Archive for the ‘opinion’ Category

EDIT; Thank you to Carolina Salguero of The Mary Whalen for the head’s up.  The comment period has been extended to December 6th, 2016, the link for comments here.  If you wish to comment, please do so in an effort to clarify the misconceptions of the opposition.  We as an industry need to inform and educate our neighbors and help them understand the facts, and not embrace the hyperbole.

The Hudson River is a beautiful stretch of water.  It reaches from the Battery to Troy Locks in a roughly 130 mile meander that is wide at her lower reaches and narrow and dark in the ”upper end”.  The bridges that cross at various points offer vistas that will take your breath away.  The fact that this river has been a conduit for commerce for a few hundred years should come as no surprise.  It’s the perfect corridor, with limitations.

This post is in reference to the proposal for expanding the availability of anchorages along the river, including my effort to enlighten the less than well informed resistance the proposal has met. I will make an effort to mitigate the criticisms that were based on a lack of facts.  It’s clear to me and many of my colleagues that the resistance came with a flood of ignorance and supposition.  Those who are screaming the loudest are using arguments that clearly demonstrate how little they understand the marine industry, basic safety requirements, and the necessity of these refuges.

NIMBY at its worst.

So in an effort to fill in some blanks and erase some misconceptions I would offer this post as a start.  This is by no means a comprehensive list of concerns, but I sense these are the primary discussions.

As it has in the past, today’s waterborne commerce moves all manner of cargo to and from the ports of call along her banks.  The old brick works, mills, scrap yards, boat landings, and wharves are evidence of commerce past.  Today, this tradition continues on a much larger scale.

In case you didn’t already know;

When I first started working on tugs we had a regular run up to Albany and Rensselaer, with stops in Poughkeepsie, Newburg, Peekskill, Tarrytown, and a half dozen little holes in the wall like Kingston’s Roundout Creek and further up in Athens.  I learned my way up and down the river by sitting for hours on end watching listening and learning from the Old Man, he just so happened to be my father.  An education like this, you can’t buy.

Those who seek to ply this waterway must prove their skill and local knowledge before they are qualified to make a transit.  Piloting the river takes practice and a multitude of trips to get a clear working knowledge of the bends and turns and shallows along the way.  It takes a good long while before any mate gets to stand the “upper end watch” without an experienced eye pointing the way and teaching him what he needs to know, but more about that later.

Fact; All foreign flag vessels carry a pilot that boards in Yonkers and directs the transit to the Port of Albany.  The reverse is also true, from Albany to Yonkers.  The bulk of commerce though (you may have guessed it), is tugboats and barges.  I’d like to add, if you don’t have recency on the river, you take/hire someone who does.

Like any waterway there are anchorages, designated areas to stop and wait for traffic, berths, or just rest.  The anchorages for deep draft vessels are extremely limited and get crowded rather quickly if weather turns ugly or backups at the port of Albany deny berthing for a spell.  The widest and deepest ones being south of Kingston, N.Y.


NOT A FACT; These new anchorages will be used for fleets of barges storing oil long term waiting for the price to improve;

The new proposed anchorages are not going to be long term storage for crude.  The new anchorages are not wide enough nor are they fit to accommodate the scale of storage to be a moneymaker.  The concept of storing oil in ships is not new, and yes it happens but not on the scale these anchorages could accommodate.  The ships that are utilized for this kind of storage are in the 2 million barrel range, they anchor offshore in very deep water with lots of room.  The practice is referred to as “contango”, and it’s costly.  Look it up.

The efforts of the River Keeper’s site and others like it denouncing any accommodation and the USCG’s comment section reflect a dearth of industry knowledge from regular folks fearing the worst without knowing the facts.

Citing the dangers of pollution (noise, light, and cargo) and resisting more anchorages is indeed disingenuous when those anchorages are being proposed to make it safer for vessels to run the river and stop when necessary.  It seems to me that trains running up and down each side of the river many times a day, contribute more noise and exhaust to the general population than what a few aeries of wealth must endure as we pass along the banks of the river.  But I digress.

