A Day In The Life Of A Chief Officer
A day in the life of Chief Officer onboard one of Trinity House’s Vessels is extremely varied and no two days are ever the same. The Chief Officer is responsible to the Captain for the safe & efficient day-to-day running of the ship, and has to liaise with all departments to ensure this happens. Given the wide range of duties that a TH vessel carries out, this means that you have to be very flexible.
A typical day might resemble something like this :
At 0800 after discussing the plan with the Captain, the Chief Officer meets with the Bosun & Deck Crew to discuss and prepare for the day’s work. For a day involving buoy-work, this will include a discussion on the various stations to be attended, the type of buoy, length and gauge of chain (including anticipated wear), size of sinker, and any other pertinent details, or specific work to be carried out. We also discuss any other requirements for the day such as planned maintenance tasks or any scheduled Drills or Training exercises.
Whilst proceeding towards the first buoy of the day, I usually take this time to check in with the Chief Engineer and obtain the days fuel & fresh water figures in order to check the ship’s stability. The quantities of fuel & fresh water in each of the vessel’s tanks have a direct effect on the ship’s stability, and one of the primary responsibilities of the Chief Officer is to ensure that at all times the vessel remains in a safe and stable condition, even more so when attending a buoy and carrying out Lifting Operations. This involves several calculations (assisted by a spreadsheet!).
Upon arrival at the buoy, the tannoy ‘Stand by the foredeck’ is made from the Bridge & that is the cue for the Chief Officer and Deck Crew to head out onto the working deck and prepare for the operation. Under the supervision & leadership of the Bosun, the crewmembers prepare the working deck for the appropriate type of buoy & gauge of chain(s) to be worked, whilst the Chief Officer keeps an eye on the overall operation, and everyone’s safety. Once the deck is ready, a safety brief is conducted to remind crew members of any pertinent risks, hazards, and of the task at hand. If attending a commercial station on behalf of a customer, the Chief Officer take several photographs of the buoy before the deck team begin lifting it or carrying out any work on it.
Once the buoy is lifted on to deck & disconnected from it’s mooring chain, the mooring chain is recovered whilst a crewmember measures the ‘thrash’ – the area of the chain susceptible to the most wear. This figure is reported to the Chief Officer, and a decision is made on whether the chain is good for another year, or if the amount of wear is too much & it requires replacement. This Chief Officer is continually reporting the ‘lead’ of the chain i.e. where it is pointing, to the Captain on the Bridge, so that they can manoeuvre the ship towards the position of the sinker in order to recover it safely. Further photographs are taken for commercial stations, of the buoy post water-jetting, and any replacement items such as shackles, bridles or components that are replaced. A crewmember is sent aloft to check the upper structure of the buoy, check the lantern is flashing correctly, and that the topmark, nameboards, and any other appendages are all secured. This is reported back to the Chief Officer, who relays all the information to the Bridge Team for record keeping purposes.
After the buoy has been re-laid in position and the vessel is transiting to the next station, the Chief Officer takes this time to catch up on a few paperwork jobs. The Lifting Equipment Register (LOLER) is another primary responsibility of the Chief Officer, and given that the operation to lift a type 2 buoy uses no fewer than 15 individual pieces of Lifting Equipment at any one time, it is important to regularly inspect, keep track and renew these items when required. If a new Lifting Strop has been brought into service by the Bosun during an operation, the Chief Officer must ensure that it is correctly identified, tagged, and logged as ‘in service’ in the Lifting Register, along with condemning and removing the old strop that it has replaced.
This Chief Officer is also responsible for planning & conducting the vessel’s Statutory Safety Drills, and liaises with the Captain as to which exercises are due each Duty Period, and when will be the best time to conduct them. These drill include Abandon Ship Musters, Fire Drills, Lifeboat Drills, Enclosed Space Entry & Rescue Drills, Oil Pollution Drills, Man Overboard Drills and Emergency Steering Drills to name but a few. As an example, a Fire Drill is planned several days in advance, taking note of the required scenario from a matrix, and considering how best to conduct the exercise with a focus on training & learning for all those involved. Practically, this means devising a Fire Scenario utilising perhaps the Casualty ‘dummy’, Smoke Machine, and Breathing Apparatus to make the exercise as realistic as possible but in a safe and controlled environment.
It is a legal requirement for the Captain to inspect the ship’s Accommodation and Catering Areas once per week, and traditionally this takes place on a Sunday. The Chief Officer accompanies the captain on their ‘rounds’ along with the Catering Manager, and an inspection of the vessel is conducted. This focuses on safety and hygiene, and the Chief Officer records any findings and types up the report form capturing the work required to rectify them. On a ship like Patricia, this usually consists of a few light bulbs extinguished, a few loose screws or trims in the accommodation areas, and perhaps an untidy cabin or two, usually occupied by the Cadets!
Upon completion of the day’s operation, the vessel usually proceeds to anchor overnight and continue working the next day. Under the supervision of the Captain, the Chief Officer, along with all Deck Officers, is often given the opportunity to practice manoeuvring the ship, and often assists taking the ship to anchor under a watchful eye. Once anchored for the evening, the Chief Officer usually checks with the Bridge Team that all the required information has been received concerning the day’s buoywork. The C/O assists compiling any reports required, such as the OP16 Commercial Operations Log, detailing the work carried out on Contract Buoys and any consumable items used such as shackles, chain or buoy components. The Chief Officer keeps a running list of items used throughout the trip, and when approaching the next port call, places an order with the Harwich or Swansea Supplies Department, to replenish the stock used throughout the trip.
The Chief Officer normally keeps ‘daywork’ hours, meaning that in the evenings when not required for other tasks, there is free time to relax and watch a film, socialise with other crewmembers or even visit the onboard gym (though this is a theory that I am yet to properly test).
Knowing which buoys the Captain plans to attend the next day, I usually log in to Maximo, our MMIS System covering our ATON Maintenance, to download the details of each station, the recent history and any additional jobs that might be required. This helps plan the next day’s requirements, and be able to brief the crew in the morning as previously mentioned.
This covers a typical day and some of the responsibilities of the Chief Officer whilst onboard, other tasks also include leading Helicopter Operations as the HLO, taking charge on Lightvessels and undertaking maintenance onboard them when away from the vessel, organising the Cadet’s training as the Designated Shipboard Training Officer (DSTO) to name but a few. I enjoy my role as chief officer as it is always busy, varied and you neve know what might crop up next. You can have a day prepared with all the details to attend 4 Buoys, but overnight the ship receives a call-out to an AtoN Casualty, and before you know it you are steaming 100 miles in the other direction to attend a totally different buoy, beacon, lightvessel or even a wreck …