Navigating to Zero - March 2023

We Can Be HEROes
Safety professionals know that no safety policy or risk mitigation tool will prevent an injury without buy-in from our mariners on the deck. Our safety program’s success is dependent on the partnership we have with our mariners. It is our responsibility to supply them with the resources they need to work safely, from training and drills to PPE and guard rails, and it is their responsibility to use those resources to work safely.
We strive to supply the best materials and programs available for our crews, and as technology and understanding of the human element advances, to adjust the programs and materials we use to ensure we hold up our end of the safety partnership. This is the reason we meet often to discuss safety and sustainability with our peers. We share our experiences in forums like the AWO Safety Committees’ meetings and we work to find solutions for complex problems, like developing training and best practices to prevent distraction and the accidents it causes.
As important as our continuous supply and improvement of safety tools and information are, to get our mariners to buy into a culture of safety, we must accompany our resources with recognition. After all, when things go wrong, the investigation always starts with the personnel on the vessel or at the facility. By recognizing and rewarding our mariners when things go right, we can encourage them and use their good example as a point of pride for the vessel or facility, the company, and our industry.
This is one of the reasons that AWO has established the American Waterways Honor & Excellence in Rescue Operations (HERO) Award.
The HERO Award documents and recognizes rescues undertaken by AWO member company employees that demonstrate selflessness, skill, and bravery. We launched the program on March 1, recognizing our first awardees in Houston during the Safety Committees’ Meeting. Since the launch, we have received several more submissions – demonstrating just how many great things our mariners are doing every day to protect themselves, their crews, and the environment and communities our vessels operate in.
AWO is proud to have the opportunity to recognize our mariners, but we need your assistance to tell their story. Details about the HERO Award and the submission form can be found on our website. Please help us shine the spotlight on our heroic mariners and thank them for their service to our industry and our nation.
Congratulations to recent recipients of the HERO Award:
Ingram Barge Company – Crew of the tug M/V Midland
Ingram Barge Company – Crew of the tug M/V Michael J. Granger
Ingram Barge Company – Crew of the tug M/V Mary K. Cavarra
Foss Maritime – Crew of the tugs PJ Brix and Betsy L
American Commercial Barge Lines – Crew of the tug M/V Safety Explorer
American Commercial Barge Line – Crew of the tug M/V Ron Callegan
Great Lakes Dredge and Dock – Team Members on the Houston Ship Channel Project
AWO Safety Committees’ Winter Meeting – Houston
The AWO Interregion and Coastal Safety Committees’ Winter Meeting in Houston was a great success! The Safety Committees welcomed speakers from agencies including the Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in addition to experts from Rose Point Navigation Systems, MITAGS, Helm, Seamen’s Church Institute, Moxie Media, Marine Learning Systems, Kongsberg Maritime, and many more. Members can access all of the meeting’s presentations on AWO’s Resources webpage. A few highlights are included here.
RADM Timme’s State of Marine Safety Report
Rear Admiral Richard Timme, Commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District, provided an update on the state of marine safety in his area of responsibility. RADM Timme’s remarks centered on management of the “finite resources” that the industry and the Coast Guard have grown accustomed to working with as we face workforce challenges and reflect on recent extreme low water on the Mississippi River. RADM Timme shared that, like industry, the Coast Guard is struggling to recruit junior members, and is putting together plans to minimize disruptions as existing staff move on or retire.
On low water, RADM Timme stressed the importance of maintaining clear and constant communication between industry and the Coast Guard, crediting effective communication and collaboration with ensuring the crisis was not worse. He praised the maintenance of updated Waterways Action Plans, which he said allowed regulators and the industry to take unified action and maintain the movement of commodities safely and efficiently, even at the lowest river stage. RADM Timme underlined that this coordination could not have been accomplished without the Coast Guard’s partnership with AWO.
