Tom Savage: What is Life Like aboard the Fairweather? August 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018



Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  64   42.8 N
Longitude – 171  16.8  W
Air temperature: 6.2 C
Dry bulb   6.2 C
Wet bulb  6.1 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1000.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 4 feet

Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm


Personal Log

I was asked yesterday by one of my students what life is like aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather?  So I thought I would dedicate this entry to address this and some of the other commonly asked questions from my students.

Life on board the ship is best described as a working village and everyone on board has many specific jobs to ensure the success of its mission; check my “Meet the Crew” blog.  The ship operates in a twenty four hour schedule with the officers rotating shifts and responsibilities. When the ship is collecting ocean floor data, the hydrographers will work rotating shifts 24 hours a day. With so much happening at once on a working research vessel, prevention of incidents is priority which leads to the ship’s success. A safety department head meeting is held daily by the XO (executive officer of the ship) to review any safety issues.

During times when the weather is not conducive for data collection, special training sessions are held. For instance, a few days ago, the officers conducted man over board drills.  Here, NOAA Officers practice navigating the ship and coordinating with deck hands to successfully rescue the victim; in this case it’s the ship’s mascot, “Oscar.”

(Fun fact:  at sea, ships use signal flags to communicate messages back and forth [obviously, this was more prevalent before the advent of radio].  For example:  the “A” or “Alpha” flag means divers are working under the surface; the “B” or “Bravo” flag means I am taking on dangerous cargo [i.e. fueling]; and the “O” flag means I have a man overboard.  The phonetic name for “O” is, you guessed it, “Oscar” … hence the name.  You can read about other messages here:

Precision and speed is the goal and it is not easy when the officer is maneuvering 1,591 tons of steel;  the best time was 6:24. This takes a lot skill, practice and the ability to communicate effectively to the many crew members on the bridge, stern (back of boat), and the breezeways on both port and starboard sides of the ship.  Navigating the ship becomes even more challenging when fog rolls in as the officers rely on their navigation instruments. Training can also come in the form of good entertainment. With expired rescue flares and smoke grenades, the whole crew practiced firing flares and activating the smoke canisters.  These devices are used to send distress signals in the event of a major ship emergency. I had the opportunity of firing one of the flares !


Practicing the release of emergency smoke canisters ~ photo by Tom Savage


What are the working conditions like on board? 

At sea, the working environment constantly changes due to the weather and the current state of the seas. Being flexible and adaptive is important and jobs and tasks for the day often change Yesterday, we experienced the first rough day at sea with wave heights close to ten feet.  Walking up a flight of stairs takes a bit more dexterity and getting used to.  At times the floor beneath will become not trustworthy, and the walls become your support in preventing accidents.

View from the Bridge in fog. ~ photo by Tom Savage


Where do you sleep? 

Each crew member is assigned a stateroom and some are shared quarters. Each stateroom has the comforts from home a bed, desk, head (bathroom & shower) sink and a port hole (window) in most cases. The most challenging component of sleeping is sunlight, it does not set until 11:30 pm. No worries, the “port holes” have a metal plate that can be lowered. It is definitely interesting looking through the window when the seas are rough and watching the waves spin by.  Seabirds will occasionally fly by late at night and I wonder why are they so far out to sea ?

My stateroom – photo by Tom

Generally, when sharing a stateroom,  roommates will have different working shifts.

Meals are served in the galley and it is amazing! It is prepared daily by our Chief Steward Tyrone; he worked for the Navy for 20 years and comes with a lot of skills and talents !  When asking the crew what they enjoy the most on board the ship, a lot of them mention the great food and not having to cook.

Fairweather's Galley
Fairweather’s Galley ~ photo by Tom


Are there any activities? 

Keeping in good physical shape aboard any vessel out at sea is important. The Fairweather has a gym that can be used 24 hours a day. The gym has treadmills, elliptical, weights and a stair climber.

The exercise room – photo by Tom


There is the lounge where movies are shown in the evening. Interestingly, the seats glide with the motions of the waves. Meetings are also held here daily, mostly safety briefings.

The lounge
The lounge


What are the working hours like?

During any cruise with NOAA, there is always things that come up that were not planned, staff and schedules are adjusted accordingly. On this leg of the trip during our transit back to Kodiak Island, we stopped by Nome, Alaska, to pick up a scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab PMEL office.  One of their research buoys separated from its mooring and went adrift in the Bering Sea (it drifted over 100 miles before we were able to catch up to it.  The Fairweather was dispatched to collect and store the buoy aboard, after which it will eventually be returned to PMEL’s lab in Seattle Washington.


Buoy Retrieval
Retrieval of NOAA’s PMEL (Pacific Marine Environmental Lab) buoy. photo by NOAA


The place with the most noise is definitely the engine room.  Here, two sixteen piston engines built by General Motors powers the ship;  the same engine power in one train engine ! It is extremely difficult to navigate in the engine room as there is so many valves, pipes, pumps, switches and wires.  Did I mention that it is very warm in the room; according to the chief engineer, Tommy, to maintain a healthy engine is to ensure that the engine is constantly warm even during times when the ship is docked.

