Keeping pace with the towing regulation

Tugboat companies are feeling the push of existing regulations and licensing requirements and the pull of new ones under development by the U.S. Coast Guard. Regulations, regardless of industry or profession, seem often to be generated by incidents resulting from violations to existing rules. In the marine world the most notable example recently was the towboat Mel Oliver colliding with a ship on the Mississippi River near New Orleans last year (PM #118).

So if regulation is a growth industry, companies need to develop administrative systems to keep pace, or they will be overwhelmed with compliance issues when they are audited. Adopting a Safety Management System (SMS) and maintaining it is not a profit-making enterprise, although it can be argued that if it nurtures prevention in terms of accidents and equipment breakdowns, it can save on insurance and litigation costs and new equipment purchases over time.

Instituting, tracking and maintaining an SMS is especially onerous on the small to mid-size company with fewer administrative resources, and smaller budgets than larger operators.

One company, among others, that has developed a Web-based SMS is Tugboat Compliance Systems (TCS), owned by Dana Teicheira.
Teicheira is a 1980 graduate of the California Maritime Academy. He carries several licenses including a 1600 master oceans license and has worked as a tug captain, marine operations manager, port engineer and marine surveyor. For the past nine years, he has been an auditor for the American Waterways Operators (AWO) Responsible Carrier Program (RCP).

“As an AWO auditor I have seen all types of companies deal with their audit issues,†said Teicheira. “Setting up a Safety Management System from scratch takes a lot of work and organization. Typically one person will spend several months working on the system then the company will be audited and certified that all of the required elements of the SMS are in place.â€

Once certified, a not uncommon scenario develops whereby the company loses focus on the SMS and recording is haphazard and inconsistent. Perhaps the employee who set up and/or monitored the system leaves the company, or is assigned other duties that generate income but do not allow for the time it takes to generate the reams of paperwork to document a manual compliance system. “One of my clients described their situation as ‘drowning in paperwork,’†said Teicheira. Three years later the auditor shows up once again and the pain begins.

Teicheira got the idea to develop an automated process four years ago. From his experience auditing the RCP, he knew what documentation was required. He designed a system that covered all the parameters such as company profile, safety training, audit lists, incident reports, maintenance schedules, etc. He designed forms and drop-down menus with the idea of keeping it simple. From his experience as an auditor, he realized that if the system is not easy to use, it would not be used.

The next step was to hire a programmer to execute the design. Teicheira assumed the process would take a few months. Eighteen months later he had a beta trial version ready to market.

The system database gathers and stores a company’s information, existing training, who performs specific duties, who is responsible for incident investigations, etc. An expandable list and checkbox template is used for recording such items as employee and vessel data.

When a company user fills out a form, any repeat data is selected or checked from a list instead of having to type it out every time. There is obvious savings in time and frustration, not to mention missing an item here and there.

There is a Policies and Procedures Manual template linked to the database by a merge engine. Following the initial 18-step interview, the manual can be created quickly. If a company already has a manual, it can upload the manual into the TCS knowledgebase, which is specific to each client. The knowledgebase stores all of the documents created by the program, as well as any portable document format (PDF) the client would like to upload to update or disperse information as it becomes available under specific categories such as safety data, navigation publication, local Notice to Mariners alerts, equipment manuals and the like.

Once a company is set up, software complementing the Web-based software is downloaded to the boat’s computer. The onboard software allows for data to be input when the tug is out of broadband range, and can then be uploaded once the vessel is back online again, with all the data in the forms in sync.

Coast Guard personnel greet a towing vessel crewman at Algiers Lock in New Orleans during Operation Big Tow licensing and safety inspections in 2008. Boat operators have new tools to help them keep track of regulatory compliance needs.<

Tugcomp includes a Preventive Maintenance module that sets up and tracks interval maintenance for any equipment entered. The intervals can be set up based on hours, days, months, fuel used or distance. An e-mail is generated whenever a piece of equipment is within 10 percent of its scheduled maintenance.

TCS offers the system as a monthly subscription so there is no purchasing fee for the software, and there is no setup fee. The software is maintained and upgraded by TCS as it develops improvements and additional features. A company’s data is stored and backed up daily, with virus protection on a dedicated server in a secure facility with a physical firewall.

For a company with one or two tugs, Teicheira calculates that from five to 10 hours per week is expended by the owner or general manager to administer, via traditional methods, a company SMS. Once set up, the TCS can be monitored online, unshackling the owner or manager from at least one administrative duty.

Teicheira further calculates that a company with up to 20 tugs employing a conventionally managed SMS system would require at least one full-time position. Using TCS, a company can assign the administration to a person covering another task, or free up the safety manager for other duties.