Transition to Electronic Charts
Since announcing the sunsetting of traditional paper charts in 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been working with stakeholders to facilitate the transition from paper charts to electronic charts. NOAA Regional Navigation Manager Quentin Stubbs, Ph.D., and Rose Point Navigation Systems Commercial Marine Sales Director Joe Sluka discussed the transition and developments in electronic chart technology. Dr. Stubbs shared that NOAA has been cancelling around 30 paper charts a month, and more than 50 percent are in their last edition or cancelled as of February 2023. Both Dr. Stubbs and Mr. Sluka were excited about the opportunities for electronic charts to enhance navigation safety. Operators will have the opportunity to customize their electronic charts based on the specific information they need and provide feedback that can be quickly incorporated into the system, such as local and institutional waterways knowledge, infrastructure removal, or buoy movement. However, Mr. Sluka cautioned, it is imperative that vessels keep their computer systems healthy by regularly updating their software. Dr. Stubbs said that the development of NOAA’s Electronic Navigational Charts and Custom Chart tool is an ongoing process, and the agency is committed to collaboration and invites industry feedback.
Safe Operation of Movable Railroad Bridges
Concerns about safe operations at movable railroad bridges have been pervasive throughout the inland waterways. Chas Haun of Parker Towing Company, Inc., and Captains Jerry Torok and Nicky Alford of American Commercial Barge Line presented lessons learned from recent incidents and near misses caused by remotely operated moveable railroad bridges. Mr. Haun shared two near misses in which communication issues between the vessel and the bridge led to close calls. Captain Torok and Captain Alford then spoke about a 2022 incident involving an ACBL vessel in which a bridge closed on their tow while it passed beneath the structure, focusing on the training and drills that are standard for vessel crews and the lack of similar training requirements for bridge operators. The presenters noted that despite the progress the towing industry has made in creating bridge transit procedures and developing specific navigation requirements for bridges and other obstructions to navigation, codified in regulations and Towing Safety Management Systems, these procedures will not be enough to prevent an allision with a movable bridge that is not operated safely, and agreed it is imperative that movable bridge operators receive appropriate training and are held accountable to avoid future accidents.
NTSB Lessons Learned
Marcel Muise, a marine casualty investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), spoke about the role NTSB plays in preventing marine casualties. Based on recent NTSB marine casualty investigations, Mr. Muise urged vessel operators to provide mariners with correct air draft information, update vessel and tow dimensions in AIS, and advise mariners to pay close attention to warning areas on a chart. He encouraged all attendees to check out the investigation reports and safety recommendations posted on the NTSB website.
Safety Professionals’ Corner
Captain Matt Lagarde
Captain Matt Lagarde is a Master of Towing Vessels with more than 30 years of experience in the marine industry. He has operated towing vessels throughout the inland waterways of the United States from 800 horsepower to 8000 horsepower. He started as a deckhand and worked his way up to the wheelhouse before transitioning to shoreside roles including Port Captain and Operations Manager. He currently serves as the Vice President for Safety, Training and Compliance for Ingram Barge Company and Immediate Past Chairman of AWO’s Interregion Safety Committee.
What are your safety program priorities for 2023?
Continuous improvement is always my overarching goal. Whatever we do needs to be better than last year. Better than last month. I have an analytical personality, and true to form I like to examine the data to uncover trending and developing problem areas. In the past couple of years, we have really focused on detailed investigation processes to zero in on causal factors and have thoroughly examined policies and procedures to make sure they are accurate and practical. We have also been spending a lot of face time with pilothouse crews and senior deck crew members to revisit basic safety principles and ensure that the folks responsible for overseeing others were themselves well versed in safety expectations.
Currently we are focusing on how we integrate new hire associates into our workforce and working to ensure that they not only stay safe in their first couple of hitches on the vessels, but also that their experience is positive and they want to stay in the industry. A good retention strategy allows them to learn, and the increased experience will lead to safer and more productive operations. We are also increasing our “in-the-field” oversight, looking at how work is actually being performed and how that aligns with written policy and providing situational leadership in the workplace above and beyond the regular on-the-job training expected by the vessel crews. These positions are described as Training and Development Mates and Safety Professionals (aside from regular experienced deck crews) that can put all of their focus on technique and process.
Falls overboard prevention is always a priority for improvement. Our focus areas on this are specific communications and acknowledgements when getting on and off the boat even for routine tasks, taking a pause before stepping across, better risk assessments with skiff and yawl usage, better boot inspections, condition, and appropriateness. The best tool in any case for FOB protection and injuries in general is healthy and detailed pre-task briefings, regardless of how routine the job may be.
