can agree to a point, the quality of simulators has improved dramatically in the last ten years but the reset button is still there.  It’s an expensive course of limited value in my opinion.  I can’t say that I would have a lot of  faith in a trainee telling me that he had the high score on the simulator as we are on approach to Hell’s Gate drawing 25′ at max flood, eastbound, meeting a westbound deep draft sailboat in mid-channel.  There’s a whole lot more at stake then a grade at that point.

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Tugboat mariners are an independent sort and we’re accustomed to enjoying a measure of autonomy that few industries allow. We don’t take kindly to the “clueless” telling us anything, much less how to do our job.  We’re used to the press not having a clue, we’re used to answering the same old questions over and again about what it’s like on a tug. We’re thankful that when we’re underway the world shrinks to the tug, tow, and our immediate horizon.

When we watch those poor bastards driving (more like crawling) on the B.Q.E. and F.D.R. Drive as we sail by, we thank our lucky stars we’re not faced with that every day. But unlike them, we have an “alphabet soup” of Federal and State agencies looking over our shoulder.  Insurers, customers, and employers alike pile on to make our jobs just a little more interesting.

The trip that takes our daily commuter from his front door to his place of employment is seldom given more thought than to decide what size coffee to pick up with his bagel or scone every morning.  It doesn’t require too much preparation, just a full tank of gas, a friendly traffic report, and perhaps set his “Tom Tom” for an alternate route .

Up until about 15 years ago, like our commuter, voyage planning in the N.Y. towing sector was still an informal exercise.  The plan was always fluid with the distinction of being mostly in our heads as opposed to written down. Planning seldom got too complex, we didn’t see a need to write down what we could recite from memory.  The term “voyage plan” wasn’t in the vernacular.

To us, it wasn’t broken.  So of course it had to be fixed.

In the mid-90′s I was attending the first Bridge Resource Management course offered for tug masters by the Seaman’s Church Institute in New York City.  There were eight seasoned tug captains in our group and one or two qualified as “Tugasaurs”, meaning they had been in “tow-biz” since Christ was an “Ordinary”.  We were on the company dime and didn’t really know what to expect from a class that was undoubtedly more suited to a ship than a tug.

Except for playing with the newest simulator, the curriculum promised to be about as exciting as a root canal when our instructor, a young ship driver/academy man, introduced himself and began reviewing the need for the practices he was going to impart.  The more he talked, the uglier it got.  It proceeded to get bloody (figuratively) as we began to chew this guy down to his ankles.  I mean, who the Hell did he think he was telling N.Y. boatmen how to do their job?  He’s never set foot on a tug much less handled one.

It wasn’t long before our “victim” saw the cavalry arrive in the person of Captain Rich Weiner (pronounced “wine-r)”.  This poor bastard’s savior was just in time to prevent his bloodied carcass from being dragged to the seawall and summarily dispatched as eel-bait.

Captain Weiner is a well respected and widely known docking master in New York Harbor and has worked with many of us over the years.  Once Rich walked into the room, the pack eased off long enough to hear the same message delivered.  And although he delivered the very same message, he had status as one of us.  His reputation and expertise gave him the credibility to make clear that the issue was the message, not our unfortunate messenger.

After the grumbling settled down, Captain Weiner was able to smooth our ruffled feathers and explain how voyage planning was being required and formulated.  Whether we liked it or not he explained, we should be the ones deciding how it should be done.  Having others decide how we do our jobs was even more distasteful than the new idea itself.  So, in the end we all drank the Kool-Aid.

It was difficult to admit that it was a good idea at first, especially since our voyage planning seemed perfectly adequate to us.  The more Captain Weiner talked, the more it became clear that our customary practices were not enough to satisfy the “powers-that-be” and were necessarily being replaced by the increased paperwork and tedium.

It simply became impossible to argue against the need for detailed passage and voyage planning.  The fact that it must be written down was probably the most irritating part of the idea since our paperwork load was increasing exponentially every day.

With that said, it was obvious that knowing where, when and how are key to a safe and hopefully uneventful passage from point “A” to point “B”.  There’s little difference between a tug or a ship’s voyage planning when it comes to the considerations of wind, weather, available depth, current, and way-points. Arrival times at key points along the route, DR positions, current set and drift are always critical considerations now more than ever in the age of OPA90., the Clean Water Act, and any number of State Regulations.

These days the practice is deeply ingrained in our procedures and codified by customers, company policy, insurance providers, and ISM safety management systems.  Everyone uses a different template, but they share the same basic information.  These plans allow us to visualize the entire transit and determine ETA’s with greater accuracy.  The plan is an overview of our vessel’s presence of mind along the way.  At any point in the trip we can have a clear and detailed reference of how things are going.  Guesswork is reduced to a minimum.

On top of that,  it is a professional approach, proof that the vessel, crew and cargo is in “good hands”.

We aren’t being asked to be clairvoyant or perfect, the document is a “working” plan subject to updating as we go.  There’s little doubt it’s for the better, “Tugasaurs” notwithstanding.

If you aren’t conducting and detailing a policy of voyage/passage planning, you will be. ISM Safety Management Systems are built around international law and customary practice, within which voyage planning has become an integral practice.  Sooner, rather than later, you’ll be asked to do this.  Better to do it now so you control how it’s formatted instead of having some geek do it for you.

Passage plans and voyage plans are synonymous, the voyage starts long before we sail with the collection of the vessel/tow

particulars including:

Deep draft, of the tug and tow

Cargo, grade and amount

Vertical and under-keel clearances, including “vessel squat

Expected speed over the route and waypoints (courses and distances),

Tidal heights and current (set and drift) for critical points along the track-line, including departure and arrival

Estimated time en route

Estimated arrival times, at waypoints and final destination

Berth information, chart catalog, pubs last update

Pilots and escort/assist boats, required or not

Once this information has been collected and detailed on the plan, we can refer to and update the all important ETA as we go along. Adjustments, observations and delays are all considered.  The greatest benefit is that our situational awareness is enhanced by the plan. We have considered and calculated a D.R. for the entire trip giving us a good basis for setting up assists, line handlers, pilots and crew changes.

A well prepared passage plan is akin to the FAA’s required flight plan.  How long will it be before tugs with tows have to file our own “flight plan” with a government agency sometime in the future?  I’ve read discussions pointing to that possibility, I would hope if that should come to pass it will be under the control of licensed and experienced mariners with the local knowledge for each area of concern.

Of course it’ll be up to us to take an active part in the process before the clueless run us into each other or aground.   As distasteful as change may be, it’s better if those of us on the job have a say in how it should be done.  I’d recommend that the “powers that be” continue to embrace the idea of deferring to expertise, it just makes sense.

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