When the auditor comes knocking, he can be assigned restricted access on a read-only basis, resulting in lowered auditing costs. The system makes it easy for a third party auditor to access pertinent information.

At the moment, the RCP rules state that training need only be required on a repetitive basis, stating that “refresher training should be conducted in accordance with company policy, but no less frequently than once every five years,†a fairly ambiguous requirement. “I expect that to change when the Coast Guard comes out with their new rules,†said Teicheira. “I expect that they will have more particular rules.â€

Teicheira would not divulge the exact cost of the software for fear of giving his competition too much information. “Let’s just say that a company with one tug will pay less per day than the cost of lunch, and for 10 tugs about the cost of dinner.â€

A few of the improvements and additions that Teicheira is working on include a streamlined Incident Investigation Report, an excel spreadsheet for streamlined data input, a Safety Statistics Report, edit functions for the Policies and Procedures Manual, a Garbage and EPA Tracking Log, an electronic wheelhouse log and a repair specification option on the Preventive Maintenance module.

This screen image from the Tugboat Compliance Systems portal provides the mariner with an at-a-glance customized to-do list and compliance calendar.

Longer-term enhancements include a Certification and Warranty Tracking module, a Requisition and Inventory module, a module to inventory and maintain navigation charts and publications, customized calendar alerts and customizable inspection forms.

“Essentially, our software brings the same tools that large companies have been using to manage their Safety Management Systems to companies of any size,†said Teicheira.

Presumably the high water mark of regulations will be reached sometime in the future, and we will either sink or swim while tracking, recording and auditing its progress.

Container ATB from Ocean Tug & Barge

Rapid is not a word that readily springs to mind when talking about barges, even if they are articulated tug barges, but henceforth the term Rapid Class will join the lexicon of terms describing ATBs.

Ocean Tug & Barge Engineering (OTBE) of Milford, Mass., the company most associated with ATB design and engineering in the U.S., has introduced three Rapid Class designs to the oil product transportation market.

The first three designs of the model-tested Rapid Class ATB series will be a container carrier of 12,500 dwt, a 30,000-dwt chemical carrier ATB and an liquid petroleum gas (LPG) carrier for U.S. interests.

Although OTBE is under a non-disclosure agreement with its customers and cannot reveal client information, OTBE President Robert Hill said, “They are, however, substantial and well known operators.â€

The new tug and barge designs are an evolution of the company’s ATB designs which have proven themselves out on the water for many years. Those ATBs have primarily been coastwise vessels for the domestic market, but recently OTBE has expanded into the international arena and has a formal engineering relationship with Taisei Corp. of Tokyo.

OTBE worked with Taisei Engineering to develop the designs that employ the newest Articouple connection system. Hill was a co-inventor of the Intercon coupling system, but utilizes other couplers in OTBE projects including the JAK and Bludworth systems. The choice for these designs was based on Hill’s long relationship with Articouple’s principal, Mr. T. Yamaguchi, and the new Articouple’s unique design that was compatible with the drive to create a faster tug and barge hull combination.

“Mr. Yamaguchi of Articouple was a pioneer in this speed effort and our partner in this endeavor,†said Hill.

Hill explained that the new tug and barge designs were put through extensive model testing with a view to determining and correcting the elements of resistance that had been identified over years of model testing previous hulls. Much of what was learned will be applicable in some ways to any ATB.

“The resulting hull shape of both the tug and the barge incorporates each of these ‘fixes’ and the sum of those changes resulted in the higher speeds we can attain. The changes start with the bow design of the barge and end with the propulsion arrangement on the tug.â€

The container ATB is capable of 14.5 knots with 7,000 hp and is designed to fulfill requirements set out for the U.S. initiatives on coastal shipping, but is also fully ocean-capable. The chemical carrier does 16 knots with 13,500 hp. The LPG carrier also does 16 knots, but with 11,000 hp.

OTBE has significantly improved the tug-to-barge access at sea, according to Hill. He went on to say that further steps were taken to reduce noise levels aboard the tug.

“The barges are designed to provide higher speeds for higher-value cargoes, and with this design we can create ATB’s that run the gamut from 10 to 17 knots in speed, which means a design for virtually any need,†said Hill. “Perhaps the best thing I can say about this new design is that the tug is a fully seaworthy design in and of itself, and despite its shape, will be a decent sea boat if the unit has to be towed.†•

Coast Guard personnel greet a towing vessel crewman at Algiers Lock in New Orleans during Operation Big Tow licensing and safety inspections in 2008. Boat operators have new tools to help them keep track of regulatory compliance needs.
Brian Gauvin
This screen image from the Tugboat Compliance Systems portal provides the mariner with an at-a-glance customized to-do list and compliance calendar.

By Professional Mariner Staff