The marine trade is the easy target, we’re noisy smelly boats that scar the vistas and cast a specter of foreboding on the pristine Hudson Valley.  Except for the fact that the marine industry is the reason you can rely on finding gas stations, airports and fuel deliveries stocked for use by the general public.  It’s why Walmart has those items you seek at a bargain and why your produce shelves are filled with exotic things like bananas in winter.

The industry isn’t being recognized for its expertise and safety record, it’s being denigrated by those who find it a convenient scapegoat.  Attacking the trade on the river is easy, most of the benefits derived are invisible at first glance.

It is also unreasonable to expect the river to cease being a critical artery serving the Northeast market.

These anchorages have been represented as a threat and that they will be full of vessels scarring the bottom and putting the river at a greater risk.  Again, anchorages constantly being filled to capacity, especially some of these smaller ones, is unlikely except for an event involving safe haven needs in the case of a hurricane.  During hurricane Sandy, the ATB unit I work on was anchored off Port Ewen for the duration of the storm along with a couple of other units.  Should we have been forced to go to sea?

Fact, the risk of a spill is unacceptable;

We feel the same way.  And we’re under a lot of scrutiny to make sure it doesn’t happen.  The oil transporters are vetted to a degree that most people never imagined.  The responsibility for cleanup falls directly on the owners of the cargo.

Transporters working for oil charterers are subject to what’s known as ship inspection reporting (S.I.R.E.) .

A group known as O.C.I.M.F. created a checklist of inspection points that transporters must submit to that covers everything. See the form here.  Rather comprehensive I’d say.

NOT A FACT The boats are old and poorly maintained;


Every boat is subject to regular maintenance and scheduled dry dockings to ensure their seaworthiness and operational reliability.  Yes some of the tugs are over 25 years old, and their upkeep is a large part of their operating cost, second only to insurance coverage.  Engine hours (hours of use) are tracked and specific replacement regimens are required to keep the boat operating in top form and fuel efficiency.  Filters, bearings, seals all have a lifespan and are changed out based on their expected service life.  Maintenance is a constant.  A long awaited “inspection requirement” has finally been implemented.  It’s known as Subchapter “M”, follow this link to see what the rule has set in place.

The rule that all vessels carrying petroleum must be double hulled was dictated by OPA 90, legislation directly following the Exxon Valdez grounding and spill in Prince William Sound in 1989.  Every barge moving oil on the inland waters of the United States is to be double hulled, every single one.  In the event of grounding the outer hull protects the inner hull and has proven its ability time and again to mitigate a cargo spill.

Rules for drug and alcohol testing, physicals, re-certification, formal radar training, all followed over the years.  Like so many safety regulations, they came on the heels of a major incident and investigation. The marine industry currently has more stringent training standards than most industries except for the airline industry.

Today’s mariner is safer, better equipped and more skilled than ever before.

Now for the bit about “recency” and what it means.

When someone operates in the same geographic area for a length of time, it becomes familiar.  The same way you know your way to and from work each day.  Whether you walk, drive, ride a train or take a bike you know the route “like the back of your hand”.

For transits on the river, tug mates train to know and remember each turn and landmark along the way.  They are keenly aware of tidal current and levels, the amount of water under the keel. They learn where to slow down to minimize bottom suction, bank suction, bank cushion and any number of physical effects the vessel might encounter.  And one of the most important things is where to stop if things get crazy.  If the visibility diminishes, if the wind is getting a little too strong, or if there is a mechanical issue that will impede the boat’s ability to continue safely the primary answer to this is an anchorage.   And right now, adding more will promote safe navigation rather than make it more dangerous to the river’s ecology.

It has become customary to avoid night transits in the “upper end” for more than a few years now.  It was ushered in at first for winter transits with deep draft barges when ice would overrun and drag channel markers to hell and gone.  Anyone who has spent any time running the river in icy conditions knows this situation well.  This is another good reason to know the route like the “back of your hand”.