What new training or safety tools do you look forward to using or learning more about?
I’m excited to continue to hone our industry’s use of our safety management systems to identify, correct and track identification of and solutions for issues on the vessels. I also look forward to continued development and expertise of electronic navigation systems, allowing our mariners to have the best and most up-to-date information for navigation. We’ve made huge strides on this in the last decade and I believe there is still plenty of room to grow in regards to delivering accurate, current information. For example, I think the USCG Broadcast Notice to Mariner information can be better delivered in real time and displayed in our onboard systems. I firmly believe that knowledge and training are the keys to reductions in competent error.
As far as new safety tools go, I don’t believe safety comes in a box. Our work environment is certainly challenging, it involves working outside in heat and cold and uneven surfaces with heavy equipment. I’d like to see technological improvements that reduce muscle strains and find new ways to reduce heat related challenges with the crews in the summer. Line safety is another priority for me, specifically finding or developing better lines with less potential for snap-back that are still cost effective. The industry has made a huge investment in winches over the last couple of years to reduce stress in carrying rigging and with mechanical edges for tightening the wires, but we still have issues with that equipment as well. Slip and trip reduction are another ongoing challenge, especially in winter. We cannot eliminate snow and ice and we cannot keep everything perfectly coated in non-skid all the time, especially on barges and third-party equipment and docks. Little has changed in the basic strategy for putting together tows in the last several decades. I’m looking forward to some cost effective and durable breakthroughs in this area to reduce the time and effort required of the deck crew on the tow.
You have been very successful in your maritime career! Can you share what you like about our industry and advice for someone who is considering maritime transportation as a career?
One of my favorite things about this industry is that anyone can get out of it what they put into it. There are so many opportunities for learning and advancement in the towing industry that it can be overwhelming to figure out exactly which path to follow. That being said, it is completely viable to change paths anywhere along the way! Started on the boats and want to learn more about the shoreside operations? No problem! Been working in operations and would like to learn more about logistics? No problem! Been learning the ropes and would like to share your knowledge? We have a training position opportunity! We tend to get very focused just on vessel crew positions but there is so much more to this industry. Whether you jump around or find your niche, it is a fantastic career that earns a living wage that still puts a person in better position than the retail or service industry or many other professions.
Whether you are working on the vessels, in sales, in compliance or in training there is always something new and challenging. It is never a boring industry. Even folks in office positions in our industry get to experience other parts of the workplace and learn about other aspects of the industry.
The absolute best part of our industry, above all other things, is the people. The can-do attitude, the friendly competitiveness, and the collaborative nature of everyone within the industry is absolutely astounding. Throughout my career, so many people have helped me and taught me. People tend to change jobs and organizations, but you can always count on helpful advice or support. Likewise, people also seem to feel comfortable reaching out for help when they need it and working together in cross-functional teams to solve problems. I hear stories in other professions about cutthroat competitiveness and compartmentalization, which isolates people from each other and limits growth. In the towing industry, we all grow together, and we also all strive towards continuous improvement — especially when it comes to safe operations, reducing injuries and keeping commerce moving along the waterways.
A Recipe for a Healthier You
Crustless Cauliflower Quiche
An easy breakfast to start your day with high protein, healthy fats, and added veggies! Adapted from Eat Right.
2 tsp olive oil
½ tsp garlic powder
½ cup chopped onions
½ cup cheddar cheese
5 eggs
1 ½ cup chopped cauliflower
½ cup milk of choice: low-fat, whole milk, or unsweetened plain almond milk
½ tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and use the olive oil to grease an 8x8 inch casserole dish or pie pan. Spread onions into pan and place in oven.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk of your choice. Add the salt and garlic powder, and mix.
  3. Remove the dish from oven, and add the cauliflower and cheese, spreading evenly. Pour egg mixture over and top with paprika.
  4. Cook for 30 minutes, or until cauliflower is soft and top of casserole is golden brown.
  • Add a lean meat for extra protein: diced ham, turkey bacon, or bulk Italian sausage would taste great!
  • Swap the cauliflower for a vegetable you prefer, like broccoli or green bell pepper.
  • For a different flavor, change the spices.
