Watchkeeping and Equipment Operation

                   Typically logbook page

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The Vound-the-clock operation of a ship at sea requires a rota system of attendance in the machinery space. This has developed into a system of watchkeeping that has endured until recently. 

The arrival of 'Unattended Machinery Spaces' (UMS) has begun to erode this traditional practice of watchkeeping. The organisation of the Engineering Department, conventional watchkeeping and UMS practices will now be outlined. 

The Engineering Department 

The Chief Engineer is directly responsible to the Master for the satisfactory operation of all machinery and equipment. Apart from assuming all responsibility his role is mainly that of consultant and adviser. It is not usual for the Chief Engineer to keep a watch. 

The Second Engineer is responsible for the practical upkeep of machinery and the manning of the engine room: he is in effect an executive officer. On some ships, the Second Engineer may keep a watch. 

The Third and Fourth Engineers are usually senior watchkeepers or engineers in charge of a watch. Each may have particular areas of responsibility, such as generators or boilers. 

Fifth and Sixth Engineers may be referred to as such, or all below Fourth Engineer may be classed as Junior Engineers. They will make up as additional watchkeepers, day workers on maintenance work or possibly act as Refrigeration Engineer. 

Electrical Engineers may be carried on large ships or where company practice dictates. Where no specialist Electrical Engineer is carried the duty will fall on one of the engineers. Various engine room ratings will usually form part of the engine room complement. 

Donkeymen are usually senior ratings who attend the auxiliary boiler while the ship is in port. Otherwise, they will direct the ratings to the maintenance and upkeep of the machinery space. 

A storekeeper may also be carried and on tankers, a pump man is employed to maintain and operate the cargo pumps. The engine room ratings, e.g. firemen, greasers, etc., are usually employed on watches to assist the engineer in charge. 

The watchkeeping system 

The system of watches adopted on board the ship is usually four hours of working with eight hours of rest for the members of each watch. The three watches in any 12 hours are usually 12-4, 4—8 and 8-12. The word 'watch' is taken as meaning the period and also the personnel at work during that period. 

The watchkeeping arrangements and the make-up of the watch will be decided by the Chief Engineer. Factors to be taken into account in this matter will include the type of ship, the type of machinery and degree of automation, the qualifications and experience of the members of the watch, any special conditions such as weather, ship location, international and local regulations, etc. 

The engineer officer in charge of the watch is the Chief Engineer's representative and is responsible for the safe and efficient operation and upkeep of all machinery affecting the safety of the ship. 

Operating the watch 

An engineer officer in charge, with perhaps a junior engineer assisting and one or more ratings, will form the watch. Each member of the watch should be familiar with his duties and the safety and survival equipment in the machinery space. 

This would include a knowledge of the fire fighting equipment concerning location and operation, being able to distinguish the different alarms and the action required, an understanding of the communications systems and how to summon help and also being aware of the escape routes from the machinery space. 

At the beginning of the watch, the current operational parameters and the condition of all machinery should be verified and also the log readings should correspond with those observed. The engineer officer in charge should note if there are any special orders or instructions relating to the operation of the main machinery or auxiliaries. 

He should determine what work is in progress and any hazards or limitations this presents. The levels of tanks containing fuel, water, slops, ballast, etc., should be noted as well as the level of the various bilges. The operating mode of equipment and available standby equipment should also be noted.

At appropriate intervals, inspections should be made of the main propulsion plant, auxiliary machinery and steering gear spaces. Any routine adjustments may then be made and malfunctions or breakdowns can be noted, reported and corrected. 

During these tours of inspection bilge levels should be noted, piping and systems observed for leaks, and local indicating instruments can be observed. Where bilge levels are high, or the well is full, it must be pumped dry. 

The liquid will be pumped to an oily water separator, and only clean water is to be discharged overboard. Particular attention must be paid to the relevant oil pollution regulations both of a national and international nature, depending upon the location of the ship. 

Bilges should not be pumped when in port. Oily bilges are usually emptied into a slop tank from which the oil may be reclaimed or discharged into suitable facilities when in port. The discharging of oil from a ship usually results in the engineer responsible and the master being arrested. 

Bridge orders must be promptly carried out and a record of any required changes in speed and direction should be kept. When under standby or manoeuvring conditions with the machinery being manually operated the control unit or console should be continuously manned. 

