Life of a Marine Engineer - Keeping and Changing Watch

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Watch keeping means just that- keeping a good eye on the engines and auxiliary equipment for a specific time interval normally of 4 hours; one or more certified engineers along with a rating being responsible for the the engine room operations and maintenance.

The following sections examine the role of the watch keeping engineer in taking over the watch; the first section looks at the checks that should be carried out by the oncoming watch keeper.

Checks Carried Out

When coming on duty the engineer should enter the engine room through the top access door and make a few quick checks before taking over the watch; never mind the lift down to the control room!

So stop here at the top of the engine room for a few moments. Breathe in the never to be forgotten smell of hot lube-oil; tinged with a waft of heavy fuel oil and diesel fumes, and have a good look at your domain. You are going to be responsible for all this machinery, and the Ship’s personnel from the Captain to the galley-boy are depending on you to keep these engines running safely and smoothly for the next four hours. Now you can descend the set of steps taking you down to the top plates; your checks start right here at the main engine cylinder heads.

  • Walk along the plates, you may need to shine your torch on the face of the pyrometers to check the exhaust temperatures. A high exhaust temperature could signify a exhaust valve seat leaking, faulty fuel injector or a scavenge fire in that particular cylinder.
  • Put a hand on pipe work from relief valves, you should be able to hold your hand on it for a few moments; is it too hot? This could signify a leaky relief valve or a valve “feathering”, just about to lift.
  • Put a hand on air start valve pipe work, again any heat should be bearable, but is this pipework too hot; signifying a leaky air start valve? This is a dangerous situation and must be immediately investigated. Explosions have occurred in the air receivers due to hot blow-back from air start valves mixing with the oil/air mixture in the air receivers. There is an air isolating valve to the air start valve that must be kept shut at all times unless the engine is on “Standby”
  • Check fuel oil injector cooling water temperatures, too high or low will have a detrimental effect on the injector efficiency.
  • The next platform down is the turbo blowers, check air inlet temp before and after cooler, this affects the engine scavenge air temperature and ultimately the efficiency of the main engine.
  • Check round the other side - scavenge air plenum doors - put hand on doors- high temp