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‘Let the big boat go first’

Capt. Bill Brucato's morning commute involves heading down to the galley for a cup of coffee, then up to the wheelhouse aboard the Nicole L. Reinauer. But serving as master of the articulated tug barge (ATB) has a downside, too, says Brucato.

"This is the only job where you not only have to worry about getting up and coming to work in the morning, but on your way you might be taking on water or be on fire and you really don't have any options in that case except to deal with it," he says.


Click play to watch heavy-weather video from Brucato and hear him discuss the challenges of the job, including those posed by recreational boaters. Mobile users can click here to watch it on YouTube.

A third-generation mariner, Brucato started in 1973 as a deckhand for his father and five years later he made captain aboard the same tug. There have been plenty of changes since those early days in everything from propulsion to communication and navigation electronics.

"It was all about, you know, seat of the pants," he says. "In those days there were quite a few 'tugosaurs' left, so you were learning from the old-school boys. ... We call them tugosaurs because they've been in the business since Christ was an 'ordinary.' "

Today, there's no seat-of-the-pants navigating aboard the Nicole L. Reinauer. "These days the focus on safety by all of the major oil transporters is the overriding concern," he says. "It's no longer the way it was when I started, where we were told, 'You get that boat on the water and let's get the delivery. We don't want to hear about weather.' "

In addition to weather and sea conditions, recreational boaters also pose a safety issue for Brucato and his crew. His message for the boats that share the waterway with his tug and barge?

"To get that much mass stopped is impossible in a short distance," he says. "Let the big boat go first."

Visit Brucato's blog at See more videos at

Look for more from Brucato in an upcoming issue of Soundings.

In this issue

Rebuilding a legend

Reality TV takes on ocean racing

Fishermen haul up mustard gas canisters