Laura Guertin: The launches of the Thomas Jefferson, September 8, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Guertin
Onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
September 2 – September 19, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: September 8, 2014
Location of ship: 41o 07.936′ N  72o 11.011′ W


During the first week of the semester, one of my students asked what types of ships do oceanographic research. Here is a little more information on the types of ships we are using during this hydrographic survey. Remember that you can always revisit the websites for An Overview – Hydrographic surveying and Hydrographic survey equipment for more detailed information.



Science and Technology Log

The Thomas Jefferson is an impressive hydrographic research vessel that is out on the water capturing data for its surveys from March to November each year, but it cannot do the job alone. The ship has two smaller types of boats that it carries on board to help with the survey work.  Not only was I able to see these boats in action, but Chief Boatswain (or bosun) Bernard Pooser provided me with copies of the NOAA Small Boat Program Annual Evaluation Checklist to learn facts down to the smallest details of these important ships.  These boats are inspected annually.


Fast Rescue Boat
The Thomas Jefferson’s fast rescue boat (FRB)

FRB – Fast Rescue Boat

The fast rescue boat is used for rescue if we ever have to address a man overboard situation. It is also used if someone needs to be brought from ship to shore, or vice-versa. The boat can accommodate three crew, five passengers, and one stretcher. The boat is not used for surveying but plays an important role in the overall operations during our time at sea. The boat itself is 22 feet in length, has a 9 foot beam, and a draft of 14 inches. Its NOAA Hull ID number is 2204 (yes, the first two numbers in the Hull ID are the same as the length of the boat). The hull material is glass reinforced plastic/polyurethane.

Check out this video of the fast rescue boat being raised out of the water from the starboard side of the Thomas Jefferson.

Video of the fast rescue boat in use on the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson on September 4, 2014 (recorded by L. Guertin)


The TJ's launch HSL 3101
The TJ’s launch HSL 3101

HSL 3101 – “The Launch”

A ship needs a certain amount of water in order to float and not touch the ocean floor. This water depth is called the ship’s “draft” (learn more at NOAA’s An Inch of Water: What’s It Worth?).  The Thomas Jefferson has a draft of 14 feet, but is obligated to survey to 12 feet of water depth. And with the survey instrumentation (side scan and multibeam sonars) mounted on the bottom of the Thomas Jefferson, this ship cannot navigate in very shallow waters to collect the hydrographic data required for surveys. In comes… the launch! The launch is a smaller vessel than the TJ, only 31 feet in length, with a 10 foot beam and draft of 4 feet 8 inches.  The NOAA Hull ID number is HSL 3101, and the hull is made of aluminum.  The launch is equipped with side scan and mutibeam sonar capabilities. The TJ normally carries two launches on its deck. Unfortunately, one of the launches is currently under repair, so we have been working with just one launch during this cruise.

TJ launch, at NOAA's MOC-Atlantic
The second launch of the Thomas Jefferson, HSL 3102, at NOAA’s Marine Operations Center – Atlantic, undergoing repairs
HSL 3102 cradle on the TJ
An empty cradle on the TJ, waiting for the second launch, HSL 3102, to join the ship

The launch weighs approximately 18,000 pounds and takes a very coordinated effort to raise and lower this boat from the Thomas Jefferson. Check out this video to see how the launch is lowered in to the water with a hydraulic-powered davit.

Video of the launch boat in use on the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson on September 6, 2014 (recorded by L. Guertin)

When you viewed this video, did you hear those seven dings that occurred periodically?  We were at anchor with limited visibility (a very foggy morning, as you saw when the launch pulled away), and according to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and the Inland Navigation Rules (available online!), “A vessel at anchor shall at intervals of not more than one minute ring the bell rapidly for about 5 seconds. In a vessel of 100 meters or more in length the bell shall be sounded in the forepart of the vessel and immediately after the ringing of the bell the gong shall be sounded rapidly for about 5 seconds in the after part of the vessel.” As the TJ is 63 meters, we were sounding the bell for 5 seconds, once every minute.

The ships are required to sound a signal. The signal you hear would vary ship-to-ship, as the length of the signal upon the length of the ship. Once the fog lifted, we were able to silence the bell.



Personal Log

Although it appears like fun, being out and zipping around the ocean on these vessels, I am hoping you notice in these videos the safety precautions taken. I also want to point out one of the impacts of going out on the small vessels you don’t see in the videos – the exhaustion at the end of the day felt by the people on the vessels! Getting bounced around on top of the water in the smaller boats, and staying focused the entire time on acquiring the survey data is physically and mentally exhausting. For my first few days on the Thomas Jefferson, I experienced that same exhaustion! Although the ship’s crew doesn’t feel the motion on the TJ as much as the crew on the launches moving across the water, I certainly feel the ship moving, whether it is in transit or at anchor. Eating and showering were the biggest adjustments for me. But I got my sea legs pretty quickly – let’s hope my land legs come back when I return to the classroom!



OK GEOSC 040 students at Penn State Brandywine, here is your next round of questions. Please answer these questions online in ANGEL in the folder “Dr. G at Sea” in the link for Post #5.

  1. From the video clips above, what safety precautions did you notice by the people on deck and the people on the HSL and FRB? What other precautions before/during/after the launch of these two vessels do you think were taken that you did not see in the video?
  2. Why is it important for NOAA to collect water depth data, even in shallow water? (*hint – use information from the article linked above titled An Inch of Water: What’s it Worth?)
  3. Which Ocean Literacy Principle(s) would learning/knowing about these launches apply to, and how? (please identify with the number(s) and letter(s) of the principles you are discussing)



Comfortable chairs are important for the hours and hours spent on computers processing in the hydrography lab – but no rolling across the floor

Random Ship Fact!

Certainly, there is movement felt on each deck on of the ship when we are underway. In addition, the Thomas Jefferson “bobs” up and down on the water and can swing with the ocean current when it is at anchor, like how a seagull moves up and down with the waves that pass beneath (not as a significant of a motion, but you can visualize this). So how do we stop objects from moving around on a moving ship? Chairs with wheels are not safe, so the wheels and all chair legs are covered with… tennis balls! The tennis balls prevent the chairs from sliding and rolling across the decks of the ship. Note that in the mess deck (dining area), the tables are also attached to the floor with cement posts underneath.  The tennis balls also help prevent the floors from being scuffed.

tables and chairs
These tables and chairs aren’t going anywhere!

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