Foss Maritime Regional Operations Manager Ed Ehler was nominated for a 2021-2022 Saltchuk Safety Award for working directly with customers and crew to make sure progress toward safer operations takes place. “This is not easy, and it is time-consuming,” said Ehler’s nominator. “Since Ed has taken the lead, things are markedly improving.”
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
I was born and raised on an old wooden tugboat on Lake Union. My father was in the shipwright business, and we lived in various shipyards on the lake. My mother was a fisheries observer living aboard a small schooner in a shipyard my father was running, which is where they met. I had a unique childhood experience of not having a backyard but a whole working shipyard to explore growing up. I went to Ballard High School and participated in the maritime program the school offered. I would later be accepted into Cal Maritime, graduating in 2011.
Tell us about your career, your current position, and what led you to it.
I started sailing commercially at 16 as a Chief Mate aboard a 1924 schooner out of Fairhaven, Bellingham. Once out of college, I worked for an offshore supply company as Mate and later as Captain of an OSV in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2016, I was offered a Mate’s position with Foss and worked the Seattle Tunnel project on the Sydney Foss, hauling mud barges. After completing the STP, I transferred into the PNW Harbor division and would eventually sail as Captain. I entered the office in October 2020 as the PNW Port Captain. My current position is Regional Operations Manager for both PNW harbor and oceans, which has been a unique and challenging job. I have always been fascinated by the operational logistics of maritime companies, and my carrier with Foss has let me turn that fascination into a career.
Tell us about your approach to facilitating a culture of safety beyond Foss. How are you working to turn customers’ near-miss records around and move everyone involved toward safer operations?
I firmly believe that shoreside management works for the marine employees on the water and supports their needs and safety. Our operations in Tacoma are unique in that we cover everything from assisting 1,300-foot container ships to shifting 200-foot scrap barges. My job is to provide our crews with the tools they need for safe operations, whether PPE or reaching out to our customers to work towards improving working conditions for our mariners. At the end of the day, the captain of the boat is going to decide how to complete a job safely. My job is to give them any and all support they need to make those decisions.
Is there something in your life that drove your commitment to safety?
I have seen and been a part of a number of major marine incidents ranging from shipyard injuries to major ship fires. Working on the water is an intrinsically dangerous industry, and having witnessed these dangers firsthand, my goal as a manager is to do my part to bring everyone home safe. Additionally, I have just welcomed twin girls into the world, and making sure that my mariners come home safely to their families has taken on an increased meaning now that I am a father.
Speaking up for safety can be difficult for some people. What advice would you give to someone within our family of companies who’s convinced their feedback won’t matter—or worse, that they’ll somehow be punished for taking action?
I would tell them that, as a mariner who has moved into a shoreside position, their feedback is taken seriously. The decisions around safety aboard a boat can be made fast at the deck-plate level but can take time and careful consideration at the shoreside operational level. If anyone is concerned they are not being heard, I encourage them to pick up the phone and call me directly.