Tow Boat Operator Says Occupation Is a Way of Life
By SCOTT McCLOSKEY
POWHATAN POINT — Murray Energy tow boat pilot Tyler Delong says navigating barges on the Ohio River is a way of life.
While he has only been a boat pilot for nearly a year, he says moving and connecting mainly coal-filled barges between Powhatan Point and a landing on the monongahela River near Pittsburgh is something he truly enjoys. He said occasionally the boats transport fly ash- and sandstone-filled barges as well.
Delong, who was born in Wheeling, said a regular crew consists of seven people, including the captain. Delong said, along with the captain, he is responsible for operating and maintaining control of the vessel in safe manner.
He said a shift requires him to live and work on the barge for 14 days straight before getting a seven-day break.
“It’s both mine and the captain’s responsibility to make sure the vessel is clean and is maintained well and to report any mechanical problem,” Delong said. He said the crew typically connects 12 to 15 barge sections that are each 200 feet in length.
Delong said being the pilot, he is always on the lookout for other boats or crafts on the river.
He said the warmer months can be especially challenging when there are a lot of pleasure boats on the river.
He said while you obviously can’t control what other people are doing, you do your best to always maintain a safe distance.
“The main issue … is with pleasure boats in the summertime because they are just kind of unaware as to how maneuverable we are and how long it takes us to stop. Usually, when we pass other commercial vessels it’s not such a big issue. It’s just the regular people out there on the weekend having fun that cause us to worry a little bit, and we have to pay a little extra attention,” Delong said. He said even moving empty barges can require up to 1,000 feet to bring them to a complete stop — so hauling a full load obviously takes much longer.
Delong said piloting a barge on the river certainly has its perks.
He said the food is awesome, and he has the opportunity to see a lot of interesting things while traveling on the river.
“You get to see some really cool sunrises and sunsets,” Delong said. He said he has even had the opportunity to see deer swiming across the river occasionally.
“I love it. … I never really feel like it’s work so I’m lucky in that aspect, because it is just kind of a lifestyle. … I really don’t see myself doing anything else at this point,” Delong commented. “It’s just kind of like having a second family.”