Capt. Roman Cail
Captain Profiles

Pilot Roman Cail, Ingram Barge Company

Having recently become a full-time pilot for Ingram Barge Company, Roman Cail is part of a younger generation of towboatmen moving up and taking over. Like so many towboatmen, Cail had family connections in the business. He grew up in Cadiz, Ky.,  a town on the Cumberland River not far from Paducah. His stepfather has been on the rivers for 43 years; his stepfather’s brother also sails, as does his father-in-law. In Cail’s case, he got the job before meeting the girl.

Cail’s first company was United Barge Lines, which was bought by Ingram in the summer of 2012. Cail is proud of having worked his way up from deckhand to senior deckhand, mate and pilot. His climb up the ranks was slightly complicated by his service in the Kentucky National Guard, which he joined right out of high school. He was deployed for a year to Djibouti in Africa with the Guard, and Ingram was very accommodating to his schedule, he said. “They always had a place waiting for me, and never shorted me days.”

After six years in the National Guard, he had a choice to make: whether to continue in the military or choose towboating. Cail chose the river. He began preparing to become a pilot while still a deckhand, taking time during his off-watches to watch captains in the wheelhouse and learn.

Ingram has its own pilot program that combines apprenticeship with formal study. Cail explained that while the program has milestones for what Ingram would like its pilots to know at set periods, they are somewhat like the Pirate’s Code in the Pirates of the Caribbean films: more guidelines than rules.

“Everyone is different,” said Cail, and Ingram understands that, allowing the program to be flexible and customized for each individual’s needs.  It takes an average of 18 months to two years under the program to become a full-fledged pilot, 18 months in Cail’s case. Applicants have to earn their steersman’s apprentice license on their own time, which Cail did in Memphis at the Coast Guard center, before applying. 

“I’ve had some great mentors along the way,” Cail said. He was helped along by two in particular, Capt. Bobby Conyers and Capt. Billy Watkins. “I was five years with Capt. Conyers,” said Cail, working up to mate from senior deckhand under him.

Unusually on the rivers, Cail has stayed with one boat during his entire career to date—the mv. Frank Johnson.

“A lot of people who get promoted have to move to another boat or location, but I’ve been able to stay here,” he said. The former names of this triple-screw, 9,000 hp. towboat include the mv. Donna Griffin, Michelle O’Neill and Julia Woods. 

The Frank Johnson is kept busy on the Lower Mississippi pushing big mixed tows with every kind of cargo. Steve Southern, assistant vice president of vessel operations at Ingram, proudly calls Cail a “big-tow man.” “We’re not laid up a lot, other than to make a few repairs,” Cail said. “Ingram likes to keep her working.”

Besides his two main mentors, Cail can’t say enough about the entire Ingram family, from office support staff to executives and operations managers.

“Ingram took a chance on me,” he said. “A life in the wheelhouse isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of work, and it can be stressful. You have to really want to achieve it. All my captains tell me it’s constant learning. The day you stop learning is the day you should retire.”