It almost goes without saying in the pages of WorkBoat that the nation’s tugboat crews are the sinew and muscle that bind the body of maritime and inland waterway trade together. An indispensable part of marine commerce, tugboat operations also present a range of dangers and hazards that can lead to significant insurance claims. An awareness of those hazards can go a long way towards mitigating the risks to vessels, crews, tows, and other folks on or near the water.
Even for old hands and experienced operators, a review of risks can be a good jumping off point for both preventative planning and mitigation of loss should one occur.
Collisions. Tugs often operate in crowded and congested waters, which increases the risk of collisions with other vessels. Collisions can cause significant damage to both vessels involved, as well as to any cargo or property on board.
Groundings. Going aground can cause damage to the boat’s hull and propulsion system and can also lead to spills of fuel or other hazardous materials.
Fires and explosions. More frequent than you’d think, fires and explosions can occur on tugboats for a variety of reasons, such as electrical malfunctions, fuel leaks, or welding accidents. Fires and explosions can cause significant damage to the tug and its crew and can also lead to environmental damage.
Mechanical failures. As many of us know too well, even on a well-maintained vessel mechanical failure can occur at any time.
Crew injuries. Tugs have the potential to be dangerous workplaces if we aren’t careful, and crew members can be injured in a variety of ways, such as falls from heights, slips and trips, or exposure to hazardous materials.
Theft and vandalism. Tugs and their equipment can be targets for theft and vandalism. Theft and vandalism can cause significant financial losses to the tugboat owner or operator.
Cargo damage. If a tow is not properly secured, it can be damaged or lost during transport.
As I’ve highlighted in past columns, a strong and organic safety culture that runs from the greenest crew member to the company leadership is the key to minimizing claims and potential financial loss and injury that can have significant business and emotional impacts on your company and its people.
Communication, training, the ability of anyone to flag a potential issue, and a commitment to “catch people doing something right” and celebrating smart behavior makes the difference. You also need to ensure that your barges, tugboats and docks are outfitted with the right tools and gear to support your safety culture; staying abreast of industry best practice and not cutting corners is key. Finally, owners and operators should purchase adequate insurance coverage to protect themselves against the financial losses that can result from claims, as even the best managed vessels and fleets can find themselves with a claim on their hands. They call them accidents for a reason.