One of my favorite things – the most fun thing in my opinion – about this job is of course driving a boat. I’ve gotten very little experience on conventionals (non-Voith, non-Z-drive, straight prop shaft) so far, but I’ve gotten lots of stick time in the last month. One maneuver I didn’t realize was a thing until I actually worked on a conventional boat doing ship assist work is the split-sticks approach, or coming up to a ship with one engine turning ahead and one going astern. On a lot of boats, going ahead on even just one engine at minimum RPMs can still have you going upwards of 4 or 5 knots – you’re not going to touch down on the sideshell of a tanker going that fast when you want to put up a line – you’d punch a hole in the thing. These tugs are so powerful that even with the throttles split you’re still going to have headway; the stern thrust will be just enough to slow you down and give you more control.
When you’re approaching in this manner, it’s imperative that you be aware of how the current and wind are affecting you, and where the pivot point of your vessel is located, because up until the last minute you’re using your rudder to compensate for the twist caused by your propellers. When you’re ready to touch down, you go more on the backup to stop your forward motion but this will cause your bow to swing considerably. You have to anticipate this and know where your bow will end up when you touch down. And you never want to take your engines out of gear – leave them clutched in, because taking either the go-ahead or the backup out of gear will most definitely cause you to lose control. When you clutch an engine in, it takes several seconds for it to engage and so there’s a dramatic delay from the time you put your throttle in gear to the moment you actually start getting thrust from your propeller. Everything can go sideways in those few seconds.