Faith-based towing — Part II

So what exactly is faith-based towing? According to Merriam-Webster, faith may be defined as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” 

In the context I’m using here, it’s the poor but sadly ordinary practice of setting out on voyages with the mindset that everything will work out OK. It will work out all by itself and without any particular effort on the part of the master and crew, simply because it has worked out in the past and that’s the preferred outcome. Let’s call it a classic cause-and-effect relationship that’s become disconnected from rational thinking. 

Typically, this is manifested by the failure to do proper pre-voyage planning (you know, one of those pesky checklists) and, especially, thorough inspections of all of towing gear in order to catch developing problems before they can result in a failure and loss of the tow.

Where does this foolish faith come from? Sadly, it usually comes from experience — that’s right, experience. It comes from something that veteran mariners have an abundance of and is often cited as our biggest asset. But it can also be a huge liability. What happens when the wrong conclusions and lessons are drawn from this plethora of valuable and irreplaceable experience? Slipshod practices become standardized as “normal” and worse is that these habits are then adopted by junior crewmembers exposed to them. Once learned and accepted, the bad habits can be very difficult to break. Even if it’s understood in theory that it’s wrong, you’re still fighting against experience and inertia. Why should I check stuff, it’s a pain and it’s always been fine? Mere regulations are often ineffective.

The only remedy I know of is to work patiently towards developing both the technical knowledge to properly plan voyages and inspect the towing gear and a culture of disciplined seamanship practices that are recognized and rewarded. Otherwise, it’s just too easy to take it all on “faith.”

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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