Seafaring “W” is for…
Let’s get this rolling with:
Watchkeeper – A watchkeeper is someone who keeps watch on board a ship. The term “watchkeeping”, therefore concerns the division of personnel over a set time period to operate a ship continuously.
On a typical vessel, personnel keep watch on the bridge and over the running machinery. Though increasingly engineers are now day workers, as the use of Unmanned Machinery Spaces (UMS) is more prevalent.
The generic bridge watchkeeping consists of an officer who is responsible for the safe navigation of the ship. Safe navigation means keeping the vessel on course and away from dangers as well as collision avoidance from other shipping.
Watch durations will vary between vessels due to a number of reasons and restrictions. The traditional three-watch system is from the days of sail, where the ships company was divided into three and the day divided into six watches of four-hours duration, such that an individual would keep two four-hour watches each day separated by an eight-hour time for sleep or recreation. Examples of other systems exist, and there has been much criticism of the “Sixes” watch patterns, in which watchstanders work “6 on – 6 off”.
A deck officer assigned with the duties of watchkeeping and navigation is referred to as the “officer on watch” (OOW). While keeping a watch on the bridge the OOW is the representative of the ship’s master and has responsibility of safe navigation of the ship at that point.
The International Convention and Code on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping (STCW) 1978, sets out the mandatory minimum requirements for the certification of Deck Officers to become OOW.
To obtain a STCW Certificate of Competency seafarers must:
• Meet the minimum age requirement;
• Complete the minimum period of seagoing service;
• Undertake applicable technical and safety training;
• Complete the appropriate programme(s) of education and training meeting the
• minimum vocational and academic standard;
• Meet medical standards (including eyesight);
• If applicable, pass an oral examination
Before being considered for an oral examination seafarers have to provide evidence of having completed the full amount of qualifying seagoing service for the Certificate of Competency applied for. Seagoing service is defined as time spent onboard a ship, relevant to the issue of the certificate or other qualification being applied for.
For any Certificate of Competency, seafarers must meet the medical fitness and eyesight standards as required by the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC2006).
Waste – The waste or garbage which is produced by ships can, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), “be just as deadly to marine life as oil or chemicals”. So the risk posed by dumping or releasing waste into the seas needs managing.
Perhaps the greatest danger comes from plastic. As is widely known, plastics can float for years at sea, and can even form into giant ocean gyres of slowly degrading trash. These plastics can take centuries to break up – and even then they can still pose problems.
Fish and marine mammals can in some cases mistake plastics for food and they can also become trapped in plastic ropes, nets, bags and other items – even such innocuous items as the plastic rings used to hold cans of beer and drinks together. Waste at sea is a major issue.
While much of the garbage which finds its way into the sea comes from ashore – there is a proportion which is generated at sea. Indeed, in some areas most of the rubbish found comes from passing ships which find it convenient to throw rubbish overboard rather than dispose of it in ports.
For years there was a perception that dumping over the side was acceptable. Everything from cans to cigarette butts, through even to old tins of paint. The sea was seen as a giant trash can – and without much of a thought, seafarers did dump.
Thankfully this attitude has changed along with greater awareness of the environment. While there has been a step change in the view of many, the new approach has also been prompted by legislation.
The MARPOL Convention seeks to eliminate and reduce the amount of garbage being discharged into the sea from ships. In 2013, a revised MARPOL Annex “V” entered into force which really altered the way in which waste was handled.
The revised Annex V generally prohibits the discharge of all garbage into the sea, except as provided otherwise in regulations 4, 5, and 6 of the Annex, which are related to food waste, cargo residues, cleaning agents and additives and animal carcasses. Exceptions with respect to the safety of a ship and those on board and accidental loss are contained in regulation 7 of Annex V.
Under the revised MARPOL Annex V, garbage includes all kinds of food, domestic and operational waste, all plastics, cargo residues, incinerator ashes, cooking oil, fishing gear, and even animal carcasses.
