Life on a Navy/Coast Guard Ship?

Discussion in 'Life After the Academy' started by SamAca10, Mar 7, 2010.

  1. SamAca10

    SamAca10 Ensign - DWO

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    So...what's life like afloat? I'd like to hear from both sides (Marines included, if you've had sea duty before) on what it's like to serve aboard a ship.
     
  2. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    Coast Guard specific

    Life afloat has it's ups and downs. First, your social life, and general fashion sense will suffer. You get into the routine...watch schedules, the most feared of which is "Double 4-8s." When you're not on watch or working on your qualifications, you're performing your collateral duties.

    You may have a division to run, I had a few divisions while on my ship. I had the bridge BMs, ETs, IT, and OSs (everyone the operations officer had, only I worked for the operations officer).

    Coast Guard cutter crews are tight, small groups. Everyone knows everyone. Sometimes that's good, sometimes it causes from friction.

    Patrol tempos all depend on where you are. When we were on North Atlantic patrols (D1 patrols) we basically set our own schedules. We did a lot of boardings, but once the sun went down, provided there was not a high interest vessel or a SAR case, it would slow down a bit for the night (besides the fact that you're drivng near other vessels).

    In a south patrol things was far less predictable. While we had full days of boardings in the north, a south patrol could results in days of cutting holes in the ocean. When things did pick up, you knew not to make plans. On our way to interdict a boat load of Cuban migrants we would come across other boat loads. One day I had watch mid-morning on the bridge, processed migrants in the afternoon and interdicted a boat, had a late night, LONG interdiction, and then went back on watch for my night watch.

    4-5 hours of sleep was normal.

    Rough seas, the constant pounding of the ocean, interesting sleep schedules, are all part of it. Time will craw each day, but the days will tick down.

    As a JO in the Coast Guard you will have far more collateral duties than your Navy counterparts (something I didn't realize until I went to a joint USCG/USN school in Mayport, FL), but that will teach you to judge more than one major task at a time.

    You will enjoy your few port calls.
     
  3. sprog

    sprog Member

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    I'd be interested to hear what it's like for a Merchant Marine officer too. Do they have collateral duties like Navy/CG folks? Or is it more a standard watch schedule with more down time? This is purely out of my own interest, as such a career option has sadly long passed me by. Maybe one of the prospective USMMA mids might like to hear what it's like on a merchant ship....so any input would be helpful.
     
  4. SamAca10

    SamAca10 Ensign - DWO

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    LITS

    So would you say that the Coast Guard gives you more responsibility earlier on? How long do you stick with one division before learning another?

    How long do port calls typically last?

    Thanks! :biggrin:
     
  5. flieger83

    flieger83 Super Moderator Moderator

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    One of you coastie experts can answer this but I can tell the person asking that one of my prep school roomies (NWPS '78-'79) went to USCGA '83...

    When I was upgrading in my new jet as a brand new captain...

    He was the CO of a USCG Patrol Boat (?)...I think it was called an "82" and had a crew of something like 7-9 folks including him.

    Think about it...he was THE SKIPPER only something like 4 years out of the academy...I was just qualified to lead a large formation of jets.

    I think the USCG puts their "junior officers" in positions of responsibility VERY early!

    Steve
    USAFA ALO
    USAFA '83
     
  6. SamAca10

    SamAca10 Ensign - DWO

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    That's really interesting! But the question is, does every officer want that level of responsibility so early in their career?

    I wonder how it is on the Aviation side of things as well
     
  7. kp2001

    kp2001 USMMA Alumnus

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    Schedules are similar but different on merchant ships. The deck officers (except the Captain) will all stand 4 on 8 off watches. Usually the breakdown is:

    2nd Mate: 0000-0400, 1200-1600, Navigational officer
    Chief Mate: 0400-0800, 1600-2000, Cargo Officer (runs the unlicensed deck dept as well)
    3rd Mate: 0800-1200, 2000-2400, Safety/Fire Eqpt, Medical

    The engineers on a merchant ship will vary depending on the type of ship it is. If it's an automated engine room then the engineers will all work as day workers and then take "call" overnight every 3rd night or so.

    In port the shifts can change a bit based on the needs of the cargo. Sometimes the chief mate has to come off their regular watch and become a day worker therefore making the other two mates go to 6/6.

    As a third mate I would usually stand my watch in the morning, go eat lunch and then take maybe around a 30 min break. I'd then go out and work on my "collaterals" (mainly inspections type stuff) until providing "dinner relief" to the chief mate for 30 minutes so he could go eat dinner. After I ate dinner I'd either go take a quick nap or read book, watch a movie until time to go back on watch at 2000. After that watch was over I'd go to bed until getting the wake-up call at 0720.

    Since we only have a limited number of people it can put a big hit in your schedule if we were pulling into port or transiting the panama canal or something like that where you would just have to be up the whole time. I think the longest I did was around 30 hours of basically straight "work".
     
  8. SamAca10

    SamAca10 Ensign - DWO

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    Deck Officer vs Engineering Officer

    What do the duties of both entail? Which one would you say is more enjoyable?
     
  9. sprog

    sprog Member

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    It sounds like a good life indeed. If I was a kid again, I'd have my USMMA application en route...oh to be young again. Even if it's something to do just for a few years, I bet it would be great to work hard on a ship (hopefully with people who are decent) and see the world. Ships are like little worlds of their own. You guys had months of off-time after a contract, right? I will always value my time in the USAF, but I won't lie, with the benefit of hindsight, the merchant marine sounds like it would have been a great way to spend part of my 20s.
     
  10. kp2001

    kp2001 USMMA Alumnus

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    Deck Officer: You are responsible for the safe navigation of the ship during your watch and the safe movement of cargo when in port.

    Engine Officer: You work in the bowels of the ship keeping the ship and its various systems running.

    Neither is more enjoyable than the other, it is totally personality dependent. I was a deck officer, but if I had to do it all over again I'd probably go engineering. Standing watch looking out a window for 8 hours a day can get pretty boring in the middle of an ocean. I also hate shift work, and would much prefer the day work schedule of engineers on an automated ship. Plus you get to work with some cool machinery as an engineer.

    This was dependent upon who you worked for. Those who work for one of the unions tend to work 2-3 months at a time and have 2-3 months off in between. If you go work for an actual company then you usually have something similar as they will have two people for each position: one working and one on 'vacation'. If you work for Military Sealift Command you usually work 10 or more months a year. Union work can be dependent upon the economy so if you're not in a "permanent" job then you could end up only getting to work 3-4 months a year.

    The difference is that you do that year in and year out. I would say the vast majority of people will come shoreside with 5-6 years of sailing. The continuous cycle can be very hard on families.
     

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