I wrote this a month ago, I just haven’t had the time to post it….

I’ve been here a month now, and things are settling down into a routine. I have a LOT of work to do, but so does everyone else, I thank whatever gods there may be for AMOS, despite it being the bane of my life at times it does help me keep track of what I need to do next! (AMOS is our planned maintenance system and tells me what jobs I need to do each week) I haven’t yet quite been through a full month’s worth of jobs, but February is a short month, so things have been crammed in even more. The inspections and checks I have to do on a weekly or monthly basis lead me to making notes on what maintenance I need to do, most of which is more cosmetic than anything else, but by keeping on top of things I can make sure that a small cosmetic issue does not become a more serious damage issue. There are only 4 members of the bridge team on here, and so all the maintenance is split between three of us. The Captain, obviously, does not have to do such things – he has plenty of paperwork to keep him busy, does every arrival and departure and is on-call 24/7 should anything happen.

So as 3/O, I do the following: 8-12 watchkeeping; Inspections and maintenance on all LSA (Life Saving Appliances); safety familiarisation training for new joiners (which we get weekly) and inputting all crew certification into the on-board database; I do a weekly SOLAS training session on LSA; I am Fire Team 3 leader, and therefore need to do training for my team whenever someone in the team changes, or when we need to pull our game up; I am the bridge administrator (daily stability calcs, PASIS (Port Authority Ship Information Sheets), checking the night guard’s rounds, general filing, organising the Captain’s training sessions, etc etc) and I am also responsible for maintaining and distributing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), and the SOPEP (Ship Oil Pollution Emergency Plan) gear.

The 2/O does 12-4 watchkeeping; Navigation (Passage planning and chart and publication corrections); FFA (Fire Fighting Appliances) inspections and maintenance, and FFA SOLAS training, and the official log book, sails hours and Watertight Door testing.

The C/O does 4-8 watchkeeping; she is the deck crew boss (I/C of not only me and the 2/O, but the sailors as well, so has to organise all the daily maintenance jobs such as sails maintenance, chipping and painting, deck cleaning, tender drivers and probably a million other little jobs); she is SSO (Ship Security Officer), Garbage Officer, Safety Officer and Training Officer, and has overall responsibility for Stability and tanks (so does a lot of clambering into dark smelly tanks!). She also has to go to a heck of a lot of meetings about planning, generally for the upcoming voyages, but we also have a 4 week wet dock coming up, so there’s even more planning going on!!

Each of those lists is a heck of a lot for one person (and I’ve probably missed a few things), and while we are all contracted to work 10 hours a day, we only technically have 2 hours a day to do most of that in, as when on watch we are navigating. Thankfully though as we go to anchor almost every day we are able at least to get through some of the reams of paperwork that accompany each and every one of the above jobs. The C/O definitely gets the biggest work load, and while the 2/O’s list may sound like the shortest, the Nav aspect of it is huge, chart corrections come out weekly and we have a large on-board portfolio! He spends a lot of time on watch doing charts, and his 2 hours of day work is mostly spent going round checking fire detectors, fire screen doors, extinguishers, hoses etc. (The downside for me is that he does this while I am on watch, so if he’s doing alarms or doors, I have to stand by the appropriate panel and press buttons instead of getting on with my own work). When we are at anchor or berthed though it’s not simply a case of getting on with the paperwork, at anchor we constantly monitor our position, watch what’s going on on the gangway (we do a lot of tendering operations), or in when berthed in port, monitor the moorings and keep an eye on any loading that going on (stores, water, fuel..) and there’s constant calls to the bridge both by phone and radio asking questions and telling us what’s going on too. If you get 10 minutes peace to get on with what you’re doing it’s a miracle!!

In short, I think it’s simply not possible to do everything that needs to be done within the hours we’re contracted to, but I keep getting told to watch my hours. I don’t get paid for overtime, but if I don’t do it I’m going to end up behind. The ILO (International Labour Organisation) rules that we MUST get 77 hours of rest per week (this has recently gone up from 70 hours rest a week). So I could do 13 hours a day and stay within the legal limits, but, I’d be working for an hourly rate that most people would scoff at, especially considering the responsibility for other people’s lives that my and my fellow officers job entails. And, especially in this heat (it gets up to 40 degrees regularly here in Costa Rica) I’d be a wreck. Plus, don’t forget that one has to eat when one is not working, and to be on time for duty you need to get up and sort yourself out in order to be there 5-10 mins before you start watch (You have to be there 10 mins before you take over watch at night so that your eyes can adjust to the dark), handing over the watch takes a few minutes too, so you generally end up leaving the bridge at 10 past the hour. Then you get to go to your cabin, wind down, shower etc. So if you can actually get to sleep within 30 minutes of officially finishing work (on the hour) you’re doing blooming well!  So actual rest time is shorter than it sounds, at the very most, I get 8 hours between watches. Take off time the time spent getting up and ready, handing over etc and I’m realistically getting 7 hours rest, max. The legal minimum is 6 hours continuous rest in a 24 hour period and the remaining 4 or 5 hours rest period cannot be split into more than 2 periods.

……. I would kill for a solid 8 hours kip these days!!

I realise it could well sound like I’m having a moan here, but I don’t mean to, I truly and honestly love my job, and hope sincerely that that never changes. But I do find myself wondering at the high level Industry Management’s, (i.e. the IMO and related bodies) perception of what “Minimum Safe Manning” is (how many jobs can you realistically expect one person to do?), and whether they realise that we have to spend so much time on the paperwork that we have so much less time to do the jobs themselves. I understand the need to provide evidence that things have been done properly, but it’s a vicious circle – if we (as an industry) fail to do the job properly, more checklists and paperwork is brought in, ostensibly to help us not miss anything and do things right. But, there’s so much emphasis put on the paper trail that it risks ending up as a mindless box ticking exercise and the important part, the whole point of it all, (i.e. contentiousness about safety and the environment) gets lost in the process. I fear that people reach a point that they have done the job so many times and just go through a checklist ticking and ticking without paying attention to what they are ticking and signing off – I will never forget the time as a cadet (on a vessel that shall remain nameless) when I had been told to fill out a permit to work for a job that needed doing immediately. I was going round carefully checking each item on the list, when an officer snapped at me, “It’s not a list of what has been done, it’s a list of what will be done, just tick it all and get it signed!” This guy was newly qualified too, so I was doubly horrified at this attitude, but I guess he must have learnt it from somewhere.


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