I’d like to add to what Captain Joel Milton wrote in a recent column in Workboat Magazine. First, I should say that in the past I’ve been strongly opposed to the idea of a limited Towing Officer’s Assessment Record (TOAR), but now I’m convinced that this has to change.
It’s no secret that new wheelhouse candidates coming up now are facing a steeper climb in acquiring their credentials, and the TOAR, a blessing as far as it goes to ensure that the wheelhouse is safe from an incompetent boat-handler, has added an unintended stumbling block. In a prior post I described what it once took to earn your first steering job. Now the TOAR creates a real apprenticeship record showing written proof, with signatures from Coast Guard-certified Designated Examiners, attesting that the man or woman at the helm has earned their stripes. But with this innovation comes a practical problem caused by vessel classifications.
More and more petroleum transportation companies like the one I work for, particularly on the East Coast, are converting or retrofitting their conventional tug fleets to Articulated Tug-Barge (ATB) units. As a result the number of conventional tugs in our operation is shrinking and the training opportunities are becoming even more rare than they were only a short while ago. It’s apparent that, with the new designs of ATB’s and tractor tugs gaining ground, the TOAR is limited in its ability to meet the needs of the industry “as is.”
For example, in the near future my outfit may not have enough conventional tugs left to train prospective wheelhouse personnel to meet the need for qualified mates “in-house.” With the way things are shaping up we’ll be forced to go outside the outfit to hire tug mates with a completed TOAR. Shouldn’t we be able to advance qualified employees who already have a company history and familiarity with the company’s vessels and policy to senior positions rather than bringing in fresh blood that will need orientation and assessment?
The ATB, in its most common configuration, is a limited-application vessel with few similarities to the conventional tugboat (true dual-mode units notwithstanding). The tractor tug is another animal completely, with its own operating parameters that dwarf the abilities of a conventional tug. And although the industry is aware of the capabilities of these vessels, the official Coast Guard TOAR has not been amended to meet the operational needs of these vessels specifically.
In my opinion, I feel there could be an adjustment made to the TOAR to allow for a limited towing endorsement for ATB operations only. Realistically, ATB’s operate like a ship and have similar maneuvering parameters. They utilize assist boats the same as ships. Their officers are tugboat men, but they aren’t towing alongside or astern anymore. The skill-sets they’ve acquired will serve them in an emergency, but when it comes to a full breakout from the notch (for some of the new systems) you’ll find that the general consensus among the men who crew these vessels is that this is done only as a last resort, and I do mean the very last resort.
With the present system mate-candidates on an ATB, trying to advance to the wheelhouse on that same vessel, must return to a conventional tugboat and put in the time. Considering the limited and dwindling availability of training vessels, wouldn’t it make sense to allow them to train and handle the ATB’s under the same direct supervision, then qualify them for an ATB-restricted ticket?
Back when I was working on upgrading my license I was granted a waiver by the local Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP), at my employers request, to work as Chief Mate on a small coastal tanker of just under 1,800 gross tons in order to serve the necessary time on a vessel over 1,600 gross tons. After the time requirement was satisfied under that specific limitation I was granted the unlimited tonnage endorsement and was able to continue upgrading my pilotage with the tonnage limits removed.
Captain Kelly Sweeney of Professional Mariner Magazine recently made the case for increased application of simulators in qualifying candidates for ship operations including navigation, piloting and tanker ops. These days, the latest simulators are being used to prepare and train mariners regarding the abilities of the new tractor tugs without scratching a dollar’s worth of paint. All good things, but I was of the opinion that it was of limited use because the “real-world” intensity just isn’t there. Captain Sweeney offers a different perspective and I can agree that the simulator may be the only way to get the necessary expertise/exposure without creating more roadblocks for many endorsements, not just the TOAR.
Maybe its time we have a conversation to see if this can be accomplished and meet the needs of the industry without sacrificing the quality of the officers we want to see at the helm. Maybe the “waiver” is the way to go. Or perhaps we can utilize the latest simulators in the Bridge Resource Management curriculum for advanced operations like emergency breakaways and towing scenarios, and then arrive at a practical compromise.
Of course with that accommodation the flexibility to work on different types of tugs will be limited, thereby requiring different levels of endorsement. A whole separate issue to which Captain Milton offers an elegant and simple solution: complete a standard TOAR and remove any limits on the endorsement.
Capt. Bill Brucato