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Engineer’s Angle: Engine room checks not just for engineers

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Engineer’s Angle: by JD Anson

Yachts are lovely examples of craftsmanship and luxury. They are also, frankly, slow. Thus, a trip that would take but a few hours in the boss’ jet can take days in their yacht. As most yachts have a single engineer, if one at all, crew must sometimes be pressed into service outside their normal responsibilities to make it happen.

All crew are capable of doing hourly engine room checks, as long as they are properly instructed and given the right tools to succeed. Having made tens of thousands of miles underway, I was able to sleep well knowing I could count on my ship mates because I had set them up for success.

The best tool to get a crew mate to keep a close eye on the engine room is a properly formatted paper log sheet. No matter the boat, I always set mine up in an Excel grid, one sheet a day with 0000-2300 hours across the top and various gauges along the side. Port Engine, Starboard Engine, Port Generator and Starboard Generator with lines for each analog gauge that could be seen. This not only included the obvious oil pressure, water temp and such, but also raw water in and out temperatures and fuel filter readings. The same for generator readings, with the addition of electrical frequency and load.

Added to these were water maker flow and pressures and fuel purifier readings. Each time I returned to the engine room, a quick scan of the readings would show any trends that may not be apparent by just glancing at a number from time to time.

Always construct the log sheet to require a circuit of the engine room.  While making their hourly rounds, they are covering places that may show pooling water or oil drips. Some readings, such as battery charger voltage, may not be immediately critical or even change noticeably, but if the charger is located in an isolated area, making the watch keeper go there helps cover the space more thoroughly.

Handing crew mates ear protection and a clipboard, we would enter the engine room. Before entering, I explained what we were going to do, and together we walked the circuit. Showing them where each gauge was and how to read it, I would verify their written reading, then move to the next. As we went, I would point to areas (under the engines, in the bilge, inside generator sound shields) where they were to look for any leaks or pooling of water or oil. After we were satisfied that they were recording readings correctly and looking thoroughly, we would exit the engine room. 

Once we could hear each other again, I left explicit instructions that should fluids be seen or readings vary more than a few points, they were to wake me immediately. I assured them I would rather they wake me for nothing than to not inform me of something that could be catastrophic. 

Knocks on the cabin door were usually for innocuous reasons such as a rise in exhaust temperatures due to changes in sea state, a result of the engines working harder. Or sometimes the boat would move from a warm current to cold water, causing drops in cooling water temps. I thanked them, and was reassured that they were indeed taking responsibility in their assignment.

Not all the late night calls were minor. Once, a junior stew noticed water in the bottom of a generator housing. She had discovered a fitting in the raw water cooling system that had eroded through and was leaking sea water. Thankfully, we knew it had been less than an hour since it was dry and much damage was avoided by her quick action. Swapping generators allowed us to put a good patch on it that lasted until we were able to get a new piece at the next port.

Because of my faith in their diligence, I was able to keep a semi-normal sleep schedule during multi-day passages. 

Giving all crew a stake in ensuring the boat reaches her destination safely also promotes team building. The greenest crew feel an important member of the team owing to the responsibility given to them. They always took their assignment seriously. 

JD Anson has more than 20 years of experience as a chief engineer on megayachts. He is currently project manager at Fine Line Marine Electric (finelinemarineelectric.com) in Fort Lauderdale. Comments are welcome below.

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One thought on “Engineer’s Angle: Engine room checks not just for engineers

  1. Paul Lyons

    Excellent practice, JD. Years later, after moving up to 70 meters, even with three engineers, I still felt more comfortable as PIC, personally doing ER checks, as well as training the watchstanders to walk through the rest of the yacht. Thanks for the article!

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