Posted by: towmasters | February 13, 2011

Dancing With Miss Lucy: This Is Not A Simulation!

At slack water two tugs, one a new-ish ASD tractor and the other a rather elderly conventional twin-screw boat of classic lines, work together with a combined 9,000 hp to sail a ship: the Laura K. Moran (2008) and the Cape Cod (1967) both pull together to get the M/T Miss Lucy off the dock at IMTT – Con Hook (proper name: Constable Hook) in Bayonne, NJ. Once the ship is far enough off the dock to allow the stern to swing around, and with the Laura still backing, the Cape Cod comes ahead into the stern quarter to take in her line…..

…..and begin pushing on the stern.

The Miss Lucy begins to pivot around neatly in the middle of the Kill Van Kull.

The Cape Cod keeps pushing…..

…..while the Laura keeps pulling…..

…..and the Miss Lucy finally starts making headway.

Still working, the Laura begins to swing aft …..

…..and falls in alongside for the short run outbound on the Con Hook Range. Once into the Upper Bay the Laura will take in her line, retrieve the departing docking pilot, and peel off for the next job as the Miss Lucy heads for the Narrows, Ambrose Channel, and out to sea in the New York Bight, off for another loading port somewhere over the horizon.

This short photo essay serves a very important purpose: to illustrate and publicly restate in no uncertain terms this organization’s belief, which is strongly rooted in our member’s professional experiences, that ultimately you learn how to do evolutions like this by (brace yourselves for a shocking revelation!) actually doing them. With one’s feet firmly planted on the tilting deck of a tug’s wheelhouse as the diesels roar, the turbos scream, the boat shakes and the wheel wash blasts out in a frothing white rush. Whether it be a brand new, state-of-the-art tractor or a workhorse, do-it-all conventional boat, there is no substitute for the “real thing” and there never has been. Our job is not “virtual” and while simulator training absolutely has its place, and can potentially be a valuable tool to help broaden and enhance existing on-board training, it is absolutely not an equivalent of the real thing and should not be regarded or accepted as such.

The MTVA has watched with growing alarm as, over the last decade, the status of simulator-based training has risen until it gradually became the favored method for avoiding “inconvenient” sea time and practical-demonstration requirements (the Towing Officers Assessment Record, or TOAR), so as to produce “qualified” towing vessel (and other) deck officers as quickly as possible. While they may well be produced faster, they won’t really be qualified except on paper, and you can’t rely on paper when the stakes are high and the chips are down. You need skill, nerve, good judgment, proper preparation, experience, and occasionally a timely dash of luck to consistently do this job safely. Simulator training may, to very widely-varying degrees depending on the quality and sophistication of the simulator and the skill and experience of the people who program and run it, help a mariner become better. Or it may not. Worse, it can just as easily cause great harm by fooling people (from the trainees themselves to those who train them, those that employ them, oil company vetters, and the regulators and politicians overseeing the industry) into believing in the “false god” of technology as the primary answer to our training, manning, and recruitment & retention problems. It is not and cannot be.

The sooner we stop looking to dangerous shortcuts and quick-fixes for what are largely demographic problems (an approaching tsunami of retiring Baby Boomers combined with a long-term inability to recruit and retain a sufficient number of entry-level mariners), and accept the fact that there must be a reasonably substantial investment of time and resources to produce quality mariners, the better off the entire industry will be. Even a quick look at the licensing regulations shows that no unfair or unworkable obstacles to advancement exist: with the current towing license structure in place (it has recently been moved to 46 CFR – Parts 11.464, 11.465 & 11.466) a mariner would acquire enough sea time to qualify for Mate/Pilot  in as little as 3 years – 4 months, and for Master in just 5 years – 4 months, of actual elapsed calendar time while working an equal-time schedule (6 months a year). If the mariner is working the brutal and arguably downright-unhealthy 2-for-1 schedule (8 months of the year) the elapsed calendar time periods drop to only 2 years – 4 months and 4 years, respectively. Allowing for the inevitable delays in the licensing process caused by work schedule conflicts for attending the required schools or taking tests, mariner application mistakes, processing, approval, issuance, and the usual bureaucratic logjams of one sort or another, we’re realistically talking about producing these two grades of officers in roughly 4 to 6 years on an equal-time schedule and 3 to 41/2 years on the 2-for-1 schedule.

So there it is, summed up in a paragraph. Is this really too “burdensome” or “inefficient”? Can any reasonable, evidence-based argument be made that this is just too long to wait? Given the high levels of responsibility, skill and care required and expected of us, and the potential consequences when things go badly wrong, we think not. For many mariners, maybe even most, it’s often not long enough. The real trouble for this industry comes when we always have to learn what should be obvious the hard way.

Note: for a very detailed look at the “hawsepipe” route of advancement that still remains open for towing vessel officers see The Tugboat Hawsepipe & Other Routes To The Wheelhouse.


  1. Its important for upcoming mariners to know that you need to actually sail in the capacity of AM/S, notjust hold the credential. Most companies do not run their boats with Apprentice Mates for an entire 360 8hr days, so pay attention to how your sea service letters are worded when applying for Mate of Towing. Nobody wants to be dead ended.

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