Tom in Engine Room
Navigating the engine room …… I did not push any buttons, promise! Photo by Kyle


Until next time,  happy sailing !

~ Tom

46 Replies to “Tom Savage: What is Life Like aboard the Fairweather? August 17, 2018”

  1. Looks like you’re eating some good food for it being out at sea. How many days worth of supplies do you have? Is all you need for the entire trip or do you restock periodically?

    1. Tyler, plenty of supplies ! The food is amazing and the chef has over 20 years experience. The bbq chicken and fresh salmon last night was award winning.

  2. Hey Mr. Savage! Hope you’re having so much fun in Alaska. Think you could bring me something back from your trip? Like a keychain or something? Did you guys see any animal life while on the trip? Were there any ice burgs around? Should I go for a degree in Marine Biology? Do you think it’ll work for me? How do you think you will cooperate with the different time zone when you come back? Are you excited to see us again? We promise we’re not crazy haha. Anyway, till the next time!

    1. Von, Oh my, lots of questions at once, wheeew. So …. I will try to bring something back. yes Humpback Whales, Killer Whales and Puffins ! No Ice in the ocean, but glaciers on the mountains of the Aleutian Islands, beautiful.
      If marine biology fits your passion. Take some courses in marine biology, biology and anatomy and physiology. If you enjoy the subject matter it is worth exploring. UNC Willmington has a great program.

  3. This is so so cool! Mr. Savage please take a bunch of videos, so that you can show us even more when you come back! We are all so glad that you get to experience this! Remember to enjoy every single second! We miss you, but we are also glad that you are having the time of your life! Also, quick question, when you say that you guys watch movies in the lounge, are they science related movies or are they regular movies, you know, like the ones that we love to watch here back on land (hahahaha). It’s also super cool that you guys have a gym! Alright! Enjoy your time Mr. Savage, and also that amazing food that you get to eat (those donuts look really good)! Peace!

    1. Alexla, They are hollywood movies ! It is nice to escape the science for a while. The movie room is fit for the purpose with comfortable seats (better than the movie theater). By the way, I got talked into played the bass guitar for the first time last night with the rock band on board. Yeah, the ship has talented musicians, they gave me a quick tutorial. It is pretty neat playing with the officers and having a great time. I know you are going to ask what songs we played. Tunes from Boston and a few other bands that I did not recognize, it didnt matter it was fun!

    1. Efrain, Yes, we had to alter our course a few times due to remnants of tropical storms coming in from the southwest (Japan region). The satellite images of these storms looked nasty ( well circulation pattern in the clouds) from our standpoint. The good news is most dissipated quickly once it hit the cooler ocean waters,

    1. Andres, It took a few days to getting used to it, and five days learning where everything is on board. I purchased a few items at the ships store. I am bringing back ocean floor samples we took and using it in a lab when we examine soil classification.

    1. Dylan, yes, jogging on the treadmill is the most challenging, It is like jogging along short rolling hills with the ground moving up and down and sideways. I look at as an amusement park ride.

    1. Jacob, The hardest part is the sun setting near midnight. Walking on deck at 11pm and the sun setting is different.

    1. Madison, We went through some days the seas hit 10 feet, but I have not gotten motion sick. Drinking lots of water helps

    1. Janet, The hardest part is making sure that you pack everything you need. The convenience of driving to a mall is not here, though we have a ship store with limited items such as t-shirts etc.

    1. Katherine, No, it is not cold. Because we are on the ocean, it regulates the weather and climate here, thus it is warm. This am while walking on the breezeway, no coat required. We will learn more about climate and how the oceans regulate climate when we cover meteorology.

    1. Joslyn, None, though we have seen at least 75 whales so far. they have shown off their flukes (tail) and flippers.

    1. This is a fun question, jogging on the treadmill is like going along a constant change in slope/hill. Imagine jogging a track with constant hills that are also in motion, sideways and up and down, along the path. It is not easy and I find myself holding on to the support bars most of the time.

    1. Casey, the ship constantly moves, and it depends on the seas. The walls can become the floor and the floor can become the wall, it is all perspective of movement

  4. Regan R, Nora Cornelison, Anna Davenport, Jose Santeliz-Cifuentes. What is your favorite part about being on the boat and why?

    1. Hello, So far my favorite part is driving the ship. The ship reacts to the slightest movement, Lots of power behind the helm.

    1. Jill, Great question with a good answer; they all are equally important. Regardless of position, if that job does not get done, the mission suffers.

    1. Today, It has to be the amazing views of the Aleutian Islands ! We have amazing weather today. Tomorrow we will be deploying the drifter buoy

  5. You got a window in your room?! Jealous! 🙂 JK… hope you are having a wonderful time! I loved my time on Fairweather!

    1. Vickie, Great to hear from you, the window is definitely a plus 🙂 This has been an adventure! Lots of new material for the classroom ! Today was whale, puffin & amazing views day.
      We have been traversing the Aleutian Islands today, sunny day ! The two days prior it was a fog show.

    2. Also, I am deploying a drifter buoy tomorrow, your class will be able to track it for about a year. My blog in a few days will have the exact web address and other info, stay tuned

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