Moving to the Mississippi

Been sailing deep sea on passenger vessels and research vessels. Now I’m taking my first job working on the Mississippi on river cruise ships (I’ve done a few coastal rotations with the same company). I’m used to navigating and working equipment in relatively tight and confined waters but what sort of things would you pass on to someone working the river for the first time.
The ship is a faux paddle wheeler with Z-Drive.

Don’t cut the corners.

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Bring a voice recording machine to be able to playback what people on the radio are saying. Unfortunately Rosetta Stone doesn’t have a program for that region of the world were you will be working.


Get a Barway Pilot Guide and learn the bends, names, lights, bridges, checkpoints, VTS areas etc. I took notes in mine, like what to expect during certain river stages, where to meet people, where to hold up from south bound tows etc. I imagine if you have a repetitive voyage like you will have, after a year of this you won’t even need to use it. I found this very helpful, the first Captain I worked with still had his with the same notes from 20 years ago. Helped to reinforce things, depending on the route you can travel some 1500 miles if you include tributaries like the Upper and Ohio so there will be a lot you will need to know. This week there is talk of dredging the Mississippi to 50 feet all the way up to Baton Rouge (228 miles from the mouth where it meets the Gulf of Mexico) making the ports here that much more competitive. A lot of refineries and investment is be done around the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas so I think the Mississippi will not only remain the crucial waterway it is, but become even more important. Also, Inland River Record by Waterways Journal is another book worth purchasing. A good reference for estimating what vessels will be pushing and how large they will be for meeting arrangements - If I see a 10,500 HP vessel, I can expect he/she might have 40+ barges so I wouldn’t want to meet him anywhere but a wide area…then again he could be light boat but generally I find this a good exercise until you know by heart all the types of vessels you will be meeting. This always shows veteran Captains from rookies when it comes to radio calling, what should already be understood and what should be asked. High river to low river conditions can not really be taught, that comes with experience. Hope that helps.


Keep it between the levees…

I learned the hard way not to cut corners too close because silt builds up on the inside of bends where there is less scouring from the current.


Keep it between the navigational beacons.

Learn to play the banjo.

Happens to the best of them. The saying “you never steer the same river twice” is very true. You might do the same trip back to back, but rarely will conditions be the same as your last trip.


I am looking for a copy of the Barway Pilot Guide but when I search the book I get say it’s for the ICW New Orleans to Houston Ship Channel. Is there a book for the Mississippi River? Anyone have the Official Title, Author or publisher or source?