Operating a vessel in a busy port, with an at times high operational tempo, requires more than just good boat handling skills. In fact you can move all over a port successfully with only a mediocre ability to handle the vessel. What is by far more important is the ability to take in information, process it, apply it to your vessel and skill set, and then make a decision based on that info. It is not only being able to make that initial decision, but to then continue to re-evaluate it as you carry it out. Further you then might have to make the decision that your initial decision wasn’t such a great decision. Seems complicated doesn’t it? Well in truth it can be, however it can also be quite simple.
There are a few parts to these decisions that are actually pretty simple. They will vary from your understanding of your vessel, and the others you interact with. Things like: How is your drive system configured, how effective are your thrusters, does she have fast rudders that redirect a lot of water? What are the weather conditions are you loaded deep or floating high? What is your visibility like out of your control station, what is it like in the port or slips you are moving around? What types of vessels are you interacting with, where are they going, and the great unknown: how good is the guy running that other vessel?
The only one of the above questions that you generally can’t answer is the last one. How good is the guy, or gal, running that other vessel? Sometimes you have worked along side them, or maybe know one of the operators onboard. Otherwise it’s best to assume the worst.
So you may be asking yourself, if those are the simple things, what is the difficult part. You may also be asking, where does your boat handling skill set come in? In my opinion they mesh together in what I will simply call Honesty. The honesty part has less to do with how well you handle a boat, and more to do with how well you self evaluate.
Certain sectors of this industry are very high paced and require quick thinking, and the ability to switch task with out loosing sight of the primary job at hand. As the officer of the watch you need to be able to make driving the boat, no matter how mediocre or amazingly you do it, a subconscious effort. It needs to be subconscious because as you are manipulating the controls you have to look ahead and plan for traffic situations. You need to be evaluating the environment around you ahead of time to allow yourself to anticipate as opposed to react. If that isn’t enough the client will be calling on the phone, the deckhands will need instructions, and you might be dictating a time sensitive email to the office about vessel repairs. The list of near simultaneous decision-making never ends. You can’t do it all at once safely, though to be an asset to the vessel and company you need to be able to do at least a few things at a time.
So after a bit of time on the sticks, and after being given a watch holding position or title. If you need someone to handle the radios for you, and to constantly be a look out for traffic. If you need to confer with someone on most maneuvering decisions. If it takes you hours to do basic daily reports and paperwork, and you still consistently have errors. If you continue to have close calls with docked vessels in a narrow slip, continue to bump the dock hard enough for comments to be made. You need to be honest with yourself, and do something differently.
In parting I will leave you with a favorite quote of mine that I think ties in nicely.
“Lack of Failure, is not Evidence of Success”
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