The importance of mariner skills

I am a regular reader of Joel Milton’s On the Water column. His At A Glance column in the September issue of WorkBoat (“Seat-of-the-pants piloting”) has real significance, and not simply because I am a senior ferry captain.

The ability to maneuver in all kinds of conditions by the seat of the pants is an important attribute for mariners. Although I hold a higher tonnage license with endorsements not necessarily needed for the vessels operated (radar, ECDIS), reliance on good old-fashioned boat handling and seamanship is something that any master can be proud of. My experience tells me that neither enough masters nor enough companies imbue that thinking and skill to new captains.

A recent article by an English master and chief officer of P&O Ferries on LinkedIn underscored the importance of manual shiphandling skills.

A colleague of mine (a SUNY Maritime grad with decades as a blue water skipper) has privately lamented to me that most of his career was spent getting from one harbor to another on international voyages, relying on pilots to bring the vessel in. Handling of ferries, tugs, and other vessels in coastal and inland service often relies upon manual boat handling and operating skills.

While the digital wheelhouse is a part of my environment today with radar and ARPA, ECDIS, and computerized engine monitoring, these electronic tools should not be a substitute for traditional mariner skills. Good judgment, intuition, an appreciation for navigation and COLREGS or Inland Rules, coupled with situational awareness and keen senses, contributes immensely to good boat handling, maneuvering and safety.

Thank you Joel for a column that routinely underscores the importance of many basic mariner skills and for the recognition offered to Shelter Island ferries and their crews in the September issue.

About the author

Capt. John Cronin

Capt. John Cronin is the senior captain at North Ferry Co. Inc., Shelter Island, N.Y.


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    Thank you for bringing attention to this issue. Sadly, there are many mariners out there that (regardless of intentions) are ill prepared to be piloting vessels. I see it daily and it frightens me that the guests we have aboard and crew that work with us, put their lives in our hands without question due to the licenses we hold.

    In my opinion, too many mariners are being granted licenses without skills required to get the boat to/from the dock. I’m not sure how to combat this issue other than to do my best to train those that are looking to get licenses to the best of my abilities.

    Safe sailing to all…

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    Casey Murphree on

    Thanks for this! As a Master of Oceans, up to 1600 tons I have met many blue-water, big-boat people who want to “retire” to running Tugs, Supply vessels, etc., and can’t understand why they have trouble getting such a job.

    Generally big-boat people – as you pointed out – don’t have the boat handling EXPERIENCE prerequisite for such a job.

    I had a chance to advance and go deep-sea but made the personal choice to keep on doing what I LOVE doing – – -walking divers, operating in close-quarters construction, anchor handling, and all the stress that goes with them.

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