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Speed And The Damage Done

Consider this to be a kind of epilogue to my last post on damaged stability for barges. What’s better and more professionally rewarding than responding correctly to a stability crisis as a result of damage? Knowing what to do but never actually having to do it.

Those of us that ride motorcycles all know the old adage, There’s three kinds of riders: those that have laid it down, those that will lay it down, and those that lie about it. That reasoning applies to tugboating as well: there are those that have done damage, those that have yet to but will do damage, and those that lie about it. The “has yet to” group is generally composed of beginners who have so little time under their belts that the odds just haven’t caught up with them yet, and very few reside in that category for long. But damage is a relative term in tug and barge work and fender-benders are commonplace and, to a certain degree, unavoidable. It’s the nature of the business. Nevertheless, the odds are on your side when it comes to major accidents. Barges are not often damaged to the point where serious risk of sinking or breaking up exists. The damaged stability knowledge that we all should have is knowledge that will only be called upon in the most extreme of circumstances. Very few of us will ever experience those circumstances and that is something to be grateful for. One of the ways that you can help tilt the odds even further in your favor is to remember that unnecessary speed, especially in high-risk environments such as busy harbors and narrow channels, may lead directly to great sorrow.

The best advice I’ve ever been given on that subject, beautiful in its simplicity, came from the Officer in Charge of my last duty station in the Coast Guard, a Senior Chief Bosun’s Mate named Ed Michaels. “Remember these words”, he said to me 20+ years ago. “Big speed, big damage. Little speed, little damage.” I’ve never forgotten it. Sure, there’s exceptions to every rule. Just like on a motorcycle, sometimes pouring on the power and some fancy maneuvering are the only things that will save you. But, in general, as the risk factors go up your speed should come down accordingly.

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