Methuselah Man

Hapag-Lloyd Container-ship BOSTON EXPRESS
OAKLAND, CA – JANUARY 30, 2015: Hapag-Lloyd Container-ship BOSTON EXPRESS entering the Port of Oakland with Tugboat Assist. Tugboats are vital for safe, efficient entry and exit for the large ships. By Sheila Fitzgerald, Shutterstock

By Captain George Livingstone – The longer my career goes (nearing 40 years), the faster the world changes around me. It would not be earth shattering to note that prior generations have likely had similar thoughts. It is still remarkable, however, to witness 40ish couples in California’s Silicon Valley purchasing $2,400,000 homes in a single cash payment. I am told, in the high tech world of nearby Silicon Valley, youth rules and older professionals can find themselves struggling to be relevant. Not so in the world of marine transportation, experience still matters. Over the course of my career, I have had the honor to work with many extraordinary professional mariners, learning a great deal along the way. From them I would pass some words of wisdom to upcoming generations of maritime professionals.

No one is without faults but exceptional mariners started to understand early there was more to all this than just personal interest. As masters and pilots, they were able to recognize that what they did was greater than self-interest, and in fact, embraced The Public Trust. We are engaged in a vital and indispensable transportation service with the additional responsibility for safe guarding against harm, the land and waterways in which we do our work. That is the lynch pin on which we stand against critics and skeptics within our own sphere of influence. Professional Trust and Authenticity must be our brand, there are no better paths forward.

We all know the story about ‘The miracle on the Hudson’ but the following is germane to this conversation. From his beginnings, learning how to ‘stick and rudder’ fly on a grass runway in Texas to his military flying in F-4’s and finally his commercial jet time, Capt Sullenberger always kept focused on skill sets and personal responsibility to the greater public he served. Following his successful landing on the Hudson River, Capt Sullenberger received a letter from a Paul Kellen of Medford, Mass that said, “There are people among us who are ethical, responsible and diligent. I hope your story encourages those who toil in obscurity to know that the reward is simple, they will be ready if the test comes.”

In Sully’s own words, “I’ve been making small, regular deposits in the bank of experience, education and training for my entire career. And on January 15, 2009 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.” Capt Sully had been preparing his entire career for any possible event, he mentions three parts to this preparation –

  1. Physical Preparation
  2. Recognize all or your available resources, so that you can make the best use of them when you’re faced with a crisis
  3. Remain calm

I would add some collective wisdoms –

  1. Be motivated by The Greater Public Trust, not personal interests and issues. We may not be home for that birthday party, or dinner or Christmas, etc. Far more is at stake.
  2. Trust and authenticity. We must extend trust so as to receive it, to the greater benefit of those lands and waters we protect while engaged in this vital service.
  3. No excuses, take accountability. Take professional responsibility for ones actions on the water. We all make mistakes, take accountability for them in order that lessons are actually learned.
  4. Blunt self-assessment. It’s easy to kid yourself, don’t.
  5. Never, ever stop pushing to learn more professionally.
  6. Remain calm (Worth the repeat)
  7. Stewardship. We are in a business that is more fragile than it appears.

Stewardship is an underlying fundamental of marine transportation. Prior generations have always taken the time to learn the business before taking the reins of leadership. Unlike the 21st Century ‘high tech’ professional world, marine transportation still leans more on experience than advanced, high level degrees. So don’t throw the old, crusty captains out with the bath water quite yet. It would be serious mistake to assume this business moves forward on auto-pilot into perpetuity with the only requirement being, jump on for the ride. Beware, take care, and listen to your elders!

Captain George Livingstone is a San Francisco Bar Pilot, co-author of ‘Tug Use Offshore’, contributing author of ‘IMPA On Pilotage’ and a regular contributor to gCaptain.