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.