AWO is invested in the wellness of our maritime family. Caitlin Kidd, AWO’s Manager - Membership & Digital Operations, is also a nutrition expert. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics from the University of Northern Colorado and is passionate about helping others develop healthy habits through sharing the positive impact of good nutrition and making quality dietary choices. Do you have a recipe or an idea for a healthy meal? Share it with Caitlin by sending it to – you could be included in a future newsletter!
Coast Guard Issues Marine Safety Alerts
The Coast Guard Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis has issued several safety alerts in 2023, including: updated guidance on the arrangement of handholds near gates or other openings atop vertical ladders used for embarkation on vessels; ensuring proper configuration of an MMSI number in DSC equipped VHF radios; and, alerting mariners and civilians to the dangers of electric vehicle batteries that are exposed to saltwater intrusion. All of the Coast Guard’s safety alerts are available on the Coast Guard’s safety alert website.
Results of Recent NTSB Incident Investigations
The NTSB has recently published several marine investigation reports. Below is a sampling of incidents related to tugboat, towboat, and barge or other vessel operations. A complete list of NTSB reports and open investigations can be found on the NTSB's Investigations website.
On March 6, 2022, the ITV Robert Cenac was transiting the Houma Twin Span Bridges in the GICW in Louisiana, pushing the crane barge Mr. Dawg and another deck barge. While passing beneath the Houma Twin Span Bridges, the crane aboard Mr. Dawg contacted the eastbound span of the bridge. Eastbound automobile bridge traffic was reduced from two lanes to one for 10 days. No pollution or injuries were reported. Damage to the bridge was estimated at $1.5 to $2.0 million.
Lessons Learned:
ALWAYS verify the highest point of your tow and the lowest clearance of your route as part of your voyage plan. As an operator, it is good practice to get a paper, email, or text message from the crane owner with the air draft and other information about your tow. The vessel pilot in this incident assumed the height of the crane based on previous voyages with similar tow arrangements. He was 10 feet short on his estimates, which led to the allision.
On December 23, 2021, at 0326 local time, the towing vessel Miss Mollye D was pushing six barges eastbound on Bayou Boeuf between Morgan City and Amelia, Louisiana, when the tow left the channel and struck the Route 182 bridge, which ran parallel to the waterway. The operator did not report the incident but continued eastbound with the tow. Utility workers discovered damage to the bridge later that morning and notified the U.S. Coast Guard. No injuries or pollution were noted. Property damage to the bridge was estimated at $2 million.
Lessons Learned:
The NTSB referenced a 6-on 6-off schedule that the vessel worked as a possible cause of the pilot’s error, though in an interview, the pilot told investigators he had “slept fine” prior to watch. The pilot had a fair amount of experience in the area and passed his post-accident drug test, though a second hair follicle test revealed illicit drug use at some point in the previous six months. Because the pilot was not forthcoming (he indicated that he did not know he hit the bridge) investigators can only guess at the cause of the incident, which was attributed by the NTSB, to “a loss of control… likely due to impairment factors such as fatigue or drug use.”
On May 3, 2022, about 1945 local time, the inspected passenger vessel Natchez, with one crewmember on board standing a security watch, was moored in the Industrial Canal in New Orleans, Louisiana, undergoing renovations, when a fire broke out. Local firefighters extinguished the fire at 2139. No pollution or injuries were reported. Damage to the vessel was estimated at $1.5 million.
Lessons Learned:
Hot work performed on the vessel was completed at 1545 local time, approximately 4 hours prior to the fire. The vessel crew and contractors did conduct a fire watch and made rounds of the area following the completion of work, noting nothing out of the ordinary until around 1830 when a deckhand reported a smell coming from the area where the work was performed. The deckhand found no fire upon inspection, so no action was taken. At 1945, smoke was seen coming from the work area, at which point 911 was called as the fire begin to spread. It is likely that combustible material near the work site was smoldering from 1545 until 1945 when it caught fire. The NTSB concluded that this smoldering combustible material was the root cause. The lesson is that it is critical to evaluate work areas for fire hazards and ensure that combustibles are relocated or protected with flameproofed covers/curtains or otherwise shielded with sheet metal. In addition, crew members involved in hot work should be trained to identify hazards such as combustibles and to take action to remove or protect them from hot work.
