When Stephen Crane's story "The Open Boat" begins, the oiler and the correspondent are both rowing the little boat as they struggle, along with the cook and the captain, to survive on the open sea and make it to land. Together, the oiler and the correspondent row and row for some time, each taking an oar. The oiler would then take both oars for a while. Then the correspondent would take over. It is, however, very tricky to change seats in such a small boat. One false move and the whole boat could capsize.
The cook sometimes has to join the correspondent now and then to help him row as the correspondent becomes more and more tired. The oiler is tired, too, for he had already done a "double-watch" in the ship's engine room before the wreck. The captain warns the men not to spend themselves; they must take it easy.
The men can see a house of refuge in the distance, but no one on shore appears to see them. They decide they must try to make it through the surf to the beach before they no longer have the strength to do so. The oiler is rowing at this point, and he turns the boat to shore; but then, he must turn back. The surf is just too strong. The oiler gets the boat safely back out to sea.
The correspondent and the oiler go back to taking turns rowing the little boat, each rowing until he no longer could and then changing places. Suddenly, a man appears on shore and notices the boat, but no rescue boat arrives to help them. The oiler and the correspondent take their turns at rowing until the captain decides that if no help comes soon, they had better run through the surf if they can.
The oiler takes the oars now, for he is the most capable of bringing the boat through the surf if anyone can. He tells his companions to jump clear of the boat just as a large wave moves up and sends the men into the water. The captain, the cook, and the correspondent make it safely to shore, but unfortunately, the brave oiler does not make it alive.