According to a former deckhand, working on a river towboat is unlike any other offshore experience he’s had. The deckhand insists when you work on a ship, you don’t work a job. Rather, you live your job.
Towboat, also called a line boat, are boats that push barges down water ways or rivers. These are not like tugboats that pull ships out to sea. These boats are designed to push their loads inland and typically have a crew of eight to ten members, depending on the type of waterway.
Deckhand Describes Life On a River Towboat
Crewmembers who board a towboat can expect to get wet during their time there. Towboats chug through nearly every kind of weather, except through fog (captains often park the boat for a fog delay). During dry seasons, the rivers are narrow and shallow, however, during the rainy seasons, rivers are high and fast. Rainy, dry, snow or fog all change the dynamic of how crewmembers operate.
Towboats typically have two or three engines, which are very powerful as they push heavy cargo barges. Each engine has its own propeller. The boat has a flat, sometimes square bow in the center where the captain and crew are stationed. The boat requires a capstan line to center it in addition to the face wires, which hold the barges in place, and wing wires, which allow the captain to steer. Normally crews will double up on wires that hold the boat steady, as you never can have too much stability.
How to Stay Safe on River Towboat, as Told by a Former Deckhand
As told by the former line boat deckhand, here are some safety tips that can make life on deck more comfortable, save a limb or save your life:
- Given that you and your crewmembers are in such close quarters for an extended period of time, it makes it difficult to avoid getting sick. Take some over-the-counter medicines with you, just in case.
- Always watch your feet, as there are usually obstacles you need to walk over. Pay particular attention to lines and wires. Be aware if you loosen a pelican hook, the wire may still have tension on it, springing it across the deck. Lock lines, if not handled carefully, can do the same. Your tugboat operator should ensure you are properly trained in knowing your way around the barges.
- Decks, stairways, and barges can be particularly slippery. Most boat operators should provide warning signs, or paint stairways or walkways with sand to create a grip. Though you should always be cautious on these slippery surfaces, make sure your captain has placed warnings throughout the ship.
- Be aware of duck ponds (this comes back to watching your feet), which are gaps between barges, where the boat and the tow meet. These are very easy to fall though. Make sure your captain notifies you of particularly problematic areas.
Your captain also has the responsibility of ensuring all of your fellow crewmembers are properly trained to operate on the boat. All equipment on the boat must be properly maintained as well. And finally, make sure you understand the lines of communication between crewmembers.