It is one thing to ban ships from dumping, but waste is generated and has to go somewhere. So there is a need for adequate port reception facilities, especially within special areas. As such Annex V seeks to ensure that Governments provide of adequate reception facilities at ports and terminals for the reception of garbage without causing undue delay to ships, and according to the needs of the ships using them.
In addition, all ships of 100 gross tonnage and above, every ship certified to carry 15 persons or more, and every fixed or floating platform will have to carry a garbage management plan, which includes written procedures for minimising, collecting, storing, processing and disposing of garbage.
The garbage management plan should designate the person responsible for the plan and should be in the working language of the crew. There is also a requirement for a Garbage Record Book and to record all disposal and incineration operations.
Port State control inspectors will check to see that the provisions are being met – while vessels also need to ensure that every ship of 12 metres in length or over and every fixed or floating platform must display placards notifying passengers and crew of the disposal requirements of the Annex; these placards should be written in the working language of the ship’s crew and also in English, French or Spanish for ships travelling to other States’ ports or offshore terminals.
Waypoints – A waypoint is a reference point in physical space used for purposes of navigation, otherwise known as a landmark. Waypoints are sets of coordinates that identify a point in physical space.
Coordinates used can vary depending on the application. For terrestrial navigation these coordinates can include longitude and latitude, or even distance and bearings off an object or landmark. Waypoints have traditionally been associated with distinctive charted features which mariners could plot a position against and know what action was required. At a particular waypoint, the vessel is to alter course for instance.
In the modern world, waypoints are increasingly abstract, often having no obvious relationship to any distinctive features of the real world. The advent of GPS usage by the public has taken concepts of the professional navigator and made them commonplace. Now instead of being domain of the ships officer, these waypoints have become more abstract, such as radio beacons and the satellite-based GPS co-ordinates.
In GPS navigation, a “route” is usually defined as a series of two or more waypoints. To follow such a route, the GPS user navigates to the nearest waypoint, then to the next one in turn until the destination is reached. Most receivers have the ability to compute a great circle route towards a waypoint, enabling them to find the shortest route even over long distances.
The comfort blanket of the much loved and respected paper chart is fast disappearing and being replaced by a digital equivalent, this is the era of ECDIS. Route creation on an ECDIS has made the process much quicker and far simpler. For example, for an officer constructing a Great Circle route on paper charts there would be a significant amount of time taken. That has now changed as constructing a Great Circle route on ECDIS takes seconds as waypoints are placed at the click of a button. Moreover, waypoints are transferred from one scale of chart to another and are placed on all available charts for its position.
Web Frames -The traditional ship hull structure consists of a keel, transverse web-frames, and cross-ship deck beams that join the frame ends—all supporting a relatively thin shell of deck, sides, and bottom.
These frames are in essence ribs that are transverse bolted or welded to the keel. Frames support the hull and give the ship its shape and strength.
Frame numbers are the numerical values given to the frames; they begin at 1 with the first bow frame, and numbers increase sequentially to the last stern frame. The total number vary per the length of a ship.
The frames support lengthwise members which run parallel to the keel, from the bow to the stern; these may variously be called stringers, strakes, or clamps. The clamp supports the transverse deck beams, on which the deck is laid.
This structural scheme, which became prevalent with European ships during the Middle Ages, has continued into the age of steel shipbuilding. However, it has a significant drawback in that the frames and deck beams contribute nothing toward resisting longitudinal bending.
Frames that run longitudinally do contribute to such resistance and thus permit thinner shell plating. This scheme of framing is strongly favoured in applications where weight saving is important. However, longitudinal frames require internal transverse support from bulkheads and web frames—the latter being, in effect, partial bulkheads that may extend only three to seven feet in from the shell.
Longitudinal framing is the method of ship construction in which large, widely spaced transverse frames are used in conjunction with light, closely spaced longitudinal members.
This gives a ship much greater longitudinal strength. The first commercial vessel constructed with the Isherwood system, the oil-tank steamer “Paul Paix” of some 6,600 tons deadweight in 1908.
The success of it and the first general cargo liner to be constructed on the “Isherwood” system, the Gascony in early 1909, encouraged builders in a number of countries to use longitudinal framing as well.
