Chief Mates Orals report.

I’ve been very quiet recently, but things have been afoot! Last summer I decided that it was about time I went up for my Chief Mates, so worked out how much money I needed and how long it would take me to pull together and then booked myself on the Warsash Maritime Academy Chief Mates Orals prep course starting in January.

It’s been a hectic few weeks, as well as the Orals prep I had to do Proficiency in Medical Care, Navigation Aids and Equipment Simulator Training and Human Element, Leadership & Management courses. So much to learn and in so little time, I’ve had moments when I thought my brain was going to start dribbling out of my ears, but somehow I made it through and reached the day of reckoning….

Date: 10th March 2016
Time: 1400 start, exam lasted 1hr.
Examiner: S.Akthur – fill in examiner from Norwich

I had to have a chaperone, so once she had turned up he brought me into the room, made sure I was comfortable and went through all of the formalities. He asked me about my previous experience and said that for the purpose of the exam I will be a C/O on a RORO ferry. He didn’t give much away but did prompt for an answer when it was required. It all went really fast, while also feeling like it would never end, and I may have forgotten some things…

– You’ve been employed by a roro company and are joining a new ship as CO, what would you expect to receive before joining a ship? (SEA and information about the company, joining instructions)
– So what’s in your SEA? I talked about payment of wages, the MN Code of Conduct, Drug and alcohol policy and Onboard Complaints Procedure
– So if you have a complaint and it can’t be dealt with onboard, who do you escalate it to? I said the DPA and the company.
– What if the Company can’t deal with it? I said the MCA.
– Which part of the MCA? I didn’t know and he told me there is a MLC department in the MCA.
– What certification do you need under MLC? MLC cert and DMLC part 1 and 2.
– So you’ve joined the ship now, how will you know what your duties are? I said I would expect to get a full set of detailed handover notes and there to be a handover checklist in the SMS.
– Contents of the SMS
– Roll of C/O – Stability, safety, maintenance, PMS, crew hours..
– Passage planning – I mentioned the Bridge Proceedures Guide and APEM, loadline zones, weather/need to ballast, security…
– OK, so the 2nd officer has done the passage plan but doesn’t know how to put on the wheel over points, what advice will you give him? I’d advise him to look at the ships manoeuvring information which would have been put together during sea trials and get the advance, transfer and distance to wheel over point from that.
– Planning a Drill for a totally enclosed LB? Risk assessment, crew briefing, disengage power supply and put plug in, down to embarkation level, check hooks, FPDs, check over the side, lower to the water with no-one in it first…
– Ok so you’ve launched it safely, what about recovery? When the boats away from the ship’s side get the crew to reset and check the hooks.
– Would you launch the boat with crew in it or put the boat down without crew and get them to go down the embarkation ladder? No, if it was a normal drill I’d launch with the crew onboard.
– Put a piece of paper on the table and drew a box, weight 200 tonnes, 3m by 5m. Deck strength is 12t/m. He said that a shoreside crane is going to load this, can you load this weight? 200/(3×5)= 13.3t/m so no you can’t load it unless you spread the weight with dunnage, he asked if I’d done that on my previous ship, yes we did, not only to spread the weight, but to protect the deck surface as well.
– How I would find out about deck strength? Load Density Plan.
– Now you are loading it what do you need to take into consideration? I talked about it as if we were loading it with a ships crane, so angle of list, press up tanks, tend mooring lines, brief crew, risks assessment, secure loose items, inform everyone, take in gangway… Anything else? I drew a blank here
– What do you need to think about when loading your RORO? Security, stability – talked about when I was on a RoRo and when loading constantly checking the stability computer.
– What orders will you leave the 2nd officer when loading overnight? When to call me – if anything unexpected turns up, if anyone unauthorised tries to board, if the plan changes… Anything else? Errr….
– RoRos have their doors quite low down, what if waves started coming in? Ok, yes they should call me if the weather changes – if water gets on to the cars deck its very dangerous because there’s no internal subdivision and therefore lead to FSM.
– How do you know what you can load? IMDG DoC
– What other documentation would you carry ? IMDG Code, cargo manifests for all and for DG…
– How would you ensure everything was secure? I referred to the Cargo Securing Manual being the basis for lashing, but would add extra lashings if the weather was going to be bad.
– What’s the requirement for ships to carry the cargo securing manual? Every ship that carries cargo that may need to be lashed…
– He moved on to stability, asked me to explain an angle of loll with diagrams, so I drew the GZ curve and then a box diagram, talked about G being above M..
– What could cause an angle of loll? I thought we were still talking about loading a RoRo so I said loading the top decks first.
– What about at sea? If you use up too much fuel and water?
– Well all ships use up fuel and water, what else could cause it? Ice accretion.
– How will you deal with it? Remove ice from the high side/ballast on the low side so you make sure you don’t fall over.
– Ok, you’re going to go to anchor now, tell me why you’d do a running moor and show me how you’d do a running moor with this model. You’d do a running moor in a river or channel where the tide/ current is going to change, or if you’re anchoring in an area where your swinging circle is restricted. Stem the tide, drop windward anchor, run on paying out cable, drop leeward anchor, pay out on that and heave in on windward cable until they’re even.
– You’re at anchor and the 2nd officer is on watch, during the night you start to drag anchor, he can’t get the engines up and running in time and you go aground on a reef. The general alarm is sounded. What do you do? Get up to the bridge, make sure the master is up there and has the con and then go down to assess damage, get the fire party going, damage control team is I have enough crew, sound tanks…
– What else? Sound round outside the vessel, try to establish what kind of ground we’re on and consider options for refloating if there’s no damage.
– There is damage down aft, what else are you going to do? Assess the damage to the rudders and props, contact company and class with a view to Salvage with Lloyds open form…
– What else? Well my main priority is the safety of the crew and the ship…
– Ok But what else? Who would you tell? Flag, company, security message to all vessels in the area…
– What else? You’ve got a damaged tank down aft…. I realised he was after pollution reporting and control, so nearest coastal authority by the fastest means possible, within 10 minutes, get booms out etc..

