Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ship-Life Part I

I've been wanting to write a post about ship-life for a while now. I have a feeling that many people reading my blog may not know what kind of ship I am living on. Some of my friends have asked me if it is anything like a cruise ship. Some think it is like an old wooden fishing boat. So, this blog is to set the record straight and give you a good idea of what it is like to live on a ship.

I am going to focus on scheduling in Part I. There are many departments on the Rainier, such as the deck department, engineering department, etc. each with different responsibilities and schedules, but I want to target the survey department in this post.

POD (Plan of the Day)
Each day a POD is posted throughout the ship. This is a plan of the following day that the FOO (Field Operations Officer) puts together for all the assignments for the day. The FOO makes sure that each person gets to do a variety of jobs throughout the season. Here is an example.

POD for day number 278

The POD details who is assigned to what for the day. As you can see we had three launches go out to collect multibeam data and one skiff to visit the tide gauge and base station. The top right corner shows who will be night processing (bathy) and who will be working on POSPac (POS). For that day I was assigned to the night processing shift. The predicted weather and tides are also displayed.

This shift usually begins around 1:00 pm and goes to 9:00 pm. The job entails taking the raw data collected during the day on the launches and processing it. We use various software programs to do so.
First the night processor will help get the launches back on the ship at the end of the working day, collect the boat bag that contains the hard drive with all the data. This of course requires a life vest and hard hat. Any work done with the small boats requires appropriate safety gear. After all the launches are secured in their davits on board, we usually have a Survey Debrief Meeting in the Wardroom to talk about the day, give the night processors any information they will need for processing, and discuss any issues.

The processor will then proceed to transfer all the data to our network and begin converting the lines (all the multibeam data collected). Once the lines are converted we apply correctors such as true heave, tides, and sound velocity. After this, the night processor will merge the data and compute TPU (Total Propagated Uncertainty). All of this is noted in the acquisition log for reference. Once all the data has been processed, the night processor will go through it and roughly clean the data for any major fliers or noise. Finally, a .tiff file is created to show the updated coverage of the project. At the end of the night, the night processing manager will take the .tiff files from each project and merge them into a super-tiff of the entire survey area. This allows us to see how much work was accomplished. The sheet managers will make sure the newest coverage is loaded on the launches to ensure the launch team knows what has and has not been surveyed.

An example of night processing. The data has been converted, fixed, and cleaned.

The POS shift can vary. I usually begin the shift like night processing around 1:00 pm and work until 9:00 pm. Some people prefer to work earlier. The nice thing about POSPac is the shift can be flexible as long as you get permission from the Chief Survey Tech first.
This job entails taking the raw true heave file that is collected by the launches or ship, and processing it with a program called POSPac. This software takes the raw data and creates what is called an SBET (Smoothed Best Estimate of Trajectory) and an RMS (Root Mean Squared) file. The files that are created with POSPac are later applied to the projects by each sheet manager. The general goal of applying SBETs is correcting the horizontal position of the boat from in the order of 1m (using just GPS) to a subdecimetric level using our base stations.
It can take a long time to process POS data, sometimes upward of two hours for one boat. Once the line has been processed, the survey tech will QC (quality control) the data to ensure accuracy.

An example of POSPac processing. 

When assigned to work on a launch for the day, you have to do some preparations. First you should have the right kind of gear such as warm clothes or waterproof clothes (depending on the weather), a hat, a float coat or life vest, and a hardhat. (I also always bring gloves, a knife, a multitool,  pen and pencil, sunglasses, and a water bottle). Many Survey Techs will also bring music to play and various snacks.
The HIC (Hydrographer in Charge) or sheet manager will usually make sure the project is set up correctly in Hypack (the software program used on the launches for collecting multibeam data) before the day begins.

The day usually begins at 8:00 am with a safety meeting on the fantail. All parties involved in launch work attend the meeting to learn about safety concerns or hazards such as rocks, kelp, etc. as well as expected weather and tides. Once the meeting is concluded, the launches are deployed and go off to their assigned locations to collect data. When the launches work a regular day, they are expected to return to the ship at 4:30 pm. If the weather is really nice, the FOO and CO (Commanding Officer) may make a call to let the launches continue working. We call this "late boats". When we decide to have late boats, they usually return at 6:00 pm. Lunch on the launches consists of sandwiches, soup, and snacks. The stewards also provide hot water for tea, coffee, juice, and cold water.

One of our launches out collecting data

The "fantail" of the launch.

