TJC Marine HSQE Manager Capt. Rob McCaughey reflects on his life at sea.
Capt. Rob McCaughey’s career path has been as diverse as the ocean on which it was built.
He’s worked as a diver. He’s sailed on tankers as a Deck Cadet, Captain, and has worn almost every rank in between. He’s worked as a Port Captain, a Marine Superintendent, and as West Coast Operations Manager for a large oil company. He’s an accredited International SIRE Inspector, performing oil tanker and barge inspections on foreign and domestic vessels worldwide. He now works as a 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 large corporation for the thirteen years prior. It feels like a family, being able to talk to anyone, including the president, about new ideas or other issues. You feel like a person instead of just a name on a long list of employees.”
A Southern California childhood
The seventh of eight siblings in a “big, Catholic family,” McCaughey was born on the Island of Oahu in 1962. His father, a third-generation Annapolis graduate and Navy man, soon transferred to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, where McCaughey’s family lived until his father retired from the U.S. 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 being around the three sailboats we owned, ranging from 27 feet to 48 feet in length,” McCaughey said. “I loved boating and the sea, whether floating on the water’s surface or the marine life down below.”
McCaughey explained that his father was an excellent ship handler—a skill he learned in the Navy—rarely needing a tug to assist in the berthing and unberthing of his eight naval commands. Once he retired, he transitioned into a civilian career as a Mooring Master along the California coast and then as a Los Angeles Port Pilot.
“During my younger years, I developed the same passion for ship handling as my father, and at the age of 10, I took my first solo sailing trip on our 27-foot Catalina from Long Beach Naval Station to Alamitos Bay. From that point on, I took every boat-handling opportunity I could get, including tagging along on my dad’s piloting jobs. He would let me give him the ship handling order. Then, if he agreed, he would give the same order to the ship’s team.”
True to form, McCaughey’s first job was working as a diver for offshore supply boats while also cleaning and performing underwater repairs on pleasure boats.
“It was demanding work, but it paid well for a young person just starting out.”
Early 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 received an associate’s degree in Marine Science and rowed stroke on the college’s intercollegiate crew team. His two years at OCC had given him enough credits to attend the California Maritime Academy, where he received 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 Mate’s License and a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserves as an Ensign.
McCaughey’s senior-year internship as a Deck Cadette with Keystone Shipping on the company’s product tanker Golden Gate led to the company hiring him as a third officer after graduation in 1987.
“I sailed for Keystone for 10 years, moving up the ranks to Chief Mate/Captain aboard the crude ship Tonsina. Keystone Shipping West Coast, along with OSG [Overseas Shipholding Group]
and BP [British Petroleum], formed a new company called Alaska Tanker Company, or ATC, where I was eventually selected for a new build team. My job was to oversee and be a subject-matter expert for the construction of four state-of-the-art Alaskan Class tankers that would carry 1.2 million barrels of crude from Valdez, Alaska, to the West Coast of the United States.”
According to McCaughey, the ships had two independent engine rooms, twin propellers, rudders, and four main engines capable of maneuverability, even with triple engine failure.
“Following the completion of the first Alaskan Class vessel, Alaskan Frontier, I sailed as Chief Officer then Captain to learn, operate the ship, and write training manuals for her and the subsequent three ships. We would have the crews for the next three Alaskan Class ship rides with us to train and get familiar with the vessel before the three other vessels went into service.”
McCaughey said being out to sea for six months a year soon took a toll on his personal life.
“I promised my wife that I’d seek a shore-based position once I got the captain’s job out of my system.”
In November of 2007, McCaughey accepted a job with Tesoro Refining and Marketing as a Marine Superintendent, overseeing the company’s shipping operations in Los Angeles and Long Beach and acting as a liaison between marine terminals and the refinery. During his time at Tesoro, McCaughey was promoted to West Coast Shipping Manager and supervised Tesoro’s port captains from Alaska to Southern California, in charge of overall operations for the West Coast.
Tesoro became Andeavor, then Marathon Petroleum purchased Andeavor, but McCaughey’s job description and duties remained static during the acquisitions. He left Marathon in October of 2020 and started with TJC one week later.
“I am now a Marine Health, Safety, Quality-Compliance, Environmental Manager [HSQE]. I also plan and direct Fleet Preventative Maintenance to ensure it is effectively carried out during day-to-day operations. My favorite part of my job is the people I work with and quick decision-making for new ideas leading to quick implementation if approved. This is contrary to my last job where it sometimes takes months, if not longer, before new ideas come to fruition.”
McCaughey said his greatest challenge in his new position has been the need to change his thinking from oil tankers to tugs and barges. He’s a full member of the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Safety Committee representing the Oil Tanker industry, as well as a member of the Area Maritime Security Committee (AQMD) representing the Liquid Bulk industry.
“In the State and Federal regulatory world, there is a huge difference in the rules between the two, and I have to redirect my thinking a lot of the time.”
McCaughey is coming up on his 40th wedding anniversary with his wife. He’s the father of two daughters and a grandfather to two grandsons. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve for 13 years following his graduation from Cal Maritime, retiring as Lieutenant Commander in 2001. If he could change one thing about his career, he said he would have focused more on getting a piloting job with the Los Angeles or Long Beach Pilots.
“I love ship handling, and I believe I missed my calling on this,” he laughed. “I received my Pilotage license from the U.S. Coast Guard for those two harbors and Prince William Sound in Alaska, however, I never put the licenses to use. Considering the amount of time I put into studying to get my pilot’s license, I wish I would have given more priority to obtain this goal.”
And study he did.
“I’ve never been good at memorizing large paragraphs, let alone an entire very-detailed chart with over a hundred aids to navigation, anchorages, and dozens of written notes, and then regurgitating the information on a blank chartlet. It took me the entire six hours I was given to draw the chart without any breaks. I was fortunate that I passed it on the first try, however, it took them three weeks to grade it. During that 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 to sail and is a member of a sailing yacht club where he skippers 30- to 47-foot sailboats for the day or several days out at the islands. He loves to snow ski, and family houseboat trips where he can water ski, inner tube, fish, and just explore on his personal watercraft.
“I love traveling with my wife and family and hanging out with my two grandsons,” he said.
“My future plans are to enjoy life and everyone I meet and everything I do, whether it is my job or spending time with my friends and family. Life is too short, and I do not want to waste it on negative feelings or people. I love what I do and the people I am around, so life is good for me at this stage.”
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