Turn it off!

It’s 0430 in New York Harbor and promising to be a very busy day. There’s a line of ships stretched out from the “Con Hook” range to Ambrose Tower.

I’m steering from the upper wheelhouse of a 4200 hp tug, pushing a light oil barge, and bound for Bayway barge docks. I’m relieved that I’ve managed to stay ahead of all the “inbounders,” because of the one-way traffic zone at Bergen Point.

My assist boat is close behind me, and I’ve been communicating my docking plan to him. It’s a tight fit. The berth North of A lies perpendicular to the stream, and there’s another unit South of B in the same slip. And just to make things more interesting, there’s a tug and barge laying across from me, at the old GATX dock, effectively narrowing the channel. And of course there’s both north and southbound units approaching my position, hence the need for expediency.

That’s when it happens, and incredible, loud, high-pitched, piercing alarm has gone off, practically immobilizing me with its intensity. It’s the radar, a new ARPA capable Furuno, just recently installed before my coming aboard. I’m trying desperately to silence it, but each time I press “alarm ACK (acknowledged),” it stops momentarily, then resumes. I’m approaching the dock, yet I can’t concentrate. Even my assist boat is hampered by the alarm each time I “key” the mike.

The sound is overpowering, like a form of sonic torture. I’m looking for a hammer, but I find the STBY TX button instead. It stops, silence at last. But wait, no! It can’t be! It’s back, stronger than ever, demanding my attention. The radar is in the STBY mode, yet the alarm is still screaming at me. This time I find the power button and turn the radar off completely. Now I can safely dock my barge, how ironic.

I’ve held a radar endorsement for nearly thirty years. Thirty years my best friend literally through rain, fog, sleet and snow. But tonight it turned on me, tonight my best friend became my enemy.

Though I am admittedly “low tech”, I am not anti-technology. After all, cell phones and ATMs are the best things that ever happened to the mariner. However, no one has ever asked me or my colleagues what we want in marine electronics. The answer would be simplicity and standardization.

Put the same functions in the same places whenever possible. Don’t make me scroll through numerous menus, taking my eye and concentration off the task at hand. Because in the dead of night, with so much at stake, I’ve neither the time nor the inclination to fool with a keyboard.

Redding R. Bethea
Master Ocean 1600 Tons

Sailing as 1st mate with Moran Towing NY

By Professional Mariner Staff