Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Lead Deckhand

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. By Captain Richard L. Ehringer, Consul Energy, General Manager of Mon River Towing.

Up Before Dawn
I start my day at 4:30 a.m., one hour before the start of the watch. This gives me time to grab a cup of coffee and a quick breakfast. I also take the fuel report at this time. At 5:30 a.m. I relieve the leadman on the back watch.

If we are in a landing, my stern deckhand and I will finish any remaining work. After tow is completed, I’ll check every barge for water. I then place the pumps where needed and return back to the pilot house to check the orders and attend a safety meeting.

At Daybreak
At this point it is daylight and I am able to go out to shovel and sweep the barges. While sweeping, I’ll check the safety lines and clean up any busted lines or wires. After this, I usually head back to the boat for a short break.

After my break, I’ll report to the captain for tasks like painting or specific cleaning jobs. After I have completed those, I check the engines and light plants in the engine room. This check is the responsibility of the lead deckhand.

Between 9:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., I will start to prepare lunch for my watch and the next watch. At 11:30 a.m., my watch is completed.

Downtime Between Watches
The next six hours are my time to shower, eat, call home, relax, and wind down. This is also where I get to sleep. I usually tend to get about 3 to 4 hours of sleep.

Around 4:30 p.m. I will wake up and start all over again.

I’ll grab a cup of coffee, a quick bite, and relax until 5:30 p.m., when it’s time to relieve the previous watch. I start by checking the barges for water and move pumps if needed. I then report back to the pilothouse for another safety meeting. After the meeting I find out what tasks the captain has for me. I’ll then head to the engine room to check the engines, drain any water, and clean up any oil on the floor.

Miscellaneous Tasks
At this point, I will take a break and get a snack or cold drink. After my break, I will start on any tasks the captain has given to me. After this, I will spend some time on some odds and ends, like putting eyes in lines, checking batteries for water, wiping down walls, and checking the light bulbs around the boat. Some other tasks also include sweeping the gunnels, picking up trash off the decks, and anything else I see that needs to be done.

All of these tasks are completed in between building a tow and guiding the pilot through the locks. Every watch is different, depending on the orders and any situations that could occur. At 11:30 p.m., my watch is over.

And So it Goes …
… pretty much the same, day after day, for 14 days. As the forward lead deckhand, I work from about 6:00 a.m. until noon, and again from 6:00 p.m. until midnight, a total of 12 hours per day.

A lead deckhand’s days vary from one task to another, depending on what our delivery and pick-up orders are. One watch, I may be just riding out the watch between landings. That’s when I catch up on cleaning, chipping, painting, or whatever else needs to be done on the boat. Maintenance and cleaning on the boat is an ongoing process.

Other watches, I’ll find myself in a landing, wiring a tow together for the entire watch. Not too often, but it happens.

My hitch will be over in a couple more days and then I’ll be home for seven days (actually six full days). I’ll have to readjust my sleep patterns with the absence of the engine noises that I got accustomed to for 14 days.

All in all it’s a pretty good life once you adapt. The pay and benefits are decent. I’m saving some for retirement and my co-workers are all pretty good guys. There’s a lot of worse ways to make a living.

About the author:
Captain Ehringer started with J&L Steel Corporation as a deckhand in March of 1963 and soon earned his first mate, master, and first class pilot licenses for inland river steam and motor vessels (all gross tonnage). Since 1983, he has managed various aspects of customer service and operations for the Mon Valley Transportation Division, Ingram Barge Company, and Mon River Towing, where he now serves as general manager. He has also held several leadership positions for the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh, the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, and both the Pittsburgh Maritime and Propeller Clubs.

For more information:
Full article and “U.S. Coast Guard Western Rivers Sectors” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings. Click on “archives” and then “2007-08 Vol. 64, Number 4” (Winter 2007-08).

Subscribe online at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/subscribe.asp.

Online survey available at: http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/survey.asp.

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: HQS-DG-NMCProceedings@uscg.mil.