Joel MiltonJoel Milton
Joel Milton has worked aboard fishing boats, pilot boats, Coast Guard cutters and small boats, dredge tenders, offshore crewboats and supply boats, towing vessels, a small container ship, and a wide variety of small craft including an inflatable yellow “ducky” The Piker. He currently works on a tug-barge transporting black oil around the Northeast U.S.

Blog Activity

The proliferation of No Discharge Zones

The Environmental Protection Agency’s designated No Discharge Zones are becoming more numerous each year. Piece by piece, section by section, our coasts and inland waterways are gradually turning red. It’s not a toxic red tide, just the map color of the Environmental Protection Agency’s designated No Discharge Zones. These NDZs are becoming more numerous each year. A growing number of states have discovered that there are many financial and environmental...

How to avoid a collision

If you’re the give-way vessel and you wait to the point where you have to resolve a situation with anything even remotely approaching an abaft-your-own-beam course change, then you’ve waited way too long. A paragraph in the Action to Avoid Collision section of the navigation rules states that “Any action taken to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.” Otherwise, don’t dither....

Reference books make great gifts

As we approach the holiday season, I’d like to suggest two reference titles that might make perfect presents for the professional mariner in your life.As we approach the holiday season, I’d like to suggest two reference titles that might make perfect presents for the professional mariner in your life. The first is the second edition of “How to Read a Nautical Chart” by Nigel Calder. The subtitle, “A Complete Guide to Understanding and Using Electronic and Paper Charts,” defines the broad...

Maintaining 'stability'

Deck officers must be able to trust engineers when they say, "everything's fine, we're ready for sea." Stability is a practice that most of us could use some improvement on, and the tragic loss of the tug Valour in 2006 underscores this point. It was a failure to comply with the conditions spelled out in the stability letter that led directly to the loss of the 135' Maritrans tug and three crewmen off the coast of Cape Fear, N.C. Stability letters are addressed specifically to a...

A look at night vision

It usually takes at least 20 to 30 minutes for your eyes to adapt adequately to darkness and another 20 to 30 minutes before they are optimized.Scientists call it scotopic vision, but to the layman it is known as night vision. Night vision is a very important aspect of human physiology that affects 24-hour marine operations much more than most think. Not surprisingly, it is widely misunderstood by both mariners and vessel owners alike.The eye has two kinds of photoreceptor cells: rods and...

Digital selective calling

Digital Selective Calling technology can reduce the number of missed mayday calls."What we've got here is a failure to communicate." The famous line from the 1967 film "Cool Hand Luke" accurately describes the root cause of many marine mishaps. Recognizing this, efforts have been made over the years to improve communications. While underway or at anchor, we are required to monitor VHF-FM channel 16, the international call and distress frequency, except when participating in a Vessel...

Garbage in, garbage out.

Garbage in, garbage out is one of life’s inescapable truths that pertain to almost any activity that humans engage in. As the proverb goes, if you provide wrong data or bad instructions to people or computers, it will produce badGarbage in, garbage out is one of life’s inescapable truths that pertain to almost any activity that humans engage in. As the proverb goes, if you provide wrong data or bad instructions to people or computers, it will produce bad results.  In this particular case,...

Breaking tow: Don’t fight physics

When breaking tow, using a "stopper" to secure the barge's pennant and take the strain off the pennant-to-tow-wire connection is risky.Probably the most common method of breaking tow entails flopping around on the barge, pulling the barge’s pennant over the rail, and using what is often referred to as a “stopper.” The stopper (line) is used to secure the pennant and take the strain off the pennant-to-tow-wire connection so that the shackle between them can be taken apart quickly. The...

The right tool for the job

If the right tools are on hand when needed then deck crews can easily take apart a towing shackle and do it with minimal risk of injury.So why do mariners take shortcuts, such as using something other than correctly sized cotter pins to secure single-nut towing shackles (typically, welding rods)? The reason is usually ignorance (“This is the way we’ve always done it!") or it’s a conscious and expedient choice made by mariners because cotter pins can sometimes be a pain in the neck to...

How to prepare for a flood

Damage control is not just a political skill. It's really the naval discipline of responding to structural damage and/or flooding.Damage control is not just a political skill. It's really the naval discipline of responding to structural damage and/or flooding. Tug and towboat crews generally do little, if any, preparation for this type of emergency, but they should. Jumping into a life raft is seldom the best option.Putting together a basic damage control kit isn't difficult or expensive....