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https://gcaptain.com/kayakers-collide-new-york-ferry/

I would like to offer my condolences on both sides of this incident, no one wants to see this happen.

I have commented on this in the past discussing the lack of communication between recreational vessels and kayaks specifically.

https://captbbrucato.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/really-kayaks/

https://captbbrucato.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/kayaks-redux/

I’ve had an ongoing discussion in my comment section as a result of my post regarding the same.  Let’s take a moment to clear up a few things I’m seeing in the comment sections of the many posts floating around trying to assess blame, cause, and right of way.

The rules are specific and if followed, the thinking is (theoretically) that a collision should never occur.  Real world, not so much.

 

Rule 9 – Narrow Channels Return to the top of the page

(a) (i) A vessel proceeding along the course of a narrow channel or fairway shall keep as near to the outer limit of the channel or fairway which lies on her starboard side as is safe and practicable.

International Inland
(ii) Notwithstanding Rule 9(a)(i) and Rule 14(a), a power-driven vessel operating in narrow channel or fairway on the Great LakesWestern Rivers, or waters specified by the Secretary, and proceeding downbound with a following current shall have theright-of-way over an upbound vessel, shall propose the manner and place of passage, and shall initiate the maneuvering signals prescribed by Rule 34(a)(i), as appropriate. The vessel proceeding upbound against the current shall hold as necessary to permit safe passing.

(b) A vessel of less than 20 meters in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel [ which | that ] can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway.

(c) A vessel engaged in fishing shall not impede the passage of any other vessel navigating within a narrow channel or fairway.

(d) A vessel [ shall | must ] not cross a narrow channel or fairway if such crossing impedes the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within that channel or fairway. The latter vessel [ may | must ] use the signal prescribed in Rule 34(d) if in doubt as to the intention of the crossing vessel.

(e)

(i)  In a narrow channel or fairway when overtaking [can take place only if the vessel to be overtaken has to take action to permit safe passing, the vessel intending to overtake |  the, power-driven vessel intending to overtake another power-driven vessel] shall indicate her intention by sounding the appropriate signal prescribed in [Rule 34(c)(i) | Rule 34(c)] [and take steps to permit safe passing]. The [power-driven] vessel [to be |being] overtaken, if in agreement, [shall] sound the [appropriate | same] signal [prescribed inRule 34(c)(ii)] and [may, if specifically agreed to,] take steps to permit safe passing. If in doubt she [may | shall] sound the signals prescribed in Rule 34(d).

(ii) This rule does not relieve the overtaking vessel of her obligation under Rule 13.

(f) A vessel nearing a bend or an area of a narrow channel or fairway where other vessels may be obscured by an intervening obstruction shall navigate with particular alertness and caution and shall sound the appropriate signal prescribed in Rule 34(e).

(g) Any vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid anchoring in a narrow channel.

My view, find the kayaks.  Get it?

5 31 10 bbrucato  DSCF0174r

And here is an example of what the prospective traffic can be..

It has been cited that rule 9c applies, in this case it does not.

It has been claimed this was a narrow channel, it is not.

It has been stated the “rule of tonnage” should have applied.  There is no such rule.  It is a construct of common sense similar to “let the big boat go first”, it is not a rule, reg, or statute.  It is a common sense admonition for small craft surviving encounters with large vessels in close quarters.

So far as I know, what has been reported is that the ferry was leaving his berth and turned into the sun for his westbound crossing and met with a flotilla of kayaks that were following the pier-heads close in.  Was there any communication from the kayaks? So far, unknown.  Did the ferry sound signals properly? Too early in the investigation and no one has said that he didn’t.  Were the kayaks being led by a club or organization?  Was there notice given to VTSNY (USCG Vessel Traffic Service)?  All this and more will come out in due course.  It is cold comfort that no one died, I take no pleasure in my prediction that this was a matter of “when ” as opposed to “if” it might happen.

For those of you who follow this blog, I ask that we all make an effort to educate those recreational boaters of their need to understand the dynamics of sharing the waterways in a safe manner and comply with the rules.

I see quite a few professionals misquoting the rules as well, this is not acceptable.

As professionals we are held to the higher standard and will suffer as well as impose suffering on others for our ignorance.  The hearing will not be pretty when it becomes apparent that our industry isn’t upholding the standard that sets us apart.

We must do better.

http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent

Read and understand the “Rules”

 

, it’s clear there is a need to post this again.

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sha1406032813sha1406033434sha1406033401I’ve been working in the G.O.M. for the last 16 months or so and regularly find myself making that long transit from the Dry Tortugas to the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River.  The trip is more or less a great circle extending 400+ nm.  The first few times I made the crossing I noted that I would have an extreme “crab angle” due to the influence of the current known simply as “The Loop” aka a parent source of the Gulf Stream.  Sometimes I’d be steering upwards of IMAG162815 degrees into the current in order to make good my charted course and struggling to make any real speed.  Sliding across the Gulf is the rule.

There’s little doubt that this is old news to the guys who have been working the gulf for years, but it was a real surprise to me.  I mean, I expected different, but not to this degree.  Banging up against the Gulf Stream makes for slow going, no real mystery there.  And running with the stream is amazing in that your speed exceeds anything you thought the boat could do…but the loop?

The “Loop” is a current in the Gulf  of Mexico and flows at greater or lesser velocities as the seasons change.  It is known to meander widely and is formidable enough to knock more than 3 to 4 knots off your speed.  Meander is a gentle way of putting it, one watch you’re cruising nicely, next you’re wondering if the wheels fell off…  It’s seems to be all over the place, but with satellite imagery and telemetric magic it can be tracked.  And if it can be tracked it can be planned for.  Soooo for  those of you who know all about this, need read no further unless you’d like to proof my work.  In which case I will gladly accept any additional clarifying data you’d wish to provide.

The information one needs in order to visualize and to take advantage of / or steer around this current  has been available, but the resource (available in the form of “pilot charts”) only gives a general overview of the current by the month.  Honestly, I didn’t find them all that helpful.

My colleague gave me this link that provides just the kind of data you can use.  The site is paid for by our tax dollars and in my opinion money well spent.

You’ll need to make certain your security settings in your browser allow java applets to run.

The initial page gives you the overview which you can select a geographic area and what you’d like to see.  If you just want velocities, click it.  If you want to save the data as an image, select .gif format.  The smaller the geographic area, the easier you’ll be able to interpolate the lat and lon grid.  (I use MS Paint to overlay the more detailed lat/lon grid, it’s a bit tedious but yields an reasonably accurate grid to pick off waypoints)).

Note the red grid over the gulf.  you can resize it as you wish and pick the day average as well.  I usually use a 3 day average.  Once you’ve made your selection choose .gif if you want to save the image.  After that, you can eyeball the route you want to take and then identify the waypoints you’ll need to hit to go around the adverse current or to take advantage of a following current.

 

gom site

This will assist in selecting a course around the higher velocities and hopefully save some time on your next transit.  Sometimes a few miles out of the way can save more than a few hours, an all important option when it’s close to crew change.  After all that is the most important consideration….just sayin’

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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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