One of the more insidious problems of the ever-growing administrative burden born by mariners (itself caused by an ever-growing array of treaties, laws, regulations and policies, which is in turn caused mostly by good, old-fashioned human fecklessness) is the issue of how to find the time to properly do them. The number of logs, reports and assorted effluvia has grown and mutated like the swine-flu virus. Pencil-whipping (or you can substitute the modern version: pixel-whipping) them is often an attractive alternative when time is short and deadlines loom. The list may include, but is not limited to, maintaining the official log, rough log, radio log, garbage log, tow wire log, daily position reports, monthly safety equipment inspection reports, monthly safety drill/training reports, pre-voyage safety checklists, voyage plans, notices of arrival, chart corrections, publication corrections, ballast water reports, supply orders, work/repair orders, vessel document checklists, payroll reports, crew member job-performance evaluations, illness/injury reports, inventories, ad infinitum. This is in addition to the actual navigation of the vessel, normal inter-vessel communications, normal office-vessel communications, accomplishing the assignments given, holding the required drills, maintaining the vessel, attempting to stay sane, starting your “credential” renewal process 2 years early so you won’t lose your job, blah, blah, blah…..
Each and every one of these items is either legally required or has otherwise been deemed to be necessary for what one may suppose are good reasons. Viewed in isolation from one another they generally appear to be both reasonable and justifiable, although this may or may not actually be the case. The problem is that they don’t actually exist in isolation. Rather, they exist as a whole, and this whole is building towards critical mass. With the new towing vessel inspection regulations in progress the legislators, regulators, companies, classification societies and insurers should be taking a long, hard look at what is truly necessary and can be reasonably expected of us. I would go so far as to say that there should be a moratorium on any further additions to the administrative workload unless there is an equivalent reduction or a technological advance that completely offsets it. The piece of straw that broke the camel’s back weighed no more than any of the others, it was just one too many. We should be actively looking for ways to consolidate, simplify and reduce the paperwork load wherever and however possible, not increase it, and using modern technology to become more efficient at doing that which is unavoidable is very important. One mate I met, who used to do the lightering runs out of Big Stone anchorage in the lower Delaware Bay, told me that their paperwork load was so massive that they were typically backed up 3-4 months on the chart and pub corrections! The MTVA hereby recommends the following options for reducing the workload and allowing mariners to spend more of their time focused on somewhat more important things, like safe navigation and trying to get adequate rest.
Chart corrections are obviously very important, and are often the single biggest consumer of time. Boats whose normal or potential routes cover broad geographical areas must carry a lot of charts, possibly over a hundred of them. The pubs can also be very time-intensive, but are nowhere near as important. Let’s face it, we seldom open the Coast Pilots and use the Light Lists even less, but we’re still required to keep them current. If you can somehow manage to get them done they take up way more of our limited time than they’re ever worth. In many cases they just don’t get done for lack of time and relative importance. I consider it to be a form of triage: deciding upon what is most important, as well as what is doable given the constraints of time and resources, and then doing it. The pubs generally don’t make the cut for inclusion on the “important enough to lose even more sleep over” list. The Coast Guard and Navy have long had a skewed perspective on the relative importance and practicality of these functions because they’ve always had personnel who do this as their primary job, and they don’t stand 12 hours of watch a day. We’ve never had that luxury. But there is a better way!
My company uses Ocean Charting Services for providing our charts, along with all of the pub and chart corrections, and the response from the boat crews to this complete system has been very enthusiastic. We were furnished with 3-ring binders containing each Coast Pilot and Light List that we carry. Corrections are accomplished simply by removing the old pages and inserting the new pages, then dating and initialing the correction log sheet in the front of each binder. Very simple, and very fast. So you don’t miss anything important, the changed text on each page is highlighted so that you’ll know specifically what was changed. I also understand that if you want to use the original books instead they offer a stick-on correction version for them too. Each vessels individual chart inventory, which OCS keeps on e-file, is organized in another binder containing tabbed dividers and log sheets for every chart. The corrections are stick-on patches that you cut out and place directly on the charts. Most importantly, the specific changes are bordered in red so that you will always know what was changed, assuming that you ever bother to look at your paper charts anymore. If you aren’t then you’re sailing right into the negligence zone! As each chart is corrected you date and initial its log sheet, then place the included correction sheet or sheets behind it. If there’s a faster and better way I surely don’t know of it. We’re also on auto-delivery for each new print-on-demand edition of the charts we carry. It would be difficult to overestimate what a great system this is or how it finally allows a busy mate to actually be able to get and stay caught up with this often-neglected duty.
If it’s just pub corrections you’re after MTVA member Capt. Doug Alfers has come up with a real winner with his Accunav Solutions. It eliminates the time-consuming and highly-annoying manual cutting-and-pasting required to correct the Coast Pilots and Light Lists. Check it out.
Finally, MTVA member Capt. Bill Brucato of the NY Tugmaster’s Weblog has some excellent advice for How to correct your publications, save a tree, and quite possibly save your mind…..
One last item: don’t forget that, no matter how you deal with chart and pub corrections, you still need to visit the U.S. Coast Guard’s Navigation Center to download and look at your Local Notice to Mariners every week without fail, for reasons having nothing to do with the aforementioned corrections. You should review the following sections for whatever may affect you: Section I – Special Notices contains information “of special concern” to the mariner. Section V – Advance Notices contains “advance notice of approved projects, changes to aids to navigation, or upcoming temporary changes such as dredging, etc.” Section VI – Proposed Changes contains “notice(s) of non-approved, proposed projects open for comment.” Section VII – General contains, as you might expect, “information of general concern” to mariners. These may be followed by Bridge, Marine Event, or other sections. The format varies somewhat depending upon which C.G. District you’re in. You would be ill-advised to skip over any of these sections as they all can contain information that you’re required by regulation to be aware of. Depending upon word of mouth to find out could easily be considered an act of negligence if something were to go wrong. Print out whatever pages have relevant information for you, highlight the important bits with a fluorescent yellow marker, then hang it on a clipboard where it can be seen by both watches. Make sure it’s read. Make it a part of your relief process at crew change too, so the oncoming crew isn’t in the dark about something important that could affect them during their hitch. It’s a serious tugboat faux pas to hand them a bag of shit and then walk away…..