I have worked for several non-union marine companies but only one of them required their deck crew to have a deep understanding of the mechanical and electrical systems aboard each vessel.
Argosy Cruises hires only shoreside “port engineers,” which may explain why the Seattle company trains its crews more thoroughly. However, many vessels similar to Argosy’s carry only one engineer on board. What if the sole engineer aboard becomes disabled? You can’t always shuttle another engineer out or quickly get back to the dock. How many tour boat captains have enough knowledge to back up the engineer?
Consider this: Someone skilled is needed in the wheelhouse during emergency situations, and even if you had an extra ticket aboard, captains are required to have little knowledge about engineering in order to get a license. Yes, new captains aren’t required to have any time at the helm before getting their first license! I’m sure we all can think of at least a few marine casualties where inexperience in the engine room resulted in a worse situation.
Argosy is the only company I have seen that trains its deck crews on basic engineering. This isn’t an advertisement for them. Instead, it is just an observation. I only worked one season at Argosy and the last thing I want to do is motor slowly past Bill Gates’ house everyday. Luckily for them there are a lot of tourists who DO want to see where Bill Gates lives, as well take in some awesome views. I will say, though, that Argosy vessels are the only ones on the West Coast that offer a locks tour, which is pretty cool.
So what does Argosy require of their deck crews? They give them a booklet full of tasks to achieve and a time frame in which to perform of each task. The crew is also required to diagrams of the systems throughout the boat and where all safety gear is located. It has made a big difference in a few situations that involved propulsion loss. The crew was able to go below, troubleshoot an issue, and then radio the captain to explain what was up and when they fixed the problem.
Deck crew at Argosy do not get promoted until they have accurately mapped the systems and get checked off twice on competency regarding safety and general operations.
I followed deckhand and tour guide Amy around during a regular workday, including looking over her booklet and doing engine room checks with her. Companies like Argosy can serve as an excellent springboard for a hawsepiper like Amy who is just starting out in the industry.
I’m always on the lookout for operators that offer free or paid training to beginning mariners. If you have one that you would recommend, a comment below with a link would be appreciated.