Richard Coburn, July 17, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Coburn
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 17 – August 1, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: July 17, 2007

Weather Data from the bridge

Temperature: 56 degrees
Wave height: negligible
Cloud: Cloudy and Fog
Visibility: ¼ mile or less

Science and Technology log

This morning the ship navigating in water that is very tricky, we were in a very narrow area and the crew had to make sure that not only we got through safely and other vessels did not run into us.  Because the fog was so thick, horns, bells and radar are all in use.  The technology is not enough one watch at the bow of the ship used to ensure we hit nothing and nothing hit us.   There are also folks in the bridge monitoring the situation.

The RAINIER navigating through the area.  You can see through the fog there is a large rocky outcropping.
The RAINIER navigating through the area. You can see through the fog there is a large rocky outcropping.

The watch stands at the bow of the boat and if he looks for anything amiss he will notify the bridge via a low tech device (a tube with a lid on it is connected to the bridge and in the area he is standing) he lifts up the tube and can speak directly to the bridge.  The bridge is the command center where many of the officers and most of the navigation and communication are located.  This is where the ship is steered and managed.

Standing watch
Standing watch
The four black windows you can see in the picture are the bridge this is only a small portion of the bridge it is a large space.
The four black windows you can see in the picture are the bridge this is only a small portion of the bridge it is a large space.

I am in awe the way the entire crew goes about their daily business.  Back East, we go off to work our jobs for an eight hour day and then return home afterward. The men and women of the RAINIER don’t get this luxury.  They live aboard this ship and have to work at building and maintaining the community. Everyone is responsible for everyone else.

The remains of less successful vessel while navigating the area.  I was told that this was once a tugboat.
The remains of less successful vessel while navigating the area. I was told that this was once a tugboat.

There is work that must be preformed twenty four hours a day seven days a week.  If there is a fire onboard help will be called but it may take hours or days for help to arrive.  Emergencies must be taken care of by the people on board the ship.  Safety is a major concern, and to that end the officers and crew work together to make sure that everyone onboard understand their job in the event of an emergency.  Training is constant here.  There is a good mixture between folks that have less than one year experience aboard ship and others that have almost thirty.  The more experienced people on board teach the less experienced how to do things safely and efficiently.

Gender bias does not appear to exist in the positions that individuals hold.  Women work both as deck hands right up to the second in command of the entire ship.  It is striking that both women and men hold positions in both the officer corps as well as throughout the operations of the vessel.  Much of the equipment that is aboard this ship weighs several tons.  When the ship is underway, (in operation) there are additional considerations that make this environment much different from being on land.  The ocean movement causes the ship to react and each reaction has a term.  The ship moves in many ways, the three main ones are pitch, roll and heave.  Pitch is when the ship moves from Forward to Aft (front to back).  Roll is when the ship moves from port to starboard (left to right or vice versa).  Heave is when the ship moves in an up and down motion.  This does not even begin to take into account the effects of tide, wind, drift or other ships or obstacles that are at play when underway.

Moving a launch requires careful communication as well as good rigging skills.  A constant vigilance is also mandatory.
Moving a launch requires careful communication as well as good rigging skills. A constant vigilance is also mandatory.
Jodie operates the crane that is used to lower the launch into the water; she is signaled with both verbal and visual commands.
Jodie operates the crane that is used to lower the launch into the water; she is signaled with both verbal and visual commands.

There are hoist and davits that swing equipment overhead that could easily crush or kill a person or hopelessly destroy valuable equipment. Safety precautions are rigorously followed and training is in an ongoing evolution.   Simply put, if the entire crew did not keep a constant vigilance not only for themselves but for their shipmates and guests, disaster could strike at any time.  There is a pervasive attitude aboard the RAINIER involves everyone watching out for each other.

Personal log,

Women play an important role on board the ship.  They fill all sorts of positions that may not be considered traditional by some standards.  Many of the officers on board are women and even lots of the able bodied seamen are women.

Amy, a survey technician operates the radio on the launch to maintain communication with the RANIER while operating miles from the ship.
Amy, a survey technician operates the radio on the launch to maintain communication with the RANIER while operating miles from the ship.

On the bow of the launch, an able bodied seaman must first throw the line to a tender on board and then get hold of a lowering hook to attach the hook to the launch to hoist back on board the ship.  This all takes place in Open Ocean while the ship and launch are underway and the boats are reacting to the elements.

Ready to reattach to the Rainier
Ready to reattach to the Rainier