Capable mariners — Part III

The description of the bolo and its use that I provided in previous blogs has two primary purposes. One is to inform the large number of North American mariners of the bolo’s very existence.

Most mariners today, even many of the self-described “old salts,” have never heard of a bolo, used one, or seen one used. As time passes and new generations of mariners take over, we risk losing valuable tools, techniques and knowledge that can be extremely beneficial but very difficult to retrieve once gone.

It would be a shame for it to disappear due to what amounts to cultural neglect of our own profession.

Like many other specialized tools, the bolo isn’t needed most of the time, but requires time and practice to develop the skills necessary to use it effectively and safely. Experience is also needed to know when to use it or not, which is just another part of the broad discipline of professional seamanship. But when you really need one, there is no substitute for the bolo’s reliability and effectiveness.

Yes, over many years equipment has been damaged and people injured through its misuse just like every other effective tool that has ever been created.

By the time a tool or technique has become totally benign it most likely has also become equally ineffective. There is always risk attached. Surging a line is also inherently dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as a full crew of mariners that don’t have a clue as to how to do it properly. Developing sound judgment and knowledge of how to manage the risks and dangers is far more important than blindly attempting to avoid anything that has the slightest hint of risk altogether.

Taking into account the above, it’s important more than ever for experienced mariners with knowledge and skills to pass on not take its continuation for granted.

Traditional skills, techniques and ways (adapted as needed to new and emerging technologies and processes) need to be taught and passed on to those coming up the ranks.

About the author

Joel 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.


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    I appreciate the talking points about tools and techniques disappearing, but you could at least let us less knowledgeable know what it is you’re talking about. So what is a bolo?

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    I hate to see what the ‘experts’ have already done to the maritime industry. When I was young if an AB was caught on deck without a knife on them, it was a firing offense. Now, he’ll be fired if they catch him with a knife on board!
    There is a proper tool for a job. The effort should be concentrated on teaching people how to properly use the proper tools and NOT to ban the tools and replace them with new gadgets that are not nearly as effective (even if supposedly ‘safer’).
    We need to learn to accept the risks that go along with real life and learn how to deal with them. I’d like to see us bring back more of the traditional maritime culture. We’ve already lost so much. Most of it in the name of ‘safety’. Safety is not about eliminating ALL risks!

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