Faith-based towing — Part I

Working mariners are faced with a steady proliferation of paperwork and safety checklists that seems to grow each year. 

If properly done, the two require a lot of time and mariners’ undivided attention, which is something that an impatient industry usually only pays lip service to. 

Typically there is always pressure, whether explicit or implicit, to hurry and get to the destination so that people far removed from the action will be pleased. Pleased, that is, as long as nothing goes wrong.

Of course it’s a problem for operating companies and regulatory agencies, too, because paperwork and safety checklists are time consuming and require human resources to create them and administrate them properly. Whenever there’s a noteworthy incident, almost always with the human element as a root or contributing cause, pressure builds to do something about it. This often results in yet another checklist. And so the vicious circle continues. Checklists can be helpful but as with all things, we reach a point of diminishing returns where adding more paperwork just doesn’t help.

There are great inconsistencies in the acceptance and practice of safety procedures in the workboat industry, no matter how established they may appear to be. Some mariners won’t do much more than gun-deck the various required safety checklists, including the big ones like pre-voyage planning and, especially, the inspection of towing gear. 

Despite this, things really don’t go awry often. That’s because the odds are quite low that the usual safety omissions and shortcuts will actually cause trouble on a particular voyage. Thus, a dangerous mindset develops. It becomes a firmly established practice that validates a “why bother” approach to seamanship. Everything will be OK because it’s always been OK.

I call this approach “faith-based towing.” If you look closely, you’ll see it being practiced on a tug near you.

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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