Last month we attended Workboat Magazine’s Pacific Maritime Expo in Seattle, and manned the MTVA booth, for the third year in a row. This conference allows for a tremendous amount of networking within the industry and is what really makes getting out to these shows worthwhile. The generous sponsors and free beer also help to make it a lot of fun!
Part of the focus for the MTVA this year was keeping the seemingly-alien concept of “onboard training” alive and advancing our idea of how to most effectively promote this with the Hybrid Training Tug Project. There was a lot of feedback and thought on how this vessel might be developed and the various hurdles it might face. We did have a meeting with some of the individuals involved with the Training Tug Workgroup: many thanks to those people who took the time to find the obscure meeting room in the back of the Expo, and for the ideas and suggestions on this project.
Basically, everyone we met throughout labor and industry supports the idea of veteran captains training new prospects on board. Everyone agrees the workforce is aging and that it’s important to recruit and train new mariners before the experience of the elders is lost. Everyone agrees towing vessel operations are learned by operating towing vessels. Unfortunately, not everyone sees how we can make a Hybrid ASD work within the industry and succeed on its own.
But, as Ron Burchett keeps asking, “What does the recruiting poster for the Towing Industry look like?”,………….. well, there isn’t one. Part of a broad vision we share with Ron is the creation of a platform using the BRATT and the MTVA Training Tug in a progressive program for attracting the best and the brightest into this industry.
If the average tug sailor is now age 54 and we work from age 18 to 65, it seems like the average age would have to be 41 or 42 to be sustainable. I suppose this is a career you could work in until you’re 75, but not all of us seem to live that long. Granted, some of this is the result of the massive baby boomer generation approaching retirement and most industries are feeling this same crunch. The U.S. towing industry, however, has the distinct disadvantage of requiring a lifestyle that only a small percentage of the available workforce can adapt to for a lifelong career. It is important to attract those few misfits with the potential of doing this for 30 or 40 years and to expose them to the benefits of working in the towing industry.
Most of the people who have already done this for 30 or 40 years aren’t going to write a textbook, teach in a classroom, or help program a simulator. Many of them will, however, gladly teach on board a tug in the traditional manner by which they themselves learned the trade, passing down the practical skills in the time-honored way. It’s a tangible platform which both they and the trainees can grasp, and it’s inevitably the only place to actually learn hands-on the practical skills required for operating towing vessels.
Recently we’ve had several very generous offers for the donation of older conventional tugs, which could potentially be used as a training vessel. While those offers are certainly appreciated I’m not sure an older conventional tug alone will help the industry attract the new talent that it desperately needs to find at this point. I doubt we’re going back to the single-screw diesel, and the high-power ASD tractor appears to be where the action is for most future escort and assist work, and even some of the coastal and inland line haul work. Unless the current emissions and other regulatory requirements suddenly evaporate, an unlikely proposition at best, a large percentage of those ASD’s will incorporate alternative propulsion systems in the very near future. These Hybrid ASD Tugs are, in fact, already here, with more of them coming. We’ll need captains, engineers and crews capable of operating them. Our Training Tug concept represents the leading edge of this emerging technology and it will push the envelope one step further.
The MTVA Training Tug meeting was partly eclipsed by the overlapping time of the USCG Towing Vessel Inspection Update. Although I only made the second half, in my opinion it resembled a bit of a deja vu. I will just copy and paste last years description on this one……..”The USCG Inspection Conference did not lead to any real eye popping revelations, in fact we might be more confused than we were before the Expo. We were told however that they are coming some day and that somebody is holding them close to their chest.”
Our industry certainly lost strong support on the House transportation and maritime committees with the recent mid-term election results. The leadership and attention to maritime affairs from Representatives James Oberstar (D-MN), Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Gene Taylor (D-MS) was invaluable over the recent years and greatly appreciated. They will be missed, and the USCG Authorization Act of 2010 would have undoubtedly looked very different (read: much less mariner-friendly) without their direct interest and involvement. We wish them well and sincerely thank them for their service.
Finally, many thanks to all the MTVA Members who came to work the booth and see the show. We’re now preparing to attend the 2011 Tugnology Conference in Antwerp next May, where I’ve been asked on behalf of the MTVA to present a stirring, 20 minute paper on “Crewing & Training” and onboard training vs. simulators & classroom. Not much of a debate there, really, but send in your thoughts on this subject if you have any. If anyone is interested in a crash course on the leading edge of tug developments and meeting your peers from around the world, the Tugnology Conference is definitely the place to be.
Captain Jordan May Co-Director, Master of Towing Vessels Association http://www.mtvassociation.com 541-220-9559