The <strong>Towing Officers Assessment Record (TOAR)</strong> is the “manual” used to guide and document the practical assessment of a mariner attempting to qualify as a towing vessel deck officer (Master, Mate or Pilot). It was created because of the <strong>known</strong> shortcomings of the system as it was.
The present <strong>official </strong>qualification process for towing vessel deck officers is comprised of <strong>two</strong> parts.
- The <strong>Coast Guard </strong>tests the license candidate’s <strong>“book knowledge”</strong> by administering a multiple-choice written examination. Call it an intelligence test, if you like. Everyone knows that passing a multiple-choice exam alone has little bearing on whether an individual can actually physically perform the job. But, for the most part, it is still very necessary to possess and demonstrate that you have that knowledge by passing the test. You certainly aren’t to learn about stability by osmosis while standing on deck. Having said that, the Coast Guard’s question pool needs a serious vetting by experienced towing vessel officers and should be reviewed regularly for continued relevance. Otherwise it gradually loses its usefulness and mariners come to regard it as bureaucratic bullshit with no real value.
- The C.G.-certified towing vessel <strong>Designated Examiners</strong> then use the <strong>TOAR</strong> to guide them while they observe and sign-off the candidates as they actually perform the required practical tasks. These practical assessments evolved out of the knowledge that passing multiple-choice written exams was terribly insufficient and without the assessments the Coast Guard would have no way of knowing if an individual was truly competent or not. The old way of simply letting each captain who was breaking someone in determine when someone was ready or not, based on their own standards, led to very inconsistent results. Being a skilled captain does not necessarily mean that you will be a good teacher. I’ve often heard captains say “I don’t bother with that, it doesn’t matter” when referring to some particular task that they don’t feel is important. Often this was a technical subject that they knew little or nothing about, thus it didn’t matter. The TOAR was meant to give structure to a formerly unstructured process, and take the personal preferences, prejudices, subjectivity and guesswork out of the equation. Nothing will ever completely eliminate it but a well designed TOAR will minimize it.
There is a third <strong>“unofficial”</strong> part to the process that is not directly mandated by any law or regulation:
- The companies that own and operate the tugs and towboats <strong>should</strong> carefully screen and evaluate those who they allow to operate their vessels. Many of them go to great lengths to ensure competency. Some are, to varying degrees, less diligent about it. And some are fly-by-night all the way. Think <strong>DRD Towing</strong>. Think the <strong>T/V Mauvilla </strong>(Amtrak Disaster in Alabama). Think about the many others that never made the news because, by luck alone, no one got killed. In any case, unless a given company’s Port Captains are former captains (skilled and competent captains, that is) they may have great difficulty in making an informed decision. That is not always the case and quality varies widely.
With all this in mind it is clear, to me at least, that the TOAR is the one major part of this process that’s almost completely in <strong>our</strong> hands for ensuring quality control, no matter how ridiculous the regulations may be. It needs to be the best it can be, it needs to be embraced by all of us, and it needs to be strictly enforced by us so that the regulatory lobbying by <strong>AWO </strong>doesn’t further undermine the standards. The remainders of the old <strong>Tugasaurus</strong> attitude that it’s all a bunch of bullshit needs to be eradicated as well.
The <strong>PMI TOAR </strong>that I and the other MTVA members reviewed and made additions to is very comprehensive. I’ve heard the complaints about it being too long, complicated or difficult and I don’t buy it. In fact, I think that the entire licensing and qualification process should be primarily TOAR-driven. What I mean by that is that the license itself, and all the parts of the TOAR <strong>other </strong>than the <strong>Maneuvering</strong> section, should essentially serve as the “cover charge” for entry to the wheelhouse. The <strong>Maneuvering</strong> section of the TOAR should be used to determine what evolutions you should or should not be allowed to do, based upon whether you’ve satisfactorily performed them and been signed off. In that way, you only need to be signed off for what you do in <strong>your</strong> operation, and the maneuvers you don’t do don’t need to be signed off. If you change boats or jobs and get involved in doing maneuvers and operations you’ve never done before then you would need to be signed off by a DE for them before being cut loose, no matter whether you’re a master or mate. This would be the easiest way to provide adequte guidance and ensure competence without either burdening mariners with lots of tasks they’ll possibly never perform or having to make do with the very simplistic Maneuvering section of the original 2001 TOAR.
And I still respectfully, and very forcefully, <strong>disagree</strong> with both anchorman and Capt. Doug Pine. When you have people lateraling over into towing with <strong>>200GRT </strong>licenses from other sectors, they take no tests and the C.G. has no direct oversight of them. All they need is <strong>30 days </strong>and the TOAR. For the <strong><200GRT </strong>crowd they take a limited exam and are supposedly <strong>“experienced” </strong>because they must have 3 years of 8-hour days on their license, plus the 30 days and a TOAR. But it matters not at all where that “experience” was obtained, and only someone who has no direct knowledge thinks that this other “experience” is actually worth much on a tug. So it’s completely up to the DE’s and the companies. We’ve seen what can happen when you leave it only to the companies, so the <strong>DE’s</strong> are truly the last line of defense. If the person getting signed off already holds a license as <strong>Master</strong>, then upon completion of the TOAR they are right then and there <strong>immediately</strong> authorized to serve as a <strong>Master of Towing Vessels</strong>, with no supervision and no further review <strong>required</strong> by anyone, based on <strong>your </strong>signature. So, anchorman, when you say that when you sign off on such a person that you’re<strong> “not attesting to anyone’s ability to serve as a Master”</strong> that’s really skating around the issue on legal technicalities, and that ice is pretty damn thin. Do you really think that you would be protected from the civil lawsuits that would undoubtedly result after a major calamity resulting in civilian deaths and involving a <strong>30-Day Wonder</strong> (or even someone that took the Apprentice Mate / Steersman route) that <strong>you</strong> signed off on? I sincerely doubt it, no matter what the CG says about it.