For those who eventually come to the realization, sometimes after a lengthy delay, that being a “galley creature” no longer suits them and career advancement is a more suitable path, there is another big drawback.

Valuable time wasted when you are a galley creature cannot be recouped. Particularly if steering is what you want to do, you are really hurting yourself by not using your time productively.

This may not be apparent at the time and it likely won’t be understood without a detailed explanation and regular reinforcement, which is why it is the norm.

Most of the time captains, mates or towboat pilots (on the Western Rivers), when operating on inland waters or the Great Lakes, also serve as their own federal pilot (known as “acting-as-pilot” and often incorrectly referred to as “recency”).

This is where the required 12 complete round trips with a barge in and out of a given port or through a waterway while serving as either an observer or a supervised helmsman comes into play. In addition, if you are acting-as-pilot during hours of darkness, at least four of those 12 roundtrips must have been during darkness hours.

Almost all deckhands today waste months or years of sea-service time on voyages that they could’ve been racking up pilotage trips as an observer (initially) and helmsman (eventually), even if  they work just a single harbor.

There’s far more to being a mate than just the hands on mechanics of routine boat handling. One must be able to hold down a watch without direct supervision in most circumstances or the two-watch system simply fails. It’s just simple math.

Nothing says “waste of my time” more clearly than a new mate who is fully credentialed by the Coast Guard but who hasn’t made the effort to get at least some of the requisite pilotage trips done, and who doesn’t adequately know the waterways, terminals and berths (along with all of the other local knowledge required).

Therefore, that person can’t stand watch without supervision.

The time to start the process is long before one has a new license in hand.

Joel Milton works on towing vessels. He can be reached at [email protected].