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Brad Westlund: ‘I’m most proud of the culture my coworkers have worked hard to create. We guard it jealously.’

According to AmNav Port Captain Brad Westlund, anything worth doing is worth doing right – a personal motto of sorts that extends to safety. A 2019 Saltchuk Safety Award finalist, he stands by AmNav’s “culture of repetition.”

“Safety is everything,” he said. “It’s my priority. More importantly, the AmNav team has worked hard to keep it everyone’s priority…this happens by creating a culture of repetition. Safety must be habitual. I’m fortunate to work with a fantastic group of mariners who all put safety first and are always looking for ways to improve on our systems. We hold each other accountable.”

A native son of California, Westlund grew up in Aptos, near Santa Cruz, but moved with his parents to San Francisco’s East Bay shortly after the 1989 Loma Prieta “World Series” Earthquake. He’s lived in the Bay Area ever since.

“My wife, Allyson, and I, along with our one-year-old daughter, Kelsea, live in Clayton now,” a small town tucked into the side of Mt. Diablo, he explained. “We love the small-town feel. We’re able to ride our bikes along a creek near our house into downtown for dinner, events and weekend concerts.”

Westlund looks back as he pilots an AmNav tug.

From the deck to the wheelhouse

Westlund spent his high school weekdays playing for the football and golf team. Weekends were spent working at a local fabrication shop learning how to customize truck suspensions, wheels, and stereos. He started his maritime career in 2007 on the deck of the AmNav tug Defiant, now renamed the Point Fermin.

“I started at AmNav before attending California Maritime Academy (CMA) and continued to work at AmNav once at the academy, learning the basics of ship-assist, tanker escorting, towing and what it takes to be a great deckhand,” he said.

Westlund graduated from CMA with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation and a United States Coast Guard (USCG) Third Mate License. He is currently earning his master’s degree through CMA’s Master of Science in Transportation and Engineering Management (MSTEM) program and will graduate in April.

“AmNav does a fantastic job of bringing mariners up from the bottom,” he said. “Once I became a deckhand, I learned the engine room and became an engineer. When I graduated from CMA, I sailed aboard AmNav tugs, going offshore whenever a tow would come around.”

Westlund worked his way up to Master, earning a USCG Master of Towing Vessels (Upon Oceans) and operating AmNav Tractor Tugs.

“Managing tugboats is a dynamic business – no two jobs are alike,” he said. “It’s what I like about the industry, but it’s also the greatest challenge. No two workdays are alike. For that reason, every mariner and manager must maintain situational awareness. Whether that’s the deckhand on the tug, the master operating the tug, or the shoreside management forecasting out operations for the next day. It’s a dynamic industry. This makes it both exciting and challenging. The overall industry is going through many changes, as we are in an economic downturn. Larger ships require more powerful tugs.”

It comes down to culture

According to Westlund’s Safety Award nomination, everyone working aboard AmNav knows he’s available 24/7 – and that any time of the day is the right time to talk about safety. He’s successfully led the company through countless regulatory and Oil Major inspections, audits, and vetting as the “safety champion” for every AmNav region – Northern California, Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, and offshore. It’s been many years since an AmNav vessel had a Lost Time Injury.

“Brad has committed himself to creating a positive safety culture where all AmNav employees strive to put safety first through a common vision and set of core safety values,” his nominator wrote. “From the 30-year veterans to the greenest deckhands, all have experienced Brad’s passion for doing a job safely. He routinely enforces the mantra that all at AmNav are not just responsible for themselves, but for all of the families that depend on the men and women of AmNav to make it home in one piece…As a captain, he understands the challenges and risks that our mariners face every day and he demonstrates the highest level of respect and responsiveness for what they do, day in and day out.”

“Professionally, I’m most proud of the culture my coworkers have worked hard to create. We guard it jealously,” said Westlund. “The mariners and shoreside team at AmNav are the reason for our success as a business and around safety.”

Westlund laughs as his daughter plays with his hair on his shoulders.

A workplace to be proud of

Personally, Westlund said he’s most proud of his family.

“Becoming a father has been the greatest experience of my life. Saltchuk Chairman Mark Tabbutt has always said that he wants Saltchuk companies to be the kind of places we’d be proud for our children to work. AmNav President Milt Merritt has carried this priority through for all of us at AmNav. I’m happy to do my part in continuing to make AmNav a place where all feel this way.”

Westlund was recently sworn in and appointed to the Harbor Safety Committee of the San Francisco Bay representing the Tug Operators Organization to further the goal of improving safe navigation in the San Francisco Bay area. He also spends time every year at local middle and high schools teaching students about all that the maritime industry has to offer.

“It’s been good to my family and me,” he said. “I’ve been in the maritime industry for a little more than 12 years. In that time, I’ve met so many extraordinary people and traveled to some amazing places. At AmNav, all team members have excellent attitudes. While it may sound like a cliché, this is what makes coming to work every day enjoyable. Having teammates that constantly look for ways to improve the company, while putting safety first, all with a  good attitude has made all of the difference. So much of what makes an organization succeed centers around the people. We have great people.”

If he was forced to leave maritime behind, Westlund joked that he’d move his family to Lake Tahoe and open up a ski shop.

“During the summer, my wife and I enjoy boating on the local lakes with family and friends in our wake surf boat,” he said, “and we enjoy our winter trips to Lake Tahoe.”

Looking ahead, he believes AmNav’s future is bright.

“The ship-assist market on the United States West Coast (USWC) is extremely competitive,” he said. “It operates like a commodity-centered marketplace with the major global players either consolidating or facing challenging times themselves. By continuing to offer excellent service, with a focus on safety, I’m optimistic that AmNav will continue to grow during the next decade.”

“I’ve been on and around the water my entire life,” he concluded. “I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to come to work day in and day out on the waterfront, operate and manage state-of-the-art tugboats, and work around great people.”

RELATED: Read AmNav President Milt Merritt’s story!

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.