Every year more than 1,000 exhibitors and several thousand attendees gather for the annual International WorkBoat Show in New Orleans, with the goal of promoting their businesses, networking and also having a little fun in the Big Easy. For us at the magazine, it’s a time to take stock of the industry we cover, peek at emerging technologies and innovations, and understand what concerns workboat operators have or what is making them happy these days.

One thing that struck me as I raced from one seminar to another at last week’s show was the heavy burden of regulation and compliance facing the industry. From environmental and safety rules to dealing with threats from cyberattacks to being up to date on insurance coverage, there is a lot that workboat companies need to know, digest, analyze, implement and plan for.

Time and again, seminar speakers emphasized the importance of being well educated and planning ahead for this evolving environment.

On cybersecurity, experts urged operators to examine their vulnerabilities, develop a plan to prevent and respond to events, and educate employees about computer protocols and policies.

On combating stress and fatigue onboard vessels, we learned that education about nutrition, exercise and the impact of stress on the body can go along way toward making a crew healthier and happier.

On Subchapter M, which outlines new towboat inspection regulations, we heard how critical it is that operators educate themselves on all aspects of the proposed rule and be prepared for the final rule’s rollout, expected early in 2016.

On ballast water management, planning for new regulations was the central topic. Starting in 2018, vessels must begin installing treatment systems at their next scheduled dry docking. 

On automatic identification systems (AIS), Jaime Arroyo, AIS expert at the Coast Guard, said by March 1, 2016, all vessels in U.S. waters must carry an AIS device that will share navigation and other data with nearby vessels and shoreside facilities. The new regulation is part of an international effort to improve vessel security and safety.

On vessel general permits (VGP), EPA and industry experts explained that the 2013 VGPs require use of environmentally acceptable lubricants (EALs) on equipment that could release oil into the water. They said that about one-third of the workboat fleet is using EALs, and the spotlight is now on the rest of the fleet that must phase into compliance.

By attending conferences like the WorkBoat Show, vessel operators gather the information they need to make informed decisions about rules and regulations they must follow now or in the future.

A captain for a New York ferry service told me that he always learns something new from the show. Just before our conversation he had called his office to implement tips that he had learned in the cybersecurity session, saying he didn’t realize how vulnerable certain computer practices were to cyber intrusions.

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.