Book Review: Naval Shiphandler’s Guide

Naval Shiphandler’s Guide

Captain James A. Barber Jr., <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. Navy (Ret.)

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland

320 pages.  $39.95.

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Captain James A. Barber, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.), quotes Thucydides, who said, “Their want of practice will make them unskillful, and the want of skill timid.”


I realize it’s been so long since I have conned a naval ship that I do not feel competent to do so today with a modern warship.  Sure, I could take a Navajo-class Fleet Tug into Pier Sierra 17 at Pearl Harbor on three bells today, even though I haven’t done it since 1978.  But what do I know about controllable-reversible propellers, bow thrusters or gas turbines?  These developments were just entering the fleet when I was last driving Charles F. Adams-class DDGs, with 1200-pound plants with twin screws and rudders. 


Crenshaw’s Naval Shiphandling was our Bible.  It was last published in 1975, with the final printing in 1999.  Since much has changed in ships, so much has also changed in shiphandling.  Crenshaw hadn’t anticipated these developments that are today the everyday norm in today’s fleet.  The principles, we see, are the same, but the tools and techniques have evolved.


When Crenshaw published his book, there was something on the order of 600 ships in the U.S. Navy.  The opportunities for officers to learn to conn warships and to practice their shiphandling craft were greater than they are today.  As an ensign on USS Tawakoni in Pearl Harbor, I took her in or out just about everyday, with a tow.  I learned shiphandling from first-hand experience.


This book supersedes Crenshaw’s Naval Shiphandling (Naval Institute Press) and compliments Knight’s Modern Seamanship (1984), published by Van Nostrand Reinhold, along with the Watch Officer’s Guide and the Division Officer’s Guide, both published by the Naval Institute Press, these constitute the Surface Warfare Officer’s most valued professional books.  Every SWO learned from these volumes in naval science classes.


So, surrounded as I am by competent mariners and surface warriors, I asked them to look at this book and tell me what they think.  I asked them to tell me about the value of this book to them and the officers who would sail with them.


Captain Dave Adler has served on destroyers, frigates and cruisers, as well as the command ship USS Coronado, and he has commanded USS Doyle (FFG 39).  Adler likes how the new edition is updated to account for modern ships and capabilities.


He also likes the ‘scenario’ clips Barber has included for the various situations.  Adler says this book is very useful for teaching junior officers.  “It helps the junior officer think about how to approach a ship handling situation, and how to mentally prepare for the event.  This is a very good tool for the commanding officer to review how he or she will mentor young shiphandlers,” he says.


Adler found the chapters on tugs and pilots particularly useful.  The book includes information on the new tugs to be found in ports where Navy ships may call.  “The sample standard commands to tugs are great.  The perspective on pilot relations is useful to me as a commanding officer on the bridge.”


Adler also liked the chapters and appendices on underway replenishment and the detailed discussion and illustrations of forces involved with alongside; formation steaming, and the sample standing orders for air operations.


“There is a good overview of Rules of the Road, although Barber correctly notes that one must review the latest COLREGs separately,” Adler says.


Captain Walt Towns agrees with Adler.  Towns is an experienced ship handler, having served aboard USS Paul (FF 1080); USS Sterett (CG 31); USS Moinister (FF 1097); USS Inchon (LPH 12); USS Wasp (LHD 1) and commanded USS Boone (FFG 28).


According to Towns, Naval Shiphandler’s Guide is an excellent quick read for a junior officer.  “It provides the level of details and basic information that will aid a JO in understanding many of the concepts involved in shiphandling, especially in some of the areas that we don't ‘practice’ as frequently as the U.S. Navy has in the past, such as Med mooring, mooring to a buoy, towing and directing the use of tugs.”


This book is geared for the novice, Towns notes, while offering the experienced mariner the background on shiphandling ‘tricks” that have become instinctive and second nature. “It provides the ‘why’ things work the way they do,” Towns says.  “Today, JO's tend to ask the question ‘why?’ much more than we did when I was a JO in the late 1980's. This book provides those answers.”


Towns says the anecdotal stories at the beginning of each chapter help frame the chapter and draws the reader in. “They’re entertaining, while at the same time providing the reader a setting that he can relate to.” 


Capt. Bill McQuilkin found the book eminently readable, “which I think is one of the best things about it.”


McQuilkin has served aboard a variety of combatants, including USS Elmer Montgomery (FF 1082), USS Dale (CG 19); USS Doyle (FFG 39) and USS Vicksburg (CG 69). He commanded USS Scout (MCM 8) and USS Halyburton (FFG 40). 


 “There is something for everyone here (more experienced shiphandlers and novices alike). It has a non-textbook, practical feel to it and in that way I think it will be more accessible to our junior officers than previous references. The real world examples of making a landing on a pier including everything from standard commands to all the forces acting upon the ship were excellent. This book will be a very valuable reference to have above your desk,” he says.


Jim Barber says the forces that act upon a ship are unchanged from when Crenshaw’s was published.  But ships are bigger, draw more water and have more sail area for the wind to act upon.  And with fewer ships in the fleet, junior officers don’t get as many opportunities to drive. 


“It was easier then,” Barber says.  “The average tonnage was quite a bit less.  The momentum of a larger ship means we have to handle them more gently and with more room for recovery.”


New technologies are coming into use.  The Electronic Chart Display and Information System-Navy (ECDIS-N) and Auto Radar Plotting Aids (ARPA) are not widely used in the fleet yet, but they will be.  “We need to understand them and make them part of the training program, he says.


Simulators have great value, Barber says.  We’re fortunate that simulators are very good today, but they are not a complete substitute for real thing.”







Edward Lundquist is a senior technical director for Anteon Corporation.  He is the director of corporate communication for Anteon’s Center for Security Strategies and Operations and supports the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Directorate.  He is a retired U.S. Navy captain.

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