It is now policy for most of the big transporters.  Insurance underwriters and charterers had a lot to do with insisting on daylight-only becoming a year-round practice.  This is the primary reason Kingston sees vessels anchored up off Port Ewen.  Deep draft and darkness don’t mix these days.

My case for the anchorages;

Denying additional anchorages is tantamount to closing the shoulder on the thruway, it’s the same as denying an aircraft an emergency landing field.  And in fact makes things worse instead of better, forcing a vessel that is blinded by a weather event, or hobbled with a mechanical difficulty to continue its voyage is madness.

The frequent complaints I’m reading concern shale oil and the hazard it presents to the river.  The safety record of transits made  by commercial vessels on the river is unmatched by any other mode of surface transportation.

The vessels carrying this product and many others, are manned by professionals with decades of experience moving cargo up and down the river in vessels with crews that have met the strictest vetting standards to date.  It’s too easy to lose sight of the fact that gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil, and household goods all move on the river.  Presently the shale oil market is slow, but the thirst for heating oil and gasoline, and jet fuel continues unabated.   If the Riverkeepers and their supporters are really serious about safety I recommend learning more about the industry you seek to encumber and try talking to us rather than promoting  a stance based on limited knowledge.

The new proposed anchorages are necessary avoid a catastrophe, not create one.  The industry issues regarding trade and global markets are not my concern here.  I am concerned with offering some background and information on how inaccurately my job and expertise is being portrayed.

As far as the USCG is concerned they will render a decision based in some part on the comments received and the safety of vessels moving cargo on the river.  I’m happy to see the comment period has been extended.  

I look forward to reading the final decisions and what the Coast Guard will decide.  You can be sure everyone isn’t going to be happy, but in my experience the decisions are well reasoned and consider all valid concerns.






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The Nicole has been trading in the Gulf of Mexico for the last three years or so, it was a nice run.  Tropical, deep blue and vast.  We dodged a couple hurricanes in the last months and made the trip back from the warm southern climes a couple of hitches back.  It was an eight and a half day voyage from New Orleans that included riding the back of Hurricane Joaquin off the Carolinas for a bit.  It got a little nasty to say the least.


Our operations are now focused in the Northeast market for the time being and it’s busier work.  A lot of boat handling and action on familiar waters.  I have to say I missed the bustle of New York.  The benefits of working in the gulf were balanced by the headache of air travel limitations and sometimes grueling gauntlets of connections.  Once on board, the work was a bit more sedate with long distances and vistas of open water.  I don’t miss the traveling, I’ve seen enough airports for a while.

So in the spirit of sharing, here are some photos I’ve taken of our return to the northeast.

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2014-08-16 17.47.27

FYI, The Coast Pilot now includes this scan code to its download link for the latest and most up-to-date version for your e-files..

UPDATE by request:  In keeping this method up-to-date I’ve found that the Coast Pilots and Light Lists are available as totally updated pubs available for download monthly.  Now while most of us would love to maintain a purely electronic catalog I’d still recommend keeping the paper version (at least for the Coast Pilot) given the method for corrections described here is not as daunting as the old “confetti party” we were once forced to endure.  The chance that you wouldn’t have a computer screen with which to view the information is slim but it sure is easier (IMHO) to page through a book than a 600 page .pdf.

Captain Victor Antunez asked me to show what the end result looks like to clear up any confusion regarding my method.  In keeping with said request here is the correction for CP#3 as found in the latest NtM 34.


The next thing to do is turn to the indicated chapter and paragraph and make a note in the margin thus.  Complete all indicated corrections and then close the book, you’re done…….


The method for the damned Light List is even simpler, download a completely corrected version every month..

The links in this post have been repaired.  I saw fit to re-post this so it can be of use.