Welding – The structural framework of most ships is constructed of various grades of mild and high-strength steel and welding is the quickest and most effective means of bringing the various pieces of construction together and keeping them there.
Shipyard welding processes, or more specifically “fusion welding”, is performed at nearly every location in the shipyard environment. The process involves joining metals by bringing adjoining surfaces to extremely high temperatures to be fused together with a molten filler material.
A heat source is used to heat the edges of the joint, permitting them to fuse with molten weld fill metal (electrode, wire or rod). The required heat is usually generated by an electric arc or a gas flame.
Shipyards choose the type of welding process based on customer specifications, production rates and a variety of operating constraints including government regulations.
Welding is one of the most critical operations within ship construction. When welds fail, often the whole structure fails. Fortunately, modern processes are often automated and can produce consistent welds reliably, and/or can weld thick sections in a single pass for controlled distortion.
Improvements of weld quality have steadily increased as technology has evolved. So safety of welds has probably never been higher, and quality is achieved through Classification Society rules, welding procedure qualification, welder certification and weld monitoring and control.
There are four major types of welding procedures which are considered the most common in shipbuilding, and other industries too. These are:
• Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) – Here the welder follows a manual process of stick welding. The stick uses an electric current to form an electric arc between the stick and the metals to be joined. This type is often used in the construction of steel structures and in industrial fabrication to weld iron and steel.
• Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW/MIG) – This style of welding is also referred to as Metal Inert Gas (MIG). It uses a shielding gas along the wire electrode, which heats up the two metals to be joined. This method requires a constant voltage and direct-current power source, and is the most common industrial welding process. Within this form of welding there are a further four primary methods of metal transfer: globular, short-circuiting, spray and pulsed-spray.
• Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW) – This was developed as an alternative to shield welding. A semi-automatic arc weld is often used in construction projects, thanks to its high welding speed and portability.
• Gas Tungsten Arc Gas Welding (GTAW/TIG) – Most commonly used for welding together thick sections of stainless steel or non-ferrous metals. It is also an arc-welding process that uses a tungsten electrode to produce the weld.
Welders are of course the key to good welding – and so certification and welder qualifications are important. There are many processes which examines and documents a welder’s capability to create welds of acceptable quality.
Basically welder certification is based on specially designed tests to determine a welder’s skill and ability to deposit sound weld metal.
In the USA, welder qualification is performed according to American Welding Society (AWS), or American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) standards. While in Europe, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) has adopted the ISO standards on welder qualification (ISO 9606). While operators of automated welding systems are certified too. Other major shipbuilding nations will have comparative systems, and will also have Classification Society rules to adhere to.
Wheelhouse – The Wheelhouse, or “bridge” of a ship is the area from which the ship can be commanded. When a ship is underway the wheelhouse is manned by an OOW (officer of the watch).
Wheelhouses were the enclosed parts of a larger “bridge” that historically held the ship’s wheel. Today, ship’s bridges do not have a separate wheelhouse; but the term wheelhouse is still acceptable.
Historically sailing ships were commanded from the quarterdeck, aft of the mainmast. With the arrival of paddle steamers, engineers required a platform from which they could inspect the paddle wheels and where the captain’s view would not be obstructed by the paddle houses. A raised walkway, literally a bridge, connecting the paddle houses was therefore provided.
When the screw propeller eventually superseded the paddle wheel, the bridge was retained – as it made an excellent position to safely oversee navigation and ships operations.
Traditionally, commands would be passed from the senior officer on the bridge to stations dispersed throughout the ship. Until relatively recently there was no means of remote control of steering or machinery. As such helm orders would be passed to an enclosed wheel house, where the coxswain or helmsman operated the ship’s wheel.
Engine commands would be relayed to the engineer in the engine room by an engine order telegraph that displayed the captain’s orders on a dial. The engineer would ensure that the correct combination of steam pressure and engine revolutions were applied. The bridge was often open to the elements, therefore a weatherproof pilot house could be provided, from which a pilot, who was traditionally the ship’s navigating officer, could issue commands from shelter.
