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Cook Inlet Tug & Barge Mate Eric Nyce was nominated for a 2021-2022 Saltchuk Safety Award for his help in planning, installation and testing of a Man Overboard recovery winch that is mobile and portable to any side of a tug.

Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?  

I was born and raised in Kenai, Alaska. I spent my childhood summers fishing commercially and boating around Kachemak Bay. After high school, I attended Western Washington University (in Bellingham, Washington), where I received a degree in history. After college, I spent a couple of years being a ski bum before I got on with CITB.

Tell us about your career, your current position, and what led you to it.

I’m currently a captain onboard the Stellar Wind. When I began working on tugs, I quickly realized that the wheelhouse is where I wanted to be. I was blown away by the maneuverability of z-drives and was eager to acquire the necessary skills and license to run them.

In your own words, why were you nominated for a safety award? Tell us about the planning, installation, and testing of the Man Overboard recovery winch. We imagine the ocean in Alaska is very unforgiving and that getting people out of the water as fast as possible could be the difference between life and death.

I was asked to work with a welder to design, implement, and certify a Man Overboard recovery davit system for our fleet of tugs. Once the davits were built, we found multiple weakness as we tested their viability; I continued to work with the welder until they functioned as intended. Upon completion, I worked with a local engineering firm to confirm their safety by designing a test to suspend 2.5 times the weight of the desired davit certification of 400 pounds. This was done by suspending a metal cradle weighing 500 pounds from the davit. The test was repeated with 750 pounds and 1,000 pounds. At each step, we confirmed that the winch could lift the weight and there was no permanent deflection of any metal. The davits are now in service on our harbor tugs and can be deployed in less than 30 seconds.

Is there something in your life that drove your commitment to safety? 

Growing up commercial fishing, I was able to observe operations that believed in safety and those that didn’t. Operations that protected their workers and invested back in their equipment vastly outperformed those that cut corners and ran machinery into the ground. It’s more of an upfront cost, but maintaining a safe work environment is financially beneficial for the worker and the company.

What was your first impression of CITB? Tell us your favorite story about your time with the company.

When I first started working at CITB, I was impressed at how skilled all the workers were down here. That hasn’t changed as the company grows. CITB continues to hire quality workers who happily buy in to our safety culture.

Think about a time in your career when you felt like what you were doing might not be completely safe. What did you learn from that experience?

Early in my career at CITB I was on a push boat that got caught in weather coming out of Turnagin Arm. Several lines parted and I and another crew member needed to make multiple transfers between the tug and barge to keep the tow intact. The crew onboard the vessel should have spoken up about the potential for unsafe conditions we’d encounter. That trip really reinforced the importance of never being afraid of speaking up about performing a task that has become too dangerous.

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? 

People will almost always thank you rather than scold you for bringing up a safety concern. This can be shown in so many ways, but something as simple as bringing a coworker hearing protection, safety glasses, or noticing a hazard that might have been missed goes a long ways in maintaining a culture of safety.

Missed our Q&A with Foss Maritime Regional Operations Manager Ed Ehler? Read it here!

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.