Having chosen the exotic adventure of a career at sea, at the ripe old age of 18, I found myself on board a 600-foot cargo ship heading for parts unknown. The chief officer said were heading toward KH.
Not wanting to appear any greener than I was, I readily acknowledged his statement and moved on. My bridge watch that evening was assigned with the third officer. Being a newly minted license holder, he was only a few years older than me. Surely, he can tell me where we are going. “Have you ever been to the port of KH?”
Looking at me with a bewildered expression, he turned his head back to the chart table. Out of the side of his mouth he said, “Kingston is OK. Not a lot to do there.”
Ha. There was my answer. Kingston, Jamaica, was going to be my first port of call. How exciting. Maybe I could get the afternoon off and explore. When my watch ended, I went to the ship’s office and pulled out an atlas (no Internet yet). Would I visit the birthplace of Bob Marley or take a cab to the ruins of the old pirate town of Port Royal? So many options.
My morning watch starting at 0745. Taking over from the previous helmsman, he stated the course to me. “Steering 056. On the mike. No traffic.” On the mike meant the helm was on autopilot. A course of 056? I was new, but I was aware enough that the course was taking us east. We had departed New York. Jamaica was south, not east.
I later found out that KH was the acronym for the port rotation: NY-KH-RO-SH-LH, New York, Kingston-Upon-Hull, Rotterdam, Southampton, Le Havre. We were going to Europe, not the Caribbean.
This absence of knowledge and subsequent enlightenment introduced me to a long-standing tradition in the maritime industry, namely acronyms. The use of acronyms dates back to the Roman Empire. During the late 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, acronyms became a mainstream way of identifying corporations. Examples were AT&T for American Telephone and Telegraph, Nabisco for the National Biscuit Company, and ESSO for Standard Oil (from the initials S.O.).
With the advent of modern warfare in the early 20th century, acronyms really took off, especially in the maritime world. Let’s look at the most common acronyms that we hear and read on board every day. Do we really know what they represent? In alphabetical order:
ABS American Bureau of Shipping
AMSA Australian Maritime Safety Authority
ANOA Advanced Notice of Arrival
COLREGS International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, i.e., Collision Regulations, Rules of the Road.
COSWP Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen
EPIRB Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon
ETA / ETD Estimated Time of Arrival / Estimated Time of Departure
GA General Arrangement, a drawing that shows the layout of the vessel
GPS Global Positioning System
IMO International Maritime Organization
ISM International Management Code for the Safety Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention, also known as the International Safety Management Code.
ISPS International Ship and Port Facility Security Code
LOA Length Overall
LY3 Large Yacht Code, Version 3
MARPOL International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
MCA Maritime and Coastguard Agency
MNZ Maritime New Zealand
NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association
NOE Notice of Eligibility, related to a mariner’s license
NTVRP Non-Tank Vessel Response Plan
RADAR Radio Detection and Ranging
SAMSA South African Maritime Safety Authority
SART Search and Rescue Transponder
SOLAS International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea
SOPEP Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan
STCW International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers
USCG United States Coast Guard
The above list is certainly not all-inclusive, but a sampling of what we may hear and see on a daily basis. Hopefully, it will help those new to yachting from an embarrassing situation, similar to mine. Or maybe it will refresh the memory of a few old salts who have been repeating the term so many times over the years, they forgot what it actually meant.
So the next time the MCA or USCG sends you a NOE to renew your STCW for the updated IMO SOLAS rules related to ISM and ISPS, you will not panic and activate your EPIRB or SART. Keep the deadline date on your RADAR, refresh your memory with a read of the COSWP, and prevent a SNAFU from becoming FUBAR. (You’ll have to Google those last two.)
Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), an organization that provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at +1 954-596-2728 or www.yachtbureau.org. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.