In order to try and limit the effects of the vessel on the compass on iron, and later steel, a compass platform was needed. This was usually on the monkey island, where a magnetic compass could be sited far away as possible from the ferrous interference of the hull of the ship.
Modern advances in remote control equipment have seen progressive transfer of the actual control of the ship to the bridge. The wheel and throttles can be operated directly from the bridge, controlling the machinery spaces.
The bridge now encompasses the old “wheelhouse” in a totally enclosed arrangement, with some vessels having “bridge wings” which are open to the environment. Many are completely closed off.
This modern bridge, houses the equipment necessary to safely navigate a vessel on passage. Such equipment will vary with ship type, but generally includes the GPS, a Navtex receiver, an ECDIS or chart system, one or more radars, a communications system (including distress calling equipment, engine (telegraph) controls, a wheel/autopilot system, a magnetic compass (for redundancy and cross check capability) and light/sound signalling devices.
Wi-Fi at Sea – The use of internet at sea is a serious and contentious issue. Seafarers increasingly are demanding to work on “connected” ships, as they want to stay in touch with home. They want to receive the latest news, be able to send emails, keep up with social media and to watch TV or movies.
Without doubt the most important welfare concern for seafarers is communication back home. Seafarers want easy, either free or cheap, access to email and internet both at sea and in port. The Maritime Labour Convention contains only a small section on communications for seafarers. In the guidelines the convention states that “consideration” should be given to include “reasonable access to ship to shore telephone communications, and email and internet facilities, where available, with any charges for the use of these services being reasonable in amount”. Why so little concession to the needs of seafarers today? Well, as with most rules, there is often a lag between discussion, debate, acceptance and then ratification. While it only entered force in 2013, it was adopted in 2006 – which was before the real widespread use of Facebook, twitter, smartphones and Wi-Fi took hold.
As an illustration, in 2006 Facebook only reported having 12 million monthly users worldwide. In November 2016, the decade has seen a leap to over 1.79 billion monthly active Facebook users worldwide. What about Twitter? Well Twitter was only launched in March 2006. The reason for the explosion? Well the first iPhone was released in 2007 – so the networks finally had a tool worthy of the job, and the rest is history.
It is clear that social networking has exploded and changed dramatically since the MLC was adopted, let alone when it was discussed. Not surprisingly seafarers do not want to feel left behind, and so there is a real clamour for Wi-Fi and connectivity onboard ships.
According to seafarer charities, good employers know that communication with home is “good for seafarers’ welfare, morale and their retention”. They believe that more needs to done to give seafarers cheaper or free access to email, text message, voice communication and, where possible, to the internet.
The issue of contact with family and connectivity is a hugely significant issue, and has been one of the more contentious issues since the Crewtoo Seafarers’ Happiness Index was launched in 2015.
Seafarers have repeatedly stressed the need for connection which phonecalls, messaging and even emails can bring. However, even these demands are changing in the face of technology. Where even just a couple of years ago there was a clamour to simply be connected – now there are calls for faster, cheaper and better service. Seafarers are becoming ever more discerning in what is an acceptable level of connectivity.
It seems the connectivity genie is well and truly out of the bottle. Seafarers who experience the satisfaction of being connected are now clamouring for more. Which mirrors experience ashore – the more people have, the more they want.
There is a growing sense that until the provisions at sea reach some comparable level with ashore, then tensions will remain. Reliable internet available and reasonable priced satellite phone cards seem to be the absolute minimum that many seafarers demand. There were strong criticisms of companies who over charge their seafarers for access and who seemingly make a profit on the communications of their crews. This is something which many feel to be morally and ethically wrong.
Seafarers without connectivity are seemingly amazed that in this high-tech era that they should be denied the access which so many people take for granted. One seafarer stated, “In this age when the whole world is connected by high speed Internet, only seafarers are left out. Even on ships where Internet is available it is available at an insanely high rate.”
There were repeated calls from seafarers who want to see pressure to make internet access for seafarers compulsory on all ships. If and only, they said, all vessels were connected to the web, that would make seafarers even happier. Perhaps the MLC2006 needs to be amended to embrace connectivity and move from guidance to mandatory.