When the ship is also acquiring data it is usually done so in 24 hour operation mode. The benefit of the ship is that we have so many people on board and can break up the shifts so we can be acquiring non stop.
A ship's hydro shift is broken up in to two- 4 hour shifts. Either 8:00 am-12:00 pm and 8:00 pm - 12:00 am; 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm, 12:00 am - 4:00 am; or 4:00 pm - 8:00 pm, 4:00 am - 8:00 am.
The shifts are usually covered by two survey techs at a time.
The Rainier has a Kongsberg EM710 multibeam echo sounder. This sonar is much more useful in deeper water (compared to where the launches can go) and is usually only used in "offshore" areas. The sonar can survey between 3-2000m of water and is a much lower frequency system at 70 or 100 kHz. (Compared to the RESON sonars on the launches which are 200 or 400 kHz).
The survey team works directly with the Bridge to communicate where the ship needs to go to collect data. They use a house radio to talk to each other to make sure both parties know what is going on.

Our work hours differ very much from the standard 8-5 office job. We work 7 days a week while underway. Most of the time, the Survey Department works 8:00 am - 5:00 pm  (unless you are scheduled to go out on a launch or other assignment). Breakfast is from 7:00 am - 8:00 am, we get an hour for lunch from 11:30 am - 12:30 pm and dinner is from 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm. If late boats are out, the stewards will take down orders from the launch crew and set aside their meal.

The NOAA Ship Rainier S 221 underway in Alaska

When we are inport our day is from 7:30 am - 4:30 pm with a half hour for lunch. It is much more normal. The survey team often takes this time to catch up on their surveys and other processing. We also only work 5 days per week while inport. This is a nice benefit that allows us to go out and explore the different cities we visit. Often times, the crew will take some days off while inport and may even stay in a hotel to have a night off the ship.

The NOAA Ship Rainier S 221 tied up at the cargo pier on the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak, Alaska (one of our most frequent inports).

Every week we have drills on the ship. We go through fire and emergency, abandon ship, and man overboard drills.

During a fire and emergency drill, the XO (Executive Officer) stages a fire in a random location on the ship. The fire alarm rings and an announcement is made that it is a drill and the location of the fire. Each person on board is assigned to a certain team. The various teams are distributed throughout the ship. I am assigned to team Bravo, which is there to provide damage control for the attack team during a fire. This means we help with boundary watch, boundary cooling, fire hoses, de-smoking, de-watering, and various other ways. When the alarm sounds, we report to our fire station for muster with any additional assigned gear (such as radios). Sometimes we will even practice with a victim, simulating some sort of injury which gives the medical response team a chance to practice their skills as well.

The fire team heading to the location of the simulated fire during a drill

The medical team simulating response to a "victim" of a fire during drills

Allix using a fire hose for simulation of boundary cooling during drills

During abandon ship drills we grab our survival suits which are issued upon arrival to the Rainier, and any assigned equipment, and proceed to our assigned life rafts for muster. Once we have all been accounted for, the ships location, heading, and nearest point of land is announced so that each raft has vital information before abandoning. We also don our survival suits to be sure of proper fitting. As long as everyone and the gear is accounted for, the ship is secured from the drill.

ENS Abbitt donning her survival suit during drills

Abandon ship drills - survival suits donned

Man overboard drills also have various teams. The CO will usually throw a buoy overboard and then sound the alarm. We all lay to our stations (mine is manning the big eyes on the fly bridge). Muster is called in to the bridge and either a launch/FRB (fast rescue boat) is deployed or the ship will maneuver to recover the lost buoy. We had man overboard drills yesterday at Marmot Bay in North Kodiak, where we practiced with  rescue swimmers in the water. It is important to practice these drills for in the case of an emergency, we only have a matter of minutes to recover a victim in these cold Alaskan waters.

We were lucky to have extremely nice weather during drills yesterday. The sea was flat and we also got to see a lot of whales.

Rescue swimmers in the water simulating man overboard during drills

The FRB (Fast Rescue Boat) ready to recover the victims during drills

The FRB returning to the ship with the recovered "victim"where the medical team is standing by during drills
ENS Buesseler got to be a "victim" during man overboard drills

Whales at Marmot Bay in North Kodiak  

We believe these to be either the Fin Whale or the Sei Whale

 They were as close as 50 ft from the ship



 We didn't get to see them breach a lot but it was incredible to see so many of them out on such a beautiful day


That's it for now. The Ship-Life blog Part II will be up next week. It will include a video tour of the ship. Until then, cheers and here are some more sunset photos to enjoy!




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