I’m going to describe a couple of publication correction methods that I employ.  I believe these methods will save you and your Mates time when it comes to keeping things up to date and offer it up to those of you who wish to comment. First I should emphasize that this alternative method may or may not meet the needs of your situation.  Check with your Port Captain or Compliance Office to be certain that these  methods meet the intent of any company policy or vendor preference.  Here is a link for the Policy letter issued by the USCG allowing the use of electronic copies and archives of commonly carried nav-pubs.  You’ll need to have reliable internet access for this method to work well.

The NtM corrections to the US Coast Pilots and the Light Lists are the most tedious and time consuming chores the mate must accomplish in the course of his day-to-day duties.  I’ve always seen it as a huge effort for a frequently redundant and limited application/resource, resources that aren’t utilized enough in my day-to-day operations to require so much attention.

The traditional method for correcting the Coast Pilot has always been recognized as a poor solution for those of us not equipped with self-updating software and E.C.D.I.S. systems,

“Cut and Paste” is the name of the game and each Coast Pilot  becomes a confetti farm after only a few cycles of the Notice to Mariners weekly editions.

It always begins with a pile of freshly issued hard copies of the Notice to Mariners, a pair of scissors, two rolls of cellophane tape, a pot of coffee, and most of the afternoon watch to bring your catalog of Coast Pilots up to date.  As time goes by with each edition nearing the end of its service life, one windy day is all it takes to blow half of your corrections all over the pilothouse the moment you open the damn thing and all your work is literally “in the wind”.

Then as if that wasn’t enough, this was followed by a marathon session of correcting the many volumes of the Light List at hand using a perfectly medieval method involving perhaps a magnifying glass and the ability to print in miniature like a Gregorian monk rewriting Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber manifesto.  It could quite possibly drive a man insane, especially after completing about 10,000 corrections  just in time to receive the next newest NtM with 10,000 more.

When you think about it, the corrections to the Light List are really a list of completed work orders for the gang working Aids to Navigation in the USCG.  Every time they move an aid, paint a buoy, or reset a range light it generates a correction.  I mean I do get it, but ladies and gentlemen, these folks are really busy.

First, how do we deal with this cut and paste thing?

The Coast Pilot corrections using this new method are easy.  The NtM has been available online for many years and anyone with a laptop and internet access can download and save a couple of years worth of NtM’s without taking up more than a gigabyte on their hard-drive.  This ability to archive the NtM is a huge improvement over the old method of keeping the butchered hard copies somewhere aboard to show they’ve been utilized.  With this method you’ll never need to print out Coast Pilot corrections.

Now that an archive has been created, the Coast Pilot can be updated using a ballpoint pen and about 25 minutes of your time.  Turning to the pages in the NtM that list the corrections to the CP, note the volume, edition and change number.

1. Open the Coast Pilot, enter the change number as always; Change#, NtM#, your initials, and the date the change is being entered.

2. Next find the page and paragraph of the correction listed in the NtM.

3. In the left margin of the cited paragraph, write the NtM # in ink and repeat this practice for every correction available for the CP.  For example, you’re using NtM 25/09, the note in the margin should read “25/09“, that’s it.  Also, remember that a NtM may contain numerous “change numbers”, be sure to enter these properly as you correct each CP.

4. Now close the book.

Since you’ve changed how you correct this book, you must change the method in which this book is used.  Now the archive you’ve created must be maintained for as long as the edition is valid.

If you find yourself referring to the CP for information and come across a notation you’ve made in the left margin you know to refer to the NtM archive and must seek out and read that particular NtM (25/09) for the applicable update for that specific paragraph.  As you’re doing that you’ll note a definite lack of confetti present, no matter the age of the book.

The Light List ( the list that never ends) is even easier.

The Light List does not lend itself to correction easily using the old Gregorian method.

It’s wickedly tedious , but the method to update this publication needn’t be so overwhelming.

The NtM is not the publication of choice for me for correcting the Light List. What ‘s that you say? Well, the USCG publishes a cumulative summary of corrections for each volume of the LL.  Basically, every correction for Volume 1 of the Light List is compiled into a regularly updated archive available for download and saving just like the NtM, but each archive is dedicated to its respective volume.  From the date the volume is published to the most recent NtM, each volume’s corrections are compiled as they appeared in each NtM.

