From tankers to tugs and barges
TJC Marine HSQE Manager Capt. Rob McCaughey reflects on his life at sea
Captain Rob McCaughey’s career path has been as diverse as the ocean on which it was built.
He worked as a diver. He sailed on oil tankers as a deck cadet, captain and carried almost all intermediate ranks. He worked as a harbor master, marine superintendent and west coast operations manager for a major oil company. He is an Accredited International SIRE Inspector, performing tanker and barge inspections on foreign and domestic vessels worldwide. He now works as Marine HSQE Manager for The Jankovich Company (TJC), which joined the Saltchuk family of companies in 2021.
“Working for TJC has been a breath of fresh air after working for a big company for the previous thirteen years. It’s like family, being able to talk to anyone, including the president, about new ideas or other problems. You feel like a person instead of just a name on a long list of employees.
A childhood in Southern California
The seventh of eight siblings in a “large Catholic family,” McCaughey was born on the island of Oahu in 1962. His father, a third-generation Annapolis graduate and Navy man, was soon transferred to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, where McCaughey’s family lived until his father retired from the United States Navy in 1971 as a full captain after 32 years of service. The family then moved to Southern California.
“As a boy growing up, my dad and I were very active in sailing, snow skiing, scuba diving and just around the three sailboats we owned, ranging from 27ft to 48ft in length,” said said McCaughey. “I loved boating and the sea, whether floating on the surface of the water or the marine life below.”
McCaughey explained that his father was an excellent ship handler – a skill he learned in the Navy – rarely needing a tug to help dock and unberth his eight naval commands. Once retired, he transitioned to a civilian career as a mooring master along the California coast and then as a Port of Los Angeles pilot.
“During my early years I developed the same passion for ship handling as my father, and at the age of 10 I made my first solo voyage on our 27-foot Catalina from the Long Beach Naval Station in Alamitos Bay. From then on, I took every boating opportunity I could get, including following my father’s piloting work. He would let me give him the order to maneuver the ship and then, if he agreed, he would give the same order to the ship’s crew.
True to form, McCaughey’s first job was working as a diver for offshore supply boats while cleaning and performing underwater repairs on pleasure craft.
“It was a demanding job, but well paid for a young beginner.”
First tanker experience
McCaughey attended Los Alamitos High School. A member of the tennis team, he also worked after school as a scuba diving instructor, teaching students until he graduated and enrolled at Orange Coast Junior College (OCC). There he earned an associate’s degree in marine science and rowed on the college’s intercollegiate crew team. His two years at the OCC had given him enough credit to attend the California Maritime Academy, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in nautical industry technology with minors in marine science and marine specialties. He also earned his U.S. Coast Guard Third Lieutenant license and a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserves as an ensign.
McCaughey’s graduation internship as a Deck Cadet at Keystone Shipping on the company’s commodity carrier golden door led the company to hire him as a third officer after his graduation in 1987.
“I sailed for Keystone for 10 years, working my way up to Chief Mate/Captain aboard the raw ship Tonsina. Keystone Shipping West Coast, with OSG [Overseas Shipholding Group]
and PB [British Petroleum], formed a new company called Alaska Tanker Company, or ATC, where I was eventually selected for a new build crew. My job was to oversee and be a subject matter expert for the construction of four state-of-the-art Alaska-class tankers that would transport 1.2 million barrels of crude from Valdez, Alaska to the west coast of the United States. -United.
According to McCaughey, the ships had two independent engine rooms, twin propellers, rudders, and four main engines capable of maneuverability even in the event of a triple engine failure.
“After the completion of the first ship of the Alaskan class, Alaska border, I sailed as Chief Officer and then Captain to learn, operate the vessel and write training manuals for her and the three following vessels. We would have the crews for the next three Alaskan class ship trips with us to practice and familiarize ourselves with the ship before the other three ships were commissioned.
Life by the sea
McCaughey said being at sea for six months a year quickly took a toll on his personal life.
“I promised my wife that I would look for a shore position once I removed the captaincy from my system.”
In November 2007, McCaughey took a job with Tesoro Refining and Marketing as Marine Superintendent, overseeing the company’s shipping operations in Los Angeles and Long Beach and liaising between marine terminals and the refinery. While at Tesoro, McCaughey was promoted to West Coast Shipping Manager and oversaw the Tesoro Harbor Masters from Alaska to Southern California, in charge of overall operations for the West Coast.
Tesoro became Andeavor, then Marathon Petroleum bought Andeavor, but McCaughey’s job description and duties remained static during the acquisitions. He left Marathon in October 2020 and started with TJC a week later.
“I am now Health, Safety, Quality-Compliance, Environment Manager [HSQE]. I also plan and lead preventative maintenance for the fleet to ensure it is carried out effectively during daily operations. My favorite things about my job are the people I work with and the quick decision-making for new ideas leading to quick implementation if approved. This is unlike my last job where it sometimes takes months or even longer for new ideas to come to fruition.
McCaughey said his biggest challenge in his new position was the need to shift his thinking from tankers to tugs and barges. He is a full member of the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Safety Committee representing the tanker industry, as well as a member of the Area Maritime Security Committee (AQMD) representing the liquid bulk industry.
“In the world of state and federal regulation, there’s a huge difference in the rules between the two, and I have to redirect my thinking a lot of the time.”
McCaughey is approaching 40and wedding anniversary with his wife. He is the father of two daughters and the grandfather of two grandsons. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve for 13 years after graduating from Cal Maritime, retiring as a lieutenant commander in 2001. If he could change one thing in his career, he said he would would be more focused on securing a pilot position with the Los Angeles. or the pilots of Long Beach.
“I love ship handling, and I think I missed my calling in that,” he laughed. “I received my pilot’s license from the US Coast Guard for these two ports and Prince William Sound in Alaska, however, I never used the licenses. Considering the time it took me to study to get my pilot’s license, I would have liked to give more priority to obtaining this objective.
And the study he did.
“I’ve never been good at memorizing long paragraphs, let alone an entire, highly detailed chart with over a hundred navaids, anchorages and dozens of written notes, then regurgitating the information onto a chart virgin. It took me the entire six hours given to me to draw the chart without any breaks. I was lucky to get it right the first time, but it took them three weeks to score it. During this time, I was trying to keep all the information fresh in my brain in case I had to retake the exam.
McCaughey said he still loves sailing and was a member of a sailing club where he skippered 30-47ft sailboats for the day or several days in the islands. He loves snow skiing and family boat trips where he can water ski, tube, fish and just explore on his personal watercraft.
“I love traveling with my wife and family and spending time with my two grandsons,” he said.
“My future plans are to enjoy life and everyone I meet and everything I do, whether it’s my job or spending time with my friends and family. Life is too short and I don’t want to not messing it up with negative feelings or people. I love what I do and the people around me, so life is good for me at this point.