– Finally we moved on, there was a line of buoys on the edge of the desk which I’d clocked right at the start, region A. He got me to stand up and told me the direction of buoyage and the direction of north and asked me to approach each buoy, identify what it was and which side I’d pass it on. He didn’t want the light characteristics. I was going against the direction of buoyage. I turned around a few times to look at it from the direction of buoyage to ensure I passed the lateral marks the right way, saying going with the direction of buoyage I’d leave it on my xxx side, so going against I will leave it on my other side. Isolated danger mark, port and stbd lateral marks, east and west cardianals, a preferred channel marker, (I asked if I could assume I was in the main channel – I was) and a fairway buoy.

– Gave me a radar plotting sheet and put an arrow on to show my heading (190) He then put two magnets on different points of the outer range ring. Asked what I’d do. I said that’s scanty information I’d continue to plot. Gave me two more plots for each and told me they were 6 minute intervals and asked me to put on W, I said I needed my own ship speed, he said 6 kts. That gave me 0.6’ per interval, so 1.2’ for the full plot. I used a pencil to measure off 1.2’ on the range rings and put on W for each. One was crossing from stbd, one was overtaking me on my port quarter so I said, I shall avoid an alteration of port for a vessels fwd of my beam and avoid an alteration of course toward a vessel abeam or abaft the beam so I will make a substantial alteration of course to stbd and put the vessel ahead of me on my port bow. He asked who’s responsibility it is to take action, In restricted vis – everyones!

– On to the smartie board – wanted to know what it was, day signal and fog signal and actions

– VSL engaged in towing tug under 50m tow over 200m on my port side, Diamonds on both vessels, sound signal one long, two short. Said I’d stand on. It then didn’t alter for me so I said, as it’s apparent he’s not taking action I may take action, Sounded 5 short and rapid and then altered to stbd sounding 1 short. Would you go to port? No as he may still alter to stbd.

– RAM vessel engaged in underwater operations seen from astern. Safe to pass on his port side, Balls and diamonds, one long two short. I will sound 2 short and alter to port to pass on his safe side.

– Vessel probably over 50m aground, 2 black balls, 3 strikes on the bells, rapid ringing of the bell for 5 secs, 3 strikes on the bell and if over 100 rapid ringing of the gong in the aft part of the vessel. Stop, call the master, plot position on chart, APEM to safe water.

He then said that the exam was now over and asked how I felt it had gone. I said I felt that my nerves had played a big part and I was disappointed in myself for not thinking of the pollution aspects of grounding sooner, especially as I’d been smashing Marpol when revising. He said I’d done very well and he thought I’d make a very good chief officer. And you have passed by the way!

Many thanks to the Warsash Lecturers and my coursemates, in particular my housemate Sam, having a study buddy at home was a lifesaver! Also thanks to the other Sam for doing my hair that morning 🙂

Now if anyone knows of any jobs available I’d be extremely grateful!!

The exam

This is what I can remember of the exam, I may have missed bits out, most of what I can remember is the parts when I thought it was going badly! The examiner was very fair, and threw me a lifeline on more than one occasion, it wasn’t the quickest exam ever but considering he is the examiner who’s got the reputation for being the most stringent, I’m very proud!

