Three months at sea, three months at home. To Tim Foster, who works as a bosun for Sabine Transportation Company, that just about sums up both the best and the hardest parts of his job. “I love the sea – and visiting other countries,” he enthuses. “But being away from home for such long stretches is hard.”
Foster has worked for Sabine since 1996. As the bosun, he supervises all deck work on his ship and usually has between five and seven people working with him. “I get together with the chief mate each morning to see what work needs to be done that day, then I monitor the work, making sure no one gets hurt,” Foster explains. His duties can also include standing watch on the bridge at night.
"I love the sea – and visiting other countries"
Foster supervises all ship maintenance above the engine room. That includes regular maintenance on the main deck (such as painting and chipping) and working with the booms, cranes, mooring lines, and safety equipment including life boats. He also steers the ship and drops and lifts the anchor.
“My job is all about safety,” Foster explains. “If anyone gets hurt on deck, it’s the responsibility of the bosun.” That means making sure people are wearing the correct safety equipment and that they aren’t doing something that’s going to hurt them. “If I’ve got a guy hanging in a chair, painting thirty feet above the deck, I want to know that the knots are tied correctly,” Foster says. To date, no one has had so much as a scratch working with him.
Foster acquired the knowledge and skills he needs for this position through on the job training. He spent four years in the navy, where he also served as a bosun (although there he had much less responsibility than he does now). His navy experience gave him an advantage over others who want to work on ships. “You’ve got to do your time at sea to move up the ranks,” he says.
"You’ve got to do your time at sea to move up the ranks"
After the navy, Foster worked for two years as a deck hand on Mississippi river barges. Then he moved to ocean-going tugs, where he worked as an able-bodied seaman. Just before coming to Sabine, he worked on a ship carrying grain from New Orleans to Puerto Rico. Through all these jobs, he gradually picked up the training and sea time he needed to do the job he now holds.
What’s the most important skill for a bosun? Common sense, according to Foster. “Every ship is different, and you can’t go on board assuming you know everything,” he says. “You have to listen to the people who know what’s going on, be careful, and use common sense.”
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