So, I can go to the NavCen website and download all of Light List Volume 1 corrections and save it each month as I can for every volume of the Light List offered by the National Ocean Service and USCG.  The archive found on the update page always carries the same name for each volume number unlike the Ntm which necessarily increases (01/09 to 52-/09) as the weeks go by.  Volume 1’s summary will always be named V1D01.pdf.  When you download the newest archive it will prompt your browser to ask if you wish to overwrite the old file and of course you will select yes.  You now have the latest correction summary for Light List 1 since it was published.

1. At this point, you only need to make one mark in the Light List and that is to note the NtM# that your archive is current with in the record of change in the front of the book and after you’ve done that, you can close the book.

Now we dip our toes into the 21st century;

2. If you find yourself referring to the LL, the same method as always is used to identify any aid, by its LL#.  Once you locate the aid you want, (or the place where it should be listed), the original “date of publish” info is all you have.  How do you know the information is current if there aren’t any physical corrections in the book?

The summary of correction archive contains a copy of every Vol1 correction page printed in the NtM since the Vol. 1 publish date from low to high.  In the case of LL1, from 51/08 at the bottom of the list to 25/09 at the top.  It should be noted that there may be multiple corrections  for your query, check the entire summary for the aid in question.

3. Once the aid in question has been found in the LL, the archive is scanned from the bottom to the top of the list for the same LL#.

3a. If you don’t find the LL# for the aid your looking at, the book is the latest information available for that aid.

3b. If you do find the LL#in the archive, you’ll need to scan the entire summary for any other incidence of that number.  If you have found the LL# of your aid in the summary, that information will be the most current and correct.  You need to remember as well that new sub-sets may have added, so a scan above and below the specific aid’s LL# you’re referencing is in order.

So, instead of spending hours of your life writing corrections into this publication, you’ve spent five minutes scanning an archive to find what you need.

Take a look at this method, if you would like to discuss it further, drop me a line.

Light List Summary Links;

Volume 1 First District, Volume 2 Fifth District, Volume 3 Seventh District, Volume 4 Eighth District GOM, Volume 5 Eighth District WR, Volume 6 Eleventh DistrictVolume 7 Ninth District,

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As you may have read in previous posts I wanted to try the “online experience” for my radar renewal.  It did not go well.  I signed up paid $225.00 and received my study material and then proceeded to work myself back up to a passing proficiency for rapid radar plotting.  I took a couple of months, made an appointment at the nearest Prometric Testing center and believing I was ready, scheduled and sat for my renewal.   All went well up to this point.  The facility is clean, well organized and strict.  I arrived early and was processed quickly.

The exam was straightforward enough.  Once you get settled in at your exam station, the computer program is loaded and a timer promptly begins with your radar scenario.

There was the first part of roughly ten questions regarding theory and then the plots.  I had no difficulty with theory and scored 100%.

You get two shots at the plotting section.   It’s a normal three target screen, you need only identify the “most dangerous target” and proceed with your plot.  I must add the timer is a bit unnerving.  If you fail the first time it gives you the opportunity to select and proceed with a second chance/ different set of plots and you fly or fall at the end of the scenario.

I failed both my attempts on the exam and felt more than a bit embarrassed seeing as I had never not passed what we’ve all come to see as a less than useful skill since the advent of A.R.P.A. and modern radar systems.

I must admit that the failure was likely my fault due to my time management (or lack thereof) and perhaps a careless error.

The plots are “time sensitive” and you’re only allowed three minutes to solve for NTCPA and new course.  I overran the time limit first time out.  After the exam I noted in the instructions on this particular exam that there was no specific time for MX expressly indicated.  The instructions for MX or “time of execution” were included in the practice instructions but absent in the actual exam instructions.

This isn’t an excuse, since after the fact I  found the instructions in the practice material clearly indicated that the exam’s execution point was to be at 12 minutes.  I missed that somehow.