Certain watchkeeping duties will be necessary for the continuous operation of equipment or plant—the transferring of fuel for instance. In addition to these regular tasks, other repair or maintenance tasks may be required of the watchkeeping personnel. 

However, no tasks should be set or undertaken which will interfere with the supervisory duties relating to the main machinery and associated equipment. During the watch, a log or record will be taken of the various parameters of main and auxiliary equipment. 

This may be a manual operation or provided automatically on modern vessels by a data logger. A typical logbook page for a slow-speed diesel-driven vessel. The hours and minutes columns are necessary since a ship, passing through time zones, may have watches of more or less than four hours. 

Fuel consumption figures are used to determine the efficiency of operation, in addition to providing a check on the available bunker quantities. Lubricating oil tank levels and consumption to some extent indicate engine oil consumption. 

The sump level is recorded and checked so that it does not rise or fall, but a gradual fall is acceptable as the engine uses some oil during operation. If the sump level were to rise this would indicate water leakage into the oil and an investigation into the cause must be made. 

The engine exhaust temperatures should be read about the same to indicate equal power production from each cylinder. The various temperature and pressure values for the cooling water and lubricating oil should be at, or near to, the manufacturer's designed values for the particular speed or fuel lever settings. 

Any high outlet temperature for cooling water would indicate a lack of supply to that point. Various parameters for the main engine turbo-blowers are also logged. Since they are high-speed turbines the correct supply of lubricating oil is essential. 

The machine itself is water-cooled since it is circulated by hot exhaust gases. The air cooler is used to increase the charge air density to enable a large quantity of air to enter the engine cylinder. 

If cooling were inadequate a lesser mass of air would be supplied to the engine, resulting in a reduced power output, inefficient combustion and black smoke. Various miscellaneous levels and temperature readings are taken of heavy oil tanks, both settling and service, stern tube bearing temperature, sea water temperature, etc. 

The operating diesel generators will have their exhaust temperatures, cooling water and lubricating oil temperatures and pressures logged in much the same way as for the main engine. Of particular importance will be the log of running hours since this will be the basis for overhauling the machinery. 

Other auxiliary machinery and equipment, such as heat exchangers, fresh water generators (evaporators), boilers, air conditioning plants and refrigeration plants will also have appropriate readings taken. There will usually be summaries or daily account tables for heavy oil, diesel oil, lubricating oil and fresh water, which will be compiled at noon. 

Provision is also made for remarks or important events to be noted in the log for each watch. The completed log is used to compile a summary sheet or abstract of information which is returned to the company head office for record purposes. 

The log for a medium-speed diesel-driven ship would be fairly similar with probably greater numbers of cylinder readings to be taken and often more than one engine. There would also be gearbox parameters to be logged. For a steam turbine-driven vessel the main log readings will be for the boiler and the turbine. 

Boiler steam pressure, combustion air pressure, fuel oil temperatures, etc., will all be recorded. For the turbine, the main bearing temperatures, steam pressures and temperatures, condenser vacuum, etc., must be noted. All logged values should correspond fairly closely with the design values for the equipment. 

Where situations occur in the machinery space which may affect the speed, manoeuvrability, power supply or other essentials for the safe operation of the ship, the bridge should be informed as soon as possible. This notification should preferably be given before any changes are made to enable the bridge to take appropriate action. 

The engineer in charge should notify the Chief Engineer in the event of any serious occurrence or a situation where he is unsure of the action to take. Examples might be, if any machinery suffers severe damage, or a malfunction occurs which may lead to serious damage. 

However, where immediate action is necessary to ensure the safety of the ship, its machinery and crew, it must be taken by the engineer in charge. After the watch each member should hand over to his relief, ensuring that he is competent to take over and carry out his duties effectively.

UMS operation 

The machinery spaces will usually be manned for at least eight hours per day. During this time the engineers will be undertaking various maintenance tasks, the duty engineer having particular responsibility for the watchkeeping duties and dealing with any alarms which may occur. 

When operating unmanned anyone entering the machinery space must inform the deck officer on watch. When working, or making a tour of inspection alone, the deck officer on watch should be telephoned at agreed intervals of perhaps 15 or 30 minutes. Where the machinery space is unattended, a duty engineer will be responsible for supervision. 

