Done correctly, a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) is detailed enough to provide clear and unambiguous guidance. It will also answer FAQs, while being sensibly structured and organized so that you can find the information you’re looking for without wasting a lot of time. If it is in digital form, it should be thoroughly searchable.

While it may specify certain things in certain circumstances (required personal protective equipment (PPE) for particular jobs, use of a safety harness when going aloft, etc.), it can only go so far before getting hopelessly bogged down in minute details. Remember, it’s a Safety Management System, not a technical manual. A good TSMS will list and refer to the relevant technical manuals and other reference materials, and sometimes quote some limited information from these sources when it makes sense. This would be an example of the advantage of having a thoughtfully planned out and user-friendly FAQ section.

But at some point, you get down to the non-skid on the weather decks or the deck plates of the engine room, where the actual physical efforts of the crew are carried out to affect the various evolutions. It is here where it can be discovered — if an individual has an open mind — that often the smallest details really do matter. They matter from an immediate safety standpoint for the individuals doing the job as well as economically over the long term, for both the company and its employees. It also should matter to the customers as well. Sometimes these details will surface as a so-called “best practice.”

Best practice is not a term I like to use because it implies that there’s no room for improvement and that you’re trying to do something at an unrealistically high level of performance. The reality is that many best practices are simply what we should and easily could be doing anyway, without a tremendous amount effort.

I regard best practices simply as standard-practices, and I don’t consider it unreasonable to adhere to them. As such, many of them are stipulated in detail in my standing orders for the crew. Yes, real standing orders on a tug. Imagine that.