One hand for yourself and one hand for the ship

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “One hand for yourself, and one hand for the ship”. It’s just as relevant today as it was high up on the yardarms when sailing the old square-rigged ships. Back then the mariner had to hang on while still working the sails, lest he fall to his likely death. One hand was for keeping himself safe, and the other hand was used to do the job.  

 “One hand” means more than just holding on. Today it boils down to taking precautions and watching out for yourself while you work. The old salt hanging on for dear life high above the deck would have been much safer had he been wearing a harness. 

As one credit card company says, “Don’t leave home without it.” If you’re working on a boat, you should know which personal protective equipment (PPE) is to be used and when. If you don’t, go back to orientation. You should be issued certain PPE before your first day onboard. I would expect that you’d find additional PPE stowed on the boat. I issued new-hires their PPE at “graduation” from their shoreside orientation. PPE are like seat belts. They can be right there next to you, but if you don’t use them, it does you no good. It’s not if, but when, you are going to get hurt.

  • Hardhats. A hammer falling from a man working aloft could be doing almost 40 mph when it hits your skull. Don’t wear it and then your hard hat will be in better shape than your head.
  • Safety goggles. The deckhand was drilling out a bolt.  The drill kicked back, the dull and rusty bit broke and it punctured his eyeball.  Ouch. “Rusty’s” safety glasses were on his head. 
  • Hearing Protection. Say what? If you’ve ever been next to a screaming engine or needle gun, you know what I mean. Of course, after awhile it won’t be a problem because you’ll be permanently deaf. Why do you think Army guys in artillery have to play their music real loud? 
  • Gloves. “Pinky” was one of those guys we told a thousand times to use work gloves. I guess he just liked that feel of the steel fishhooks through his fingers. He lost part of his pinky one day so then we called him “Pinky.”
  • Steel-toed boots. It seemed strange that the guy was wearing two different size shoes. After a load had dropped on his foot a size 9 was fine for the short foot with no toes. His buddies called him “Shorty.” Towboat guys are a tough crowd. 
  • Safety harness/fall arrest gear. The human body call achieve up to 120 mph when falling. That’s not the problem. The deck is the problem.
  • Respirators. Today there are about 76,000 lung transplants ahead of you on the waiting list.  Your wait could be over a year, if you make it that long. Survival rate is 70 percent. Play the odds?
  • Work vest/PFD. The best for last! I have reported not long ago that the number-one cause of the towing industry’s deaths is drowning, almost certainly if you aren’t wearing your work vest.  My blogMariner Deaths Outside of the Lifelines” explains it again. Wood floats and you don’t when you’re knocked unconscious. 

Instead of lecturing you on why you need to use PPE, I thought I’d present some of the consequences.

Sail safe.

About the author

Capt. Peter Squicciarini

Capt. Peter Squicciarini is a licensed master mariner and marine safety specialist at the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command in Portsmouth, Va. He has worked on towing, passenger, and fishing vessels, and was a safety and compliance manager for an East Coast tug and barge company. He also served in the Navy as a surface ship officer and commanded several warships. He can be reached at

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