He will normally be one of three senior watchkeeping engineers and will work on a 24-hour on, 48 hours off rota. During his rota period, he will make tours of inspection about every four hours beginning at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning. The tour of inspection will be similar to that for a conventional watch with due consideration being given to the unattended mode of machinery operation. 

Trends in parameter readings must be observed, and any instability in operating conditions must be rectified, etc. A set list or mini-log of readings may have to be taken during the various tours. Between tours of inspection, the Duty Engineer will be on call and should be ready to investigate any alarms relayed to his cabin or the various public rooms. 

The Duty Engineer should not be out of range of these alarms without appointing a relief and informing the bridge. The main logbook readings will be taken as required while on a tour of inspection. 

The various regular duties, such as fuel transfer, pumping of bilges, and so on, should be carried out during the daywork period, but it remains the responsibility of the Duty Engineer to ensure that they are done. 


The loading of fuel oil into a ship's tanks from a shoreside installation or bunker barge takes place about once a trip. The penalties for oil spills are large, the damage to the environment is considerable, and the ship may well be delayed or even arrested if this job is not properly carried out. 

Bynkering is traditionally the fourth engineer's job. He will usually be assisted by at least one other engineer and one or more ratings. Most ships will have a set procedure which is to be followed or some form of general instructions which might include: 

1. AH scuppers are to be sealed off, i.e. plugged, to prevent any minor oil spill on deck going overboard. 

2. All tank air vent containments or drip trays are to be sealed or plugged. 

3. Sawdust should be available at the bunkering station and various positions around the deck. 

4. All fuel tank valves should be carefully checked before bunkering commences. The personnel involved should be quite familiar with the piping systems, tank valves, spill tanks and all tank-sounding equipment. 

5. All valves on tanks which are not to be used should be closed or switched to the 'off position and effectively safeguarded against opening or operation. 

6. Any manual valves in the filling lines should be proved to be open for the flow of liquid. 

7. Proven, reliable tank-sounding equipment must be used to regularly check the contents of each tank. It may even be necessary to 'dip' or manually sound tanks to be certain of their contents. 

8. A complete set of all tank soundings must be obtained before bunkering commences. 

9. A suitable means of communication must be set up between the ship and the bunkering installation before bunkering commences. 

10. On-board communication between involved personnel should be by hand radio sets or some other satisfactory means. 

11. Any tank that is filling should be identified in some way on the level indicator, possibly by a sign or marker reading 'FILLING'. 

12. In the event of a spill, the Port Authorities should be informed as soon as possible to enable appropriate cleaning measures to be taken. 

Periodic safety routines 

In addition to watchkeeping and maintenance duties, various safety and emergency equipment must be periodically checked. As an example, the following inspections should take place at least weekly:

1. Emergency generators should be started and run for a reasonable period. Fuel oil, lubricating oil cooling water supplies and tank levels should be checked. 

2. The emergency fire pump should be run and the deck fire main operated for a reasonable period. AH operating parameters should be checked. 

3. The carbon dioxide cylinder storage room should be visually examined. The release box door should be opened to test the alarm and check that the machinery space fans stop. 

4. One smoke detector in each circuit should be tested to ensure operation and correct indication on the alarm panel. Aerosol test sprays are available to safely check some types of detectors. 

5. Fire pushbutton alarms should be tested, by operating a different one during each test. 

6. Any machinery space ventilators or skylights should be operated and greased, if necessary, to ensure smooth, rapid closing should this be necessary. 7. Fire extinguishers should be observed in their correct location and checked to ensure they are operable. 

8. Fire hoses and nozzles should likewise be observed in their correct places. The nozzles should be tried on the hose coupling. Any defective hose should be replaced. 

9. Any emergency batteries, e.g. for lighting or emergency generator starting, should be examined, have the acid-specific gravity checked, and be topped up, as required. 

10. All lifeboat engines should be run for a reasonable period. Fuel oil and lubricating oil levels should be checked. 

11. All valves and equipment operated from the fire control point should be checked for operation, where this is possible. 

12. Any watertight doors should be opened and closed by hand and power. The guides should be checked to ensure that they are clear and unobstructed.

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