Good Judgement, Poor Seamanship, and the Cell Phone

Recently a blog post on Workboat’s website really struck a raw nerve for myself and many professional’s I know. It was titled “Cell Phone use costs tug operator millions” and pointed to the failure of K-Sea’s no cell phone use on watch policy as the major cause of the incident. It only briefly mentioned what directly caused the accident, the fact that the mate was operating the vessel from the lower wheelhouse (below the deck level of the barge), and had both VHF radio’s turned down. The lack of a lookout on the bow of the barge hasn’t been mentioned in any articles I have read.
As any working mariner can attest driving and talking on your personal cell phone isn’t smart, however having your cell phone in the bridge is the least of your distractions. It is merely in the background to the company phone, client phone, several VHF’s, keeping logs, and oh yea….driving the boat. However I think there is a larger and somewhat indirect cause of this accident that should foreshadow all others, and that is vessel manning.
The mate on watch wasn’t on his cell phone telling his wife or his girlfriend how much he missed them, or placing bets with his booking, or dealing with any trivial bullshit. His son, his child had to have surgery while he was away and there had been complications. Not being a parent myself, I can’t really put myself in that mindset, however in my opinion I would say that kind of psychological factor can make a person unfit to stand watch.
With the two watch system in place on the Caribbean Sea this only leaves one person to safely run the vessel. Had they run the vessel with a master and two mates and had three watches. Not only would they have had less fatigued and safer operations on a daily basis, but that mate would have been able to get off the vessel and attend to his family emergency, and the vessel could have continued to operate.

About newenglandwaterman

1600 Master Near Coastal, Master of Towing Vessels, and a whole binder full of other pieces of paper. You can find me at the controls, hooked up and hard over, when I'm not at home playing with the dogs
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