I stayed in the nunnery (Park House Guest House) the night before, everyone who stays there passes apparently, they’re very sweet and there’s one nun in particular who’s tiny and promised to light a candle and pray for us, which was lovely of her. We went down the road for food,  there’s lots of restaurants to choose from and we ended up having a really good Mexican meal, along with a couple of beers. I fell asleep easily enough but woke up at 0430 and then at 0630, and had some super-weird dreams that I really want to forget!!I spent the entire morning waiting while my two coursemates went in and came out after 30 minutes with Leggit, they said it was easy, more like a chat and half the time they weren’t sure they were being examined. I felt better hearing this from them and then my heart sank when Hiliard came out, I’d brought my books in a crate and he asked me to bring them in. He explained the fire exits, fire alarm and the muster point outside and offered me a glass of water, which I jumped at. He then had a flip through my nav work books, he had a look at my first sea phase ops workbook and didn’t bother looking at the second one (I did have half a rainforest!) then the exam began, he gave me a small model ship and told me that was my ship.

Started out with Rule of the Road, I was so nervous, first he gave me a fishing vessel other than trawling on my port side, I took a series of compass bearings (did this in every case) and then I said I’d sound two short blasts (made the sound signal every time as well) and go to port.

Then gave me a fishing vessel over 50 m trawling on my port side, again, said I’d go to port.

Then I got a towing vessel less than 50m length of tow less than 200m, and I had a total brain fart and said I’d go to port. I realised almost immediately that I’d screwed up and he let me have another go at it and I said I’d stand on with caution. At this point I thought I’d failed and spent the rest of the exam wondering how I was going to tell everyone I’d failed.


He carried on asking me questions though, he put me in a TSS and put a red can buoy in the middle of it and asked me what the light was (red, flashing any rhythm other than composite two plus one), then asked what I would do when I saw it, I said that if I saw it right ahead I’d alter to starboard and leave it on my port side.

Still in the TSS he told me that it had a course alteration coming up, with an 18m vessel on my starboard side outside the TSS heading toward it that wasn’t impeding me at the time, but was going to start impeding, I said I’d stand on, then he said it was impeding now, and I said I’d stand on, then it got closer again and so I said I’d alter to stbd. I then wanted to beat my head on the desk as I realised I should have given 5 or more short and rapid blasts before altering. I told him I knew what I’d done wrong there and told him I would have done the 5 or more before altering, he didn’t say anything but carried on. This only served to convince me further that I had failed. He did ask me who was the give way and who was the stand on vessel in that situation, I took ages to answer but said I was the give way vessel but would expect the small vessel not to impede my passage.

He then put an arrow on the table and told me that that was North, put a red dot to symbolise a danger in the middle of the table and an arrow to show which way the danger extended. He then gave me a west cardinal buoy and told me to put it in the right place. I put it on the west side of the danger, he asked me what the light was on it (9 quick in 15 secs, 9 very quick in 10 secs) and that was it for buoyage!

I then got a ship one point abaft the beam on my starboard side, and I said I’d make a broad alteration of course and pass around her stern, he asked me which light I’d show the other ship, and I told him I’d show them my port light.

He gave me the lights for a vessel aground and asked what I’d do, so I gave him the stop, take all way off, call the master, turn the echo sounder on, plot my position, plot the other vessels position and assess where the deep water was, he stopped me there and said “You’re on a paperless ship, how would you do that on ECDIS?” I told him I’d use the radar overlay, and select the ship with ARPA on the radar. He asked how I’d assess the chart, so I told him I’d increase the amount of soundings the chart was showing.


We then went onto Restricted Vis, he asked me to tell him about going into RV, so I said reduce speed, call the Captain, turn on nav lights, start sounding the appropriate signal, get a man on the wheel, extra look outs. Then he gave me a sheet of paper with a radar plot on it showing several vessels, he told me it was in true vectors and relative trails, that there would only be one vessel that had a risk of collision and to take my time in deciding which was which and what action I would take. I started to answer but he told me to take my time so I stared at it for a couple of minutes! He also gave me a straight edge and a pair of dividers to help me work out what was going on. He said that in RV situations I wouldn’t have to worry about things too much because I’d have the Captain on the bridge but he just had to make sure I had an understanding of the rules.

The first one had a vessel ahead of me that was causing a risk and I said I’d go to starboard (not sounding any signal), after the vessel on my starboard side that was overtaking me had gone ahead and was out of the way. He asked me what else I could do and I told him I could go to port as I was overtaking it.

The second one had two vessels with relative trails that pointed directly at my ship, and I used the dividers and edge to try and figure out which was more of an immediate problem, there was another vessel on the stbd side which would pass astern of me. He said that there was only one option open to me and I agreed because I couldn’t alter toward a vessel abeam or abaft my beam so went to starboard. He said “Ok, but you wouldn’t make a very broad alteration and cross the other vessel  would you?” I told him I’d make a trial manoeuvre first which made him immediately move on.