National Towing Safety Advisory Committee (NTSAC) April 2023 Meeting
NTSAC will hold its first of two 2023 meetings on Wednesday, April 12, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EDT at the Crowley Maritime Corporation Headquarters, located at 9487 Regency Square Boulevard, Jacksonville, Florida. This meeting is open to the public. NTSAC tasks can be found on the NTSAC website page and the agenda for the meeting is hosted on the Federal Register. NTSAC will discuss matters relating to shallow-draft inland navigation, coastal waterway navigation, and towing safety.
Sustainability Tips – Calculate your Home’s Carbon Footprint
Many of our daily activities - such as using electricity, driving a car, or disposing of waste - cause greenhouse gas emissions. Together these emissions make up a household's carbon footprint.
The EPA offers a calculator that can help you estimate your footprint in three areas: home energy, transportation and waste. Everyone's carbon footprint is different depending on their location, habits, and personal choices.
Visit to learn more and start your journey to a greener home!
AWO’s Voluntary Environmental Stewardship Best Practices - Version 2
Beginning in April, AWO will be working with members to develop and publish an updated version of our Voluntary Environmental Stewardship Best Practices.
The diverse operational profile of AWO’s membership necessitates a broad set of options that may be used by companies and individuals looking to begin or supplement their journey to more sustainable operations. The Voluntary Environmental Stewardship Best Practices do not create a rigid structure of rules; rather, they gather the wide-ranging perspectives of each participant’s unique operational experience, collecting them in a catalog that can be a resource for members beginning or seeking to supplement their journey in sustainability.
If you would like to be a part of the working group, please send a message to Leah Harnish at
Subcommittee News
Tankering and Barge Operations Subcommittee
Members of the Tankering and Barge Operations Subcommittee held a productive meeting during the Winter Safety Committees’ meeting in Houston. The subcommittee discussed plans for work in 2023, including growing strategic partnerships with organizations including Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) and the International Liquid Terminals Association, changes and updates to the process for the Tank Barge Safety Award, and development of a feedback form for participants to document and share details related to liquid terminals and facilities that make up the shoreside of the barge-to-shore interface.
We are looking forward to continuing to discuss the safety challenges our tankermen face each day through initiatives aimed at bringing awareness to the job and developing best practices and partnerships that increase the resources available to AWO members looking to level-up their tankering safety program.
The group’s next meeting will be held virtually on May 3. If you would like to participate in this subcommittee, please email
Falls Overboard Subcommittee
AWO’s Falls Overboard Subcommittee is made up of towing vessel and barge operators and affiliate members with an interest in developing real-world solutions to address this leading cause of fatalities in the barge and towing industry. The group met in early 2023 to finalize the outline for its forthcoming best practices report.
A virtual meeting of the subcommittee is scheduled for April 4 to review parts of the draft report and gather input on standards, policies, tools, and equipment that may be used to mitigate the risk of falls from an unguarded edge of a barge. If you would like to participate in this subcommittee, please email
Distracted Operations Subcommittee
The Distracted Operations Subcommittee is working to identify sources of distraction and develop tools to mitigate the risk of distractions as a contributing factor in marine casualties. Through the subcommittee’s work, AWO has published a Sterile Wheelhouse Guide and previewed a “Deckhand Distracted Operations Guide.” Both are part of AWO’s Menu of Safety Services, hosted on the AWO Resources Page.
The Distracted Operations Subcommittee will be meeting in the second quarter to begin work on a report that combines the sterile wheelhouse guidance, deckhand and new hire training documents, and a guide for shoreside communications, which will be compiled in a “Guide to Mitigating Distracted Operations.”
If you would like to participate in this subcommittee, please email
SSRP – We need your input!
The value of AWO’s Safety Statistics Reporting Program is dependent on full participation by all eligible members. This includes carrier members who employ or are responsible for vessel crews in their operations. Please visit the Safety Statistics Reporting Program website and enter your data for the first quarter of 2023, as well as any historical data that may be missing.
Your submission is confidential and crucial to our industry’s benchmarking, advocacy, and safety and sustainability initiatives. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at or (504) 417-2136.