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A Candid Revelation of the Life of Junior Engineer Onboard a Ship

written by: Raunekk • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 5/20/2011

The article describes the life of a junior marine engineer and the various tasks he has to perform on board. This article has not been written with intent to scare people by showing a different side of the professional life on board but with a purpose to depict the true nature of work at sea.

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    The Common Perception

    The life of a merchant navy officer or personnel on board a ship is adventurous, exciting, and extremely rewarding. A marine engineer globe trots, visits beautiful places, and meets interesting people. This is true for marine engineers working on any type of ship or vessel irrespective of the people he is working for; however it is an icing on the cake if he/she happens to be on a cruise ship of any of the top 10 cruise lines, not to mention the fun if one is on the biggest cruise ship or a futuristic ship.

    One might blurt out "wow," for it sounds like a script of some Hollywood movie where the protagonist has the perfect job, the perfect money, and the perfect life. But is the life of a naval officer as picturesque as it sounds? Do all the naval officers in the hierarchy level have the same kind of exciting lifestyle? Or is there a totally different side beneath the facade that is created by the over-imagination of people or by ignorant word-of-mouth misconception?

    Well, the job of a marine engineer is definitely stimulating and rewarding, but with the package comes many desirable and undesirable attributes. Everything apart, it’s not at all a “Bed of roses," as many people seem to think. Life on board is definitely not as glamorous as it seems or is perceived to be. It is tough for sure, and no one knows it better than the one who works on board. But as they say, “someone has to do the job" and so does their life goes on. All this might sound a bit over-exaggerating or over-the-top, but the fact remains that the life on board a ship is definitely way different from the life we live on land.

    For now, let’s take a sneak peek at the lives of the marine engineers working on board. Let’s start from the bottommost level, the junior engineer, also known as the "jack of all trades" (definitely, master of none), who lives the toughest and the most interesting life of all the engineers on board a ship.

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    Grass is Greener On the Other Side

    The initial thoughts…..

    A Junior marine engineer after undergoing four years of arduous education and training supposes that the main part of his career is now behind him and henceforth the only thing that remains is work and play. But things are a bit different from what he thinks. He joins a shipping company and lands on board a ship only to realize that the real struggle has just begun. He realizes that there is a stark difference between the training work he did in workshops on land and the kind of work he is supposed to do on board the ship. Probably he even had a brief idea of the "to be" life on ship but instead got a bit more than expected when he came on board. There are many incentives that come with the job of a junior marine engineer, but there are many more odd jobs that come along with it, too. Let’s get into the shoes (safety shoes!) of a junior engineer and find out what he really does on board. Kindly note that there are high chances that one might end up in a state of exhaustion or fatigue.

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    What Do Junior Marine Engineers Really Do?

    The junior marine engineer, like all other engineers on the ship, is supposed to work with his own hands. When the ship is sailing, he is supposed to keep a watch in the engine room with either third or second engineer. He mainly assists the engineer in-charge of the watch in daily routine checks and other necessary maintenance work. After a few months of thorough familiarization of the engine room he might be asked to keep an independent watch of the engine room with the assistance of a motorman. If he is not working in shifts, he might be asked to do day work, which is like a normal eight-to-five job, not to mention the emergency hours and extra time that come along with it.

    A junior engineer is always on his toes or for that matter forced to be, assisting second, third, and even fourth engineers apart from the regular watch keeping. This means that there are no definite rest hours and the working hours are also extremely flexible. Most of the work is of practical nature, inside the engine room, which requires him to wear a boiler suit all the time. Junior engineers work mainly involves dismantling, assessing, repairing, and reassembling faulty or stand-by machinery.

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    JE at Work

    Taking Logs
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    Junior Engineer: The “Know It All" Guy

    On ships, it is mandatory that a fifth or junior engineer is well-versed with each and every system on the ship, particularly of the engine room, for his own good and probably for the good of others as well. The first thing he is expected to know is the line diagrams (famously known as line tracing) of all the pipelines in the engine room, from fuel lines to bilge lines at the back of his hand. Tracing, sketching, learning and mugging each and every pipe line is supposed to be first lesson the fifth engineer is asked to undertake when he puts his foot on board. After that the second job he is probably asked to do (especially by the chief engineer) is to keep in mind the locations of all the emergency exits, blowers, and fire extinguishers in the engine room. (Senior personnel on board ships believe that a junior engineer is more prone to accidents and often moves around like “Alice in Wonderland.")

    According to a written rule, a fifth engineer can take orders only from the second engineer, but unfortunately that rule is never followed and therefore he has to take orders from all the engineers. As the fifth engineer is perfectly aware of all the pipelines on ship, he is of vital importance at the time of bunkering fuel or giving away sludge. By default, a junior engineer is expected to assist fourth engineer in the process of bunkering and sludge discharge to the shore. He is also required to do jobs involving transferring of bilges or sludge from one tank to another and keeping a check and log of all the levels of the tanks in the engine room.

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    The More he Knows the Better

    Apart from the above mentioned duties, a fifth engineer is also required to know the starting procedures of almost all machinery like diesel generators, generator synchronization, fuel oil purifiers, fresh water generator, pumps, sewage treatment plant, boilers, refrigeration system and even the main engine. Nowadays all ships are automated and all the machinery is operated from the engine control room itself. Thus the fifth engineer is also acquainted with, and in fact the master of, starting procedures and the working of the control room console and other engine control room electronics and electrical systems.

    However, this is not all, but a minuscule portion of duties he performs on board. In the next article we will learn about a few more additional jobs that a junior engineer is expected to do, without denying of course.