Mooring fwd, what preparations I would make? I told him I’d have a briefing on the bridge first with the Captain and find out how many lines we would be using, then brief my team ensuring they had the right PPE and PPC and ensure there was power on deck by calling the engine room. On the deck I’d ensure there was adequate lighting, that the deck was clear of obstructions and debris, get the lines flaked out, grease round and warm through the winches (if necessary but I’d expect that the winches were greased as part of regular maintenance), get the heaving lines rigged so that the lines would run without catching on anything, and then position myself where I could see the quay and the deck so I could give distances off via radio.

He asked what would I do if I couldn’t see the man on the winches from where I was so I said I’d position another competent person who could relay my hand signals to the winch man.

What kind of stopper would I use on a polyprop mooring rope? I told him for a polyprop rope, I’d use a polyprop stopper.


Fire in the galley, what would be the best way of fighting a deep fat fryer fire?  I told him about the wet chemical extinguishers that I had on the cruise ships, he asked how it worked and I told him that it solidified over the oil and smothered it, I think he was looking for me to say “fixed system” but he left it and we carried on.


Steering failure, I said I’d call the Captain and try switching to non-follow up, he asked me to explain how non-follow up worked so I told him about that and then he told me that the steering had failed again and the rudder had locked over to port so I said, eventually after some pushing on his part, that I’d use the emergency steering gear in the steering flats.


He possibly asked me what I’d do in a MOB situation, but I can only remember the pain of the next question, it was like pulling teeth!-It’s a nice calm flat day in port, the Chief Officer tells you to launch the rescue boat, How would you prepare the rescue boat? I started off ok, telling him I’d muster, call in to the bridge, check everyone had the right PPE and PPC, check the condition of the boat and the gear in it. I knew I needed to check the limit switch so I said with the boat in the cradle I’d lower the wire and then heave it back up to test the limit switch, he wasn’t keen on this and I tried to re-explain what I meant, and he asked if I’d lift the boat, so I changed my answer and said I’d disconnect the wire, test the limit switch and then reconnect the boat, he seemed happier with this and told me to carry on. I then said I’d launch the boat with people in it. He gave me a funny look and said “There was an M-notice about that recently wasn’t there?” I jumped on the lifeline he had just given me and said Yes I would lower the boat to the water line without anyone in it first. He left it at that, but I think he was looking for FPDs.


Passage planning on ECDIS I started with Appraisal, and he stopped me and said “You’ve done all that, what would you do before you start putting stuff into the ECDIS? I said I’d make sure the charts were all fully updated, and then I was stumped, he started talking about alarms and parameters, and I was still lost, I told him I’d check all the feeds going into the EDCIS were right- GPS, Gyro, Radar, speed log, AIS and then he asked what else do you need to do? I said make sure there’s power? I was utterly lost and told him I was sorry but my mind had gone blank and at that time I didn’t know. I realise now he was looking for me to clear all alarms and reset all the layers on the chart.


Port state controller coming on what instructions will you give your crew? I told him I’d tell them to answer his questions and give him any information he asked for.

What’s the difference between port state control and flag state control? Told him the only difference was that flag state inspected ships that were flagged by their state and port state inspected any ship that came into their port.

He asked how I would know what they were looking for so I told him about the Paris MOU website, that I’d look on that to see what ships had been detained and for what, he asked if I’d looked at the website and I told him I had (Thank god I did just a week before!)


He then said “Well you’ve passed” I nearly cried! He took my NoE to photo copy it and then gave some feedback, I need to look at Passage planning on ECDIS and to take my time when assessing situations- he had obviously realised how nervous I was and that my mistakes had been down to trying to answer too quickly, overall though, he said it was a good exam. He gave me my books back which I had to put down again to shake his hand and then left, thanking him profusely and in shock!

The Middle of the End

Two weeks to go, and I have finally got my game head on properly, which seems to have co-incided with me figuring out my optimal working set up (Radio 2 on the TV, sitting on the sofa, using a coffee table to rest note book on, laptop on second coffee table with ready for immediate use, reference books on the sofa next to me). It also helps that my housemate is away, he has a tendancy to come and talk about his computer game at un-useful moments, and try and make me watch zombie shows. I have also posted the following notice on our front door “Please, Do Not Disturb, I have the most important exam of my life in 2 weeks and am revising, See you after, S4” Needless to say the neighbours came knocking twice this evening, but I had to forgive them, as they were without power or heating. I gave them another candle and a torch.

Revising everything you have learnt in the last three years is no easy task, none of it is new, but I need to remember which Code I can find such-and-such information in, what annex to what legislation applies to which situation, etc. It’s a drag I can tell you, but I’m getting there, and I’m also looking forward to having my own comprehensive set of notes that I will take with me to my first ship, all neatly index tabbed so I can find everything quickly and look like I know my shit really well!!

That’s all for now folks, see you on the other side. S4 xx