top of page

Can You See Me Now?

You know those decals you see on the larger delivery trucks and tractor-trailers that read “If You Can’t See Me I Can’t See You.”? Well, how about this small tug with a loaded “scrappy” (scrap-metal scow) power-sliding wide around the construction barges on the seawall at Corlears Hook with a max-ebb East River current on their tail…

Can’t see the operator, can you.

Nor can you see any sign of a lookout. This is a pretty flagrant foul, as these things go, and unfortunately it’s not at all uncommon. Keep in mind that this tug/scow combo was coming directly at us while digging hard to get back over to the Manhattan-side of the river. Once they got fully into their turn around the hook they were literally going sideways and therefore, because of the obstruction presented by their tow, unable to see where they were actually going or any oncoming traffic. In fact, they would have been looking directly at the Lower Manhattan shoreline and hoping like hell it all worked out. It was a Wile E. Coyote-style moment: arms and legs spinning wildly as he sails off the cliff edge…but in the end it did work out, which only reinforces the bad idea that it’s okay to keep doing it.

Apparently we can do things correctly and responsibly or we can do things profitably, but we simply cannot do both at the same time, or at least that’s the implication a reasonable person might take from seeing things like this. Of course, that is pure BS. You have to give credit where credit is due, though: they sure did one hell of a job loading that scow as full as possible, so someone was making money.

But why no lookout? That’s simple: either the tug’s crew is negligent (qualified personnel were available but unused) or the tug is under-manned. Under-manning (both practically and legally) is a chronic problem, particularly on the smaller tugs doing the “low-value” (non-oil) work, and this practice predates the economic woes that presently grip our country and the rest of the world. The Coast Guard has thus far shown little inclination/ability for any real, sustained enforcement of even the existing weak regulations which, among other shortcomings, place no explicit limit on the work hours of deckhands. Nor have they shown any taste for promoting the obvious remedy: recommending to Congress, via a legislative change proposal, a revision of the laws (U.S. Code) that the manning regulations (Code of Federal Regulations) are derived from. Which is not to say that Congress would necessarily heed that advice, or even want to hear it in the first place: there are, after all, some influential “constituents” out there who would undoubtedly complain that properly manning their vessels would put them out of business and so would argue (and lobby) forcefully against it.

Anyhoo, for a good visibility comparison here’s the tug Paul Andrew

…whose skipper clearly can see over the tow, even without a designated lookout…

…because the upper pilothouse allows for it. Well, duh!

This tug, the Charles D. McAllister, with the car float alongside has enough height-of-eye to easily see over the box cars, even without an upper house, and would normally need the assistance of the deckhand’s eyes only when in close proximity to the slip and float bridge for sailing and landing.

This one is questionable…