Becoming a better mariner

I have spent over 40 years in the maritime industry, working my way up the hawsepipe from deckhand to master of a 1,000-passenger sternwheel riverboat.

Like many of you, I have participated in emergency drills, training exercises and classes. I hold numerous mariner licenses and have amassed a great deal of experience navigating our inland waterways. One might think that I have done it all and, as a result, I have nothing more to learn.

I disagree. I’m a lifelong learner who always seeks out new information that will make me a better mariner and help my professional growth.

In February, I attended the PVA Annual Convention in Tampa, Fla. I attend the PVA show each year to reconnect with industry colleagues and, importantly, to learn.

The meeting featured nearly 100 educational sessions and events that affect the passenger vessel industry. They provided timely information on several subjects. I attended sessions on fire suppression technologies, the role of the NTSB and the Coast Guard in investigating major marine casualties, OSHA obligations, medical and physical standards for mariners, the legal requirements of ADA for company websites, new vessel designs and shipyard trends, and how to prepare for an active shooter situation.

My learning experiences this year didn’t end at the PVA convention. Later in February, I attended the 2020 Great Lakes Waterways Conference in Cleveland. I always discover valuable information at this meeting.

At this conference, Great Lakes operators from the U.S. and Canada give me a broader perspective on the challenges that we all face. For example, this year I gained a new understanding of how Great Lakes operators are dealing with ice and high-water levels. High water is a problem that we all deal with on the inland rivers. I participated in discussions on security and interacted with all types of workboat operators. I also developed new relationships with members of the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers.

Have you attended a meeting of your association or industry organization recently? There is no better way to learn than at these types of gatherings. It is a great way to keep pace with our fast-paced, ever-changing industry.

About the author

Capt. Alan Bernstein

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or


  1. Avatar
    Captain Frank R Dudis on

    I agree no matter how much you’ve seen you should always be looking to learn more and understand the reasons why we are trained to do or not do certain things.

    I’m approaching my 30th year of Maritime Credentials, I’ve run charters. Towboats for over 20 years, and have personally instructed almost 6,000 boaters in the NJ/Ny area and consider myself quite knowledgable in seamanship and boating in the under 12 meter size. Despite this I think one should always be looking to learn more.

    I would never fully trust someone who is a bragging know it all. The seas can be very humbling to the best of us while operators and it make hours seem like days to remind us we are not “all that”

    • Avatar
      Toby Brittain on

      I had a relief Captain tell me something years ago that always has held true. If the day comes where you think you’ve learned it all then it’s time to quit and go home. You have no business out here when you’ve closed you mind off to learning.

Leave A Reply

© Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.