I always make sure to stress to all new deckhands that once they have completed the initial nine-to-12-month period where they learn basic knowledge and the practical skills needed to perform their job at a minimum level of competence, it’s in their own best interest to not switch to auto-pilot and join the ranks of the “galley creatures.”

I emphasize to the new deckhands that they will only hurt themselves and their careers if they become galley creatures, and that no one will likely step in and rescue them.

Sadly, the response I get to this is consistent. Normally I hear some version of “you’re the first person to ever explain that to me.” This message needs to be clearly communicated from the start and then be regularly reinforced. When this is not done, not only are the individuals hurting themselves, but tug-and-barge companies and the entire industry is affected as well.

This isn’t just a deck officer problem. On tugs and towboats, the deckhand is the position used as a launching pad to move into any other position: tankerman PIC, chief engineer, as well as mate or pilot. When time allows, deckhands that go out of their way to help the chief perform various kinds of vessel maintenance accomplish three things. First, they broaden their overall knowledge and skills regardless of what position they ultimately attain. Second, they learn whether this is the right career advancement path for them. Finally, by doing this, the deckhand makes themselves a more valuable and desirable crewmember. All of these are worthy goals.

The same goes for hopping on tank barges and learning about a tankerman’s job. Learning about piping and valve systems, and getting the required amount of loads and discharges, shouldn’t be something to just start vaguely thinking about after five years of decking a tug, unless you’re happy doing just that and don’t plan to advance beyond AB.

So, turn off your flat screens and expand your horizons. It turns out that there is much more to life out there than just being a galley creature.

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