Posted by: captbbrucato | December 23, 2008

CEMS, Let’s Talk…

I think Joel’s point is well taken, there’s got to be a better way. I don’t think the system should be abandoned out of hand, and I believe that it can have a reasonably successful application in some segments of the industry. I question it’s practical and meaningful application for tugboats specifically.

That my trial was so short was due to the negative effect I was seeing during that week. I was certain that after the first few days things would settle down and maybe I would be able to point to some improvement in the fatigue levels we accept as normal. The crew’s initial resistance to change had to factor in, and I wasn’t seeing a real commitment to the idea. Old habits die hard, how true.

After a week it was go back to normal or risk a fatigue related incident. Kind of ironic since we were trying to alleviate increased fatigue. The fact is, after the first 2 days the back watch was so convinced they weren’t getting any rest from 1800-2300 that they barely tried. Even though they would normally get an hour or two of rest after supper, the psychological weight of the short off watch hindered their ability to just nap a bit. Still, they kept the altered schedule for the week. A bit of coaching from a credible source may have helped, I don’t know.

As expected, the Captain’s watch suffered no real effect from the changed schedule since it was nearly perfect for getting the necessary rest and matched the normal nap that was taken in the afternoon. This was not at all surprising. As far as widespread application of the idea, I don’t and never would believe the one-size-fits-all approach will ever apply.

Remember that this experiment took place after the chipping and painting season was done. The ATB workload is a little different from a harbor or coast-wise tug but the noise levels from operations remains unchanged. Setting and pulling Intercon pins is a noisy affair. Just ask anyone who has them. The crew had an opportunity to try this system without the added pressure of a busy deck gang making noise or being exposed to the dawning day. If we were in the height of chipping and painting season, it would have been more difficult for the back watch to get their morning rest period, making things even worse. The rising sun would have been a large factor creating a natural need for sleep in the waning hours of the back watch.

Let’s be pragmatic: the 6 & 6 rotation will not change unless and until we see an extra watch stander. Given the dearth of qualified licensed personnel, I don’t see us increasing the number of licensed personnel by 50% to meet this need. We barely have enough to cover the boats working right now. The deck work is going to take place whenever it can be done. There’s no way to eliminate this problem unless the maintenance is removed from the mix, and that’s not likely to happen. Even if the plan worked, there will be times, as Joel admits, where sleep will be hard won given the amount of work required.

Admittedly, I went into this with some built-in resistance since I’m increasingly burdened by shore-side desk jockeys coming up with more regulations and procedures that take my attention away from managing the business of the vessel. Push-back is natural and to be expected. When part of my day is dedicated to documenting the disposal of a used printer cartridge, I think we’ve crossed a line.

That I gave CEMS a try is not to be overly praised. I knew sooner or later that we would be faced with this in one form or another so I took a proactive approach to see what we should expect. I’m sure there is merit to be gleaned from the system, I just don’t see a consistent or enduring application regarding most tugs or towboats.

So much interest is being taken in our level of rest, but none is being taken in regard to our reality. Constant, knee- jerk regulation requiring costly, useless documents, ex; TWIC, a redundant P.O.S to mention one.

That we’re being treated like criminals is no news flash. We can’t get ashore to buy a paper and we remain virtual prisoners on our vessels. Yet we’re asked to be the eyes and ears of the marine community. We may soon be under a different set of rules when tugboats enter the world of inspected vessels. Maybe then we’ll see the changes we hope will alleviate the fatigue issues, but that remains to be seen.

In closing, I submitted my thoughts and observations as they occurred on my ATB based application of CEMS. I don’t claim that what we experienced will necessarily hold true for other vessels or applications. Take from it what you will.

I submit a challenge to anyone on any tug or ATB to give an alternative watch-schedule a try and post their experience as I have. No additional crew, regular operations. Give it a whirl and let us all know how you did it and how it worked out.

Capt. Bill Brucato

ATB Nicole L. Reinauer

1,600 GRT Master – Oceans 1600

Master of Towing Vessels – Oceans

Towing Vessel Designated Examiner

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