NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
Mission: Hydro Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey
Date: June 5th
Weather Data: Full cloud cover, rain showers.
Location: Ketchikan, 55.3422° N, 131.6461° W
Today the boat is leaving Ketchikan. Breakfast is between 7-8 and as I sat with my plate of eggs and toast, I watch the hustle and bustle of life on a boat preparing it to get underway. There are many challenges to sailing a ship, and while I had a general idea, I did not understand how much organization, safety protocols, equipment and manpower it takes to make a boat run, complete science research, and be a safe place for people to live and work. This first couple of days on the boat have been not focusing on the science research being done here, but one of getting a sense of how a research vessel works, the myriad of roles and jobs that are done here and the multiple hats that most people wear.
The ship’s communication system put an all-hands-on-deck call to help with unloading food deliveries at port. Here we passed boxes one by one from the truck up on to the ship and in to the kitchen storage areas where the stewards will unload and store the food ready for our meals and snacks. There are three main meals per day: breakfast (7-8), lunch (11-12) and dinner (5-6). In between these times snacks and drinks are readily available. What I am finding too is that many people work a shift system, or are on the smaller boats away from the ship for a day. Food for them is packed or available and no one goes hungry. Snacks and drinks are available 24-7 too. The meals are diverse and food is plentiful. I hope to talk with the stewards to figure out how they plan the menus and order all the food, to feed about 50 people for a three-week period.
Next came a safety briefing and tour. The first thing I had to do was to practice putting on my emergency gear – how to describe it? This ‘dry-suit onesie’ would allow me to be in the Alaskan waters and survive. While my whole body is covered except for my eyes, the suit contains a life vest, and would allow me to easily float upright. As you can tell from the photo, the main issue I had was with my hair getting in my face, a common occurrence apparently for those of us with long hair. Next we learned about all of our stations and our role for different scenarios: fire, man-over-board, and a full ship evacuation. We learned about the different alarms that would be sounded, the types of fire extinguishers, where the medical office is, and where the AED’s are. We were also reminded that in each stateroom is a breathing device kit that is can be used to provide ten minutes of oxygen, should it be needed.
Pulling out of port yesterday, the boat first only went a few hundred yards up the narrows. The next stage was to ‘top up’ on fuel – 18,000 gallons of fuel. The boat can hold much more but the cost in Ketchikan is less than further north so it pays to fill up now. As you can imagine there are big safety issues with fueling of boats and during this time, several temporary bans were put in to place on the ship so that no sparks of any kind were made (no cooking, welding etc). The fuel is stored in several large tanks. The tanks are not connected to each other and each can be turned off individually in the event of a fire or leak. Earlier that day too we had also filled up with water.
There are many conservation and environmental practices put in to place that I have already seen on the ship. There are many protocols put in to place to protect both the environment and to conserve resources. During the fueling, a ring (oil boom) was put around the ship so that if there were an accidental fuel spill or leak, it would be contained on the surface of the water. Laundry is ‘closed’ until next weekend and only full loads are allowed in order to conserve fresh water. Water can be made from seawater using equipment on the ship, but it costs $8/gallon to run the equipment, so conservation is the first measure put in place.
We also have practiced emergency drills. In these drills, everyone has a station to go to and a job to do. The fire drill mimicked a fire in the generator room and a person receiving burns. What’s interesting to realize it that people wear multiple hats on the ship and so everyone needs to know what to do and how to help. Formal fire fighting equipment is worn by trained people, radios are used to communicate between groups, diagrams of the ship are pulled out and drawn on and labeled to keep account of who has been tasked to do what and where the situation is located. Out at sea, the fire department and the medics cannot be called. The staff members on the ship are the medics and the fire department. During the drill a person role-played being the burn victim, so not only were firefighters needed but also medics. After the drills, everyone meets to debrief. Ideas and observations are shared. Communication is crucial and common here.
With communication at the forefront, there are many mechanisms put in place to make sure the people on board know the specifics of the mission each day and their role in the mission. There are different departments in the boat, but one cannot function without the other. People are hired as Survey crew, Engineers, Deck crew, Stewards, Electronic Tecnicians and as NOAA Corps officers. There are also visitors on the boat, such as myself, some who are with the boat for the whole season, others like myself for a few weeks. Schedules are placed around the boat indicating who is on what shift. Meetings are held at 8am each day with the science and deck teams to discuss where the small research boats are surveying that day. During these briefings safety reminders and weather conditions are discussed as well as the location of where each boat will be. Boats radio in each hour for safety. Department heads meet daily to share their updates, keeping everyone up to date with different aspects of the ship. Debrief sessions happen at the end of each research day after dinner. Everyone participates as no one person’s job is isolated here. Issues and concerns are dealt with and go in to the decision making for the following day. Communication is key.
Fact of the day:
The Fairweather is divided in to 26 fire zones to help with safety and fire fighting. All the doors operate manually and many internal doors are held open by a magnet. In the event of a fire, the doors can be closed instantly from the Bridge, using a switch to stop the magnets working.
Word of the day: Muster
This is the term used when all the people gathered in the correct place for the fire/emergency drill. Roll was taken and we had a ‘full muster’.
What is this?
What do you think this is a picture of? (The answer will be in the next blog installment).
(Previous answer: Rubber boots with spikes in to help with traction. Here on the boat, and in many parts of Alaska waterproof footwear is very useful. While the boots the staff here don’t have spikes in them, these were on display in the Southeastern Alaska Discovery Center.
Acronym of the Day
EEBD: Emergency Escape Breathing Device