Okay, so I failed.  I was more than a bit upset, I have never failed this recert but I guess there’s a first time for everything.

No amount of post failure negotiation was sufficient to convince the proctors of the center to help, and the online school was adamant that in order to retest I’d have to pony up another $225.00 and reschedule.   I didn’t elect to take them up on it.

Instead I called SUNY Maritime and scheduled my one-day renewal at a “brick and mortar ” school.  I paid the fee ($325.00) and practiced the material they sent and showed up in the Bronx for the recert like I’ve done in the past.

The experience was easier in that I had an instructor on site that understood the material.  He could see which of us in class were comfortable and possessed the skill set and helped guide those who were a bit shaky during the morning practice session and boosted their confidence level.  That alone means a lot to anyone who’s uncomfortable in exam situations.

You’re not handed the cert,  it’s challenging and you earn it.  But that said, having the class in a place where it’s a familiar curricula helps.  Online courses are fine, but you’re strictly on your own at the center.  After you are scanned, frisked and asked to empty your pockets no one can or may assist you in any way.

I passed SUNY’s recert program as expected and left to deal with the gauntlet that is the NY area’s traffic to get home.

In closing, if you’re absolutely certain and speedy with rapid radar plotting you should give the online experience a go.  If you’re like me, go to a school where an instructor can kick you back inside the lines of competency and get you through this “every 5 year P.I.T.A.”.  I have a couple more times I have to submit to this ordeal and you can be sure it will be at a “brick and mortar” school from here on.

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It’s been a couple of years since I was working on a conventional tug.  I’ve been in the ATB world up to my eyeballs for the last eight years and I look at these temporary duty assignments with a mixed view.  Although I love getting back to basics and exercising my skill sets, nothing grates on me worse than having my boat in the yard and me not being there to get the things I need done “my way”.

That said, I can’t worry about two boats at a time so the focus is presently on my current assignment, the tug Franklin Reinauer.  So named for one of our late founding fathers and built for the company in 1980 or so.  Not a large tug by today’s standards but still a little bulldog of a boat.  She’s equipped with a nice little tow winch and a decent amount of horsepower.  A five man crew and enough work to keep time flying by at a respectable rate.  With quarters a lot tighter than those on the Nicole, she’s kinda tiny really but comfortable in a cozy kind of way.  Really cozy once you get in the upper house, basically a box on a stick.

Not so long ago she was one of the coast boats.  Making runs anywhere and everywhere towing up to 70,000 bbl barges.

The view from the Franklin’s upper house of the RTC 28’s notch…

The work is now mostly assist work with an occasional barge delivery in either Newtown Creek, Jamaica Bay or Sewaren NJ.  We made a trip to each during my few days aboard with a surprise or two.

Surprise number one; It turns out is that Newtown Creek now has a community of sailboats moored along the creek’s crumbling bulkheads outside of the Pulaski Bridge, I can’t help but doubt they’re costing the boat owners anything in the way of dock fees.  It’s more than a bit amusing to me that it’s becoming a mecca for gypsy boat owners finding cheap wharfage for an expensive hobby.  I hate to see what might become of these opportunists when a windy day and breakaway scow have their way with their fiberglass hulls.  I can just imagine the splintering sound of hulls under the bow of a runaway 300 ton scrap scow.
Surprise number two; Who knew that scrap yards harbored statuary?  The picture of a few (recovered?) statues lining the wall of the reclamation center in Greenpoint.  Very artsy.  And finally, no real surprise to find that small vessels still insist on taking the same draw of the Jamaica Bay Subway Bridge as an inbound tow (with a fair tide).  Even if they’re law enforcement, some things never change.

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I expect to be back in the ATB world soon, until then I’m enjoying my little piece of regular tugboating immensely.  I especially liked nursing a light barge in push gear across Coney Island Channel this morning.  I had almost forgot what it was like “sweet-talking the tow” across the channel when a swell was running.  Good stuff.

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