NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 10-23, 2018
Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey
Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast
Date: July 16, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 32° 49.6
Longitude: 78° 52.4
Sea wave height: 1-2 ft
Wind speed: 10 kts
Wind direction: 59
Visibility: 10 nm
Air temperature: 28.7 °C
Barometric pressure: 1016.9 mb
An Interview with Ensign Luke Evancoe
My first day on NOAA Ship Pisces I was introduced to about 300 different people. Well, maybe it was more like 30, but it sure seemed like a lot of people were aboard. NOAA vessels have civilian personnel that perform a myriad of important duties, scientists that assist in planning and carrying out the various missions of the ship, and commissioned NOAA Corps Officers that ensure the mission of NOAA is carried out.
Engineers are responsible for making sure that all of the systems on the ship are operating properly. The engineers must be able to fix and maintain all mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems on the ship. It’s this important group that makes sure the A/C is working in our cabins and that the propulsion system gets us from one trap site to the next. Members of the deck department use equipment to lower CTD units, bring up traps, deploy and retrieve buoys, and maintain watches throughout the day. These men and women are responsible for making sure very expensive equipment is safely and effectively used. As a research vessel, the Survey department’s role in the acquisition and processing of oceanographic and survey data is crucial. These individuals operate and analyze data from a number of different pieces of equipment including the CTD and the multibeam echosounder. And finally, there are the Stewards. The stewards are the ones responsible for making sure everyone is well fed and comfortable. They prepare and plan all meals, ensure the pantry is stocked and ready for each mission, and that all of the common areas are clean and sanitary.
Soon after boarding, I met Ensign Luke Evancoe, the newest NOAA Corps Officer to join the NOAA Ship Pisces. After talking to him briefly and learning about his varied background and the circuitous route that brought him to NOAA, I decided I wanted to interview him and find out more about his role as a NOAA Corps Officer.
Where are you from and what did you do before coming to NOAA?
I grew up in Pittsburgh and have a B.S. in Biology and Masters in Teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. After high school and two years of college, I decided to join the United States Marine Corps and become an Infantryman. While in the Marine Corps I was a member of the USMC Silent Drill Platoon, a 24-member team that are ambassadors of the USMC that perform at sporting events and parades. I was then deployed to Afghanistan for seven months. I was a vehicle commander for an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle.
After the Marine Corps, Mr. Evancoe went back to VCU and then became a sixth grade science teacher at the Franklin Military Academy in Richmond, Virginia where he taught for two and one half years. While at a research symposium, he learned about the work of NOAA and the NOAA Corps and decided to apply to the program and once he was accepted, left teaching to train to become an NOAA Corps Officer.
What was a memorable experience while you were teaching?
My most memorable experience teaching was when I successfully executed an experiment to see whether the myth that if someone moves while stuck in quicksand, they sink faster than if they remained motionless was true or not. Using Hexbugs, which are tiny robot bugs, my students tested whether the Hexbugs which were turned on and “squirming” sank into a cornmeal mix (the quicksand) at a faster or slower rate than Hexbugs that were turned off. It was a simple, yet fun way to demonstrate the basics of the scientific method to middle school children.
Tell us about your training with NOAA Corps.
The NOAA Corps training lasts 19 weeks and is held at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Our training is called Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC) and is carried out alongside the Coast Guard Officer Candidates.
The training is similar to the military academies in that we wear a uniform, start our day at about 5 a.m., go to classes and are expected to carry out other duties when we are not in class. It is very regimented, but it is also rewarding.
How is training for NOAA Corps similar to your Marine Corps training that you received?
They are really incomparable. What is similar, however, is the training you receive in leadership and discipline and how to best represent yourself as a member of a uniformed service for the United States.
What types of things do you learn during your BOTC training?
As I mentioned, we learn a lot about leadership, but we also learn about the goals and mission of NOAA and the role of officers in fulfilling that mission. Obviously, we also learn about skills that will allow us to be good seamen. We have to know about all of the different operations of a NOAA ship like propulsion, navigation, and communication and we also learn the skills of each of the departments like engineering and the deck crew. We learn different nautical skills and about maritime regulations. Obviously, we learn how to handle both large ships and small vessels.
The training program involves a lot of hands on opportunities beside the classroom sessions we have. It is similar to how you would teach science with some lecture time and then lab time.
You are currently an ensign, what are your duties right now?
I am considered a Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD). I am assigned two 4-hour watches on the bridge. During this time, I am driving the ship as we transit from one location to another or as we drop and pick up traps. You have to multi-task very well. I have to be listening to the radios as the crew relays information to the bridge, the scientists also communicate with the bridge as traps are being deployed or retrieved, I have to know our speed, pay attention to the strength of the current, wind direction and its speed, I have to watch for other vessels in the area, there’s a whole lot going on. Fortunately, I am being mentored by a senior officer when I am on the bridge. All of the training I am currently doing will allow me to become an Officer of the Deck (OOD) which will allow me to be unsupervised on the bridge.
What is the most difficult aspect of driving the ship?
The most difficult aspect of driving the ship would have to be maintaining an understanding of the current state of the wind, currents, and swell, while realizing that these variables can change multiple times over the course of a watch; a strategy that I was using to pick up fish traps the first hour of watch may not work at all with how the sea state has changed an hour later.
In addition to my shifts on the bridge, I have collateral duties that I am learning. For instance, I am learning the duties of the Navigation Officer who is responsible for ensuring that all of the navigation charts are up to date, that the navigation equipment is working properly, and that upcoming tracklines are laid out on our charts and approved by the CO. The Imprest Officer is responsible for managing some of the ship’s funds and making sure the wage mariners are paid when required. I am also learning about the duties of the Movie Officer. We have a large inventory of movies from the US Navy that have to be cataloged and replaced. We get movies that are still playing in theaters so crew members can use their time when they are not on duty to relax. It’s important that people can relax. Finally, I am coming up to speed with the duties of the Property Officer, who maintains inventory of all of the ship’s electronically-based and sensitive property and accounts for assets that must be properly disposed of.
What is the OOD workbook?
It is like on-the-job training. The work that I do in the workbook helps me put into practice the things I learned at BOTC, and once I have completed the workbook and it has been approved, it will allow me to stand watch on the bridge without supervision.
The workbook assesses my knowledge of the mission and maintaining the safety and security of the ship.
What didn’t you realize before you became a NOAA officer that you discovered since joining the NOAA Corps?
I guess I did not realize that, as an officer, you have to know everyone else’s job in addition to yours. An officer is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the ship, so I have to be knowledgeable in not just navigating or driving the ship, but I also have to know about all the other departments. It’s a lot to know, but I find it very rewarding.
What are your goals with NOAA?
My commitment as a NOAA Officer is three years, but I plan on making this my career. After my two years on NOAA Ship Pisces I will then spend time at my land based assignment. I enjoy my job because I am involved in collecting valuable data for the scientists to analyze, there is a lot of responsibility and you have to constantly be 100% engaged in your work, and you get to see and experience amazing things while at sea.
There is always work to be done on the NOAA Ship Pisces, but at the end of a day there may be time to relax and to play a little Corn Hole. Sunday evening the scientific team cleared the back deck for a little tournament. Playing Corn Hole on a moving ship is quite a bit different than playing in your back yard! Just as you are getting ready to release the bag a swell will move the ship and cause your bag to miss the board—-at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Did You Know?
Pisces is the Latin word for “fish”. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite and Eros were transformed into fish to escape the monster, Typhon.