Just Kidding! Bridget really asked: What is your current position? How many crew are aboard? What is your watch rotation? Are there different levels of ABs – what is the pecking order?
Thanks for all the great questions – and thanks for being so patient waiting for me to answer them!
First off, you’re correct. I have my Chief Mates license but I am not currently sailing at that rating. I’m sailing one rating below – as Second Mate. Getting the ticket doesn’t mean an upgrade – it means you get to start looking for a new job! Typically, Second and Third Mates are referred to as ‘Junior Officers’. To put it bluntly, Junior Officers are a dime a dozen. We’re very, very easily replaced. (The term Junior Officers refers to the engineering department as well – Third and Second Assistant Engineers.) Once you become top four (Captain, Chief Engineer, Chief Mate, First Assistant Engineer) you are much more difficult to replace. Of course I hold the license and can now sail as Chief Mate but, would I be as good of a Chief Mate as the guy who has been sailing as a Chief Mate for 30 years? Probably not. Good Chief Mates are not a dime a dozen. Also, the attrition rate is very high in Junior Officers. They decide that sailing isn’t for them and go back to school, or move into shoreside positions. Which means that there are always jobs opening up. Once you become a Chief Mate or Captain you’re usually in it for the long haul (or at least longer haul). In a nutshell: I’m waiting for a Chief Mates spot to become open – In the meantime, I’m happy sailing Second Mate.
We are slightly undermanned considering that we’re a tanker however; this subject really gets me going and before we know it I’ll be ranting and raving…..so I’ll save it for later. Here is the breakdown. The deck department consists of the Captain, three Officers, one Bosun, and five AB (Able Bodied Seaman). The ABs are all equally ranked and they report to the Bosun – he leads the unlicensed deck department. The Engine Department consists of the Chief Engineer, three Officers, one QMED (Qualified Member of the Engine Department) and one Pumpman. The Stewards Department consists of the Steward, the Chief Cook and GVA (General Vessel Assistant). The other two crewmembers are actually Cadets from one of the Maritime Academies. In a nutshell: My ship has a crew of 21.
The pecking order works something like this:
The Captain is responsible for the overall safety and well being of the vessel. Technically, the Captain is not a member of the crew – he is a management representative – meaning, he represents the shipping company aboard the vessel. The Captains word is law. Everyone takes their marching orders from him. The words Captain and Master are interchangeable – the Captain may be referred to as the Master of the Vessel.
The Chief Mate is responsible for cargo – essentially anything on deck is his domain. The Junior Officers take their orders from the Captain and the Chief Mate. Mostly a Captain will allow the Chief Mate free reign on deck – although every now and then you run across a micromanaging Captain who can’t stay off the deck.
The Second Mate is responsible for navigation – anything on the bridge falls under my domain. This refers to all voyage planning, chart correction as well any maintenance to bridge components such as radars, etc. (For the larger components that I can’t repair – like a radar – I am responsible for creating service requisitions.) The Third Mate is responsible for Safety. This includes lifeboats, fire stations, life jackets….the list goes on and on. Both Junior Officers are responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel while standing a bridge watch and safe cargo operations while standing a cargo watch. They are also responsible for their watch standers (ABs) assigned to their watch. While on watch the ABs take direction from the officer on watch.
On deck the pecking order shifts a bit. I think of it like this – The Bosun runs the Chief Mates deck. It is wise to let the Bosun run the deck. When I need things done on deck I always go to the Bosun first. I’ll usually mention to the Chief Mate that I plan on going to the Bosun. Usually letting the Bosun run the deck means things unfold much more smoothly. Sailors love routine – it is always best to keep things the same day to day. By allowing the Bosun to manage his men everyone knows where they stand all the time. (On a sidenote this also goes for disciplinary issues as well. If I am having an issue with a sailor I like to let the Bosun know – this way if the situation worsens then he’s been in the loop from the get go.)
In a nutshell: It’s the Captains ship – the Chief Mates deck and the Bosun makes it happen. The rest of us are minions.(There is slightly more to it because I haven’t mentioned the importance of the Engine Department or the Pumpman. I also haven’t mentioned the fact that we belong to different unions – there are different levels of ABs but it doesn’t play a large role aboard the vessel - the levels are associated with their seniority within the union and their eligibility for sea time. This can be quite complicated so I decided to leave it alone.)
Most US Vessels do standard watches – four hours on with eight hours off. This is normally broken down into – 4-8, 8-12, 12-4. Esentially you’ll stand two watches during the same hours of every day. Most sailors work four hours a day of overtime in addition to their watches. (I am personally on a salary which means I’m required to work 12 a day because that is what I’m paid for.) I’m on a modified watch schedule. We call this watch schedule ‘European Watches’. I stand a 6 hour watch and a 2 hour watch. It’s broken down from 00-06, 06-08, 08-10, 10-12, 12-18, 18-24. (I realize that looks a little complicated.) The benfit to this schedule is that you have off a large chunk of time. I basically end up working 00-12. I stand watches from 00-06 and 08-10. I do my overtime in the other two hours. Granted it is very rare that I end my day exactly on time. The reason we do this schedule is because we’re undermanned. A tanker in the US would have two Third Mates allowing the Chief Mate to be a day worker. Here, we have only one Third Mate which means the Chief Mate has to stand a watch. That is why I go to 6 hours on and 6 hours off so often – the Third Mate and I will stand all of the watches allowing the Chief Mate to be on deck. (In fact, I’ll be on 6 and 6 tomorrow! Yippee!) In a nutshell: I work when I have to and sleep when I can however; I always wake up at midnight.
Again, thanks for the questions! I honestly have fun answering them! Also, I hope I didn’t make the answers too long winded!
p.s. I didn’t edit this at all – it may or may not happen tomrrow….I’m sure you understand…
p.p.s. The title is a joke mostly for my Mother. She always jokes that I was such a bossy little kid that she knew I’d turn into a bossy adult. She also says that she doesn’t understand how my watch standers could possibly enjoy standing watches with me since I must be trying to boss them around all day long! She might be right….