Investing In Your Equipment

Investing In Your Equipment



Investing in your equipment is as vital as investing in your crew. After all, how much is an inland river towboat captain’s trust in his ship really worth? What is the true value of a happy, productive crew?

In December 2013, American Commercial Lines took its tallest river tug, the R.P. Gettelfinger, out of service for 6 months. But the crew still worked during that time – completely overhauling their ship. They gutted it, replaced the old engines with more powerful ones, and upgraded the steering system. They improved the lighting and soundproofed all the rooms. They even installed multiple Wi-Fi signals and satellite TV. And they added 400 tons of steel to the hull.

The refurbishment is just one of more than 30 that ACL has completed in the last few years – at a total cost of $300 million. In short, it’s been an expensive investment for the company – especially because it didn’t need to be done.

Or did it?

A vital link in the supply chain
The R.P. Gettelfinger operates on the Lower Mississippi River, towing up to forty-eight barges southbound and up to forty-nine barges northbound. That’s six-and-a-half acres of cargo. When you consider that a common truck can only carry eighteen tons of cargo, but each barge can hold 1,800 tons, you can see why river tugs are still our most efficient method of transportation.

But the job isn’t easy – especially on the Lower Mississippi, an untamed river. Navigating narrow passages, changing currents and dense fog – it is no wonder the captain of an inland river towboat understands the importance of investing in both equipment and crew.

River tug crews spend more time per year on the vessel than at home with their families. ACL acknowledges this and compensates by giving their employees the comforts of home: a quiet place to sleep, a place to exercise, three good meals per day, the chance to make new friends, and the ability to Skype with loved ones at home, for example. These efforts seem to be paying off. The R.P. Gettelfinger is named after a captain who was employed by ACL for 30 years. And that’s not unusual. Many crewmembers have been with ACL for over a decade.

Reaping the rewards

These days, it’s so common to hear of workplace exploitation that when a company takes the opposite approach and, at great expense to themselves, upgrades their boats just to so their employees can live better, and pays their employees well, and generally shows empathy for them the way ACL has, word tends to spread quickly. Captain Rodney Robinson, a pilot on the R.P. Gettelfinger, is one of the company’s newest recruits, having transferred from another company only a year ago. When asked what it was that enticed him to join ACL, he answers immediately: “It was actually this boat. Her reputation precedes her. When a company puts this kind of money into a ship, you understand that they’re actually making an investment in the crew. You think to yourself, ‘They’re making a commitment to me. I want to be an asset to them.’” He pauses and pats the wall of the R.P. Gettelfinger affectionately. “We love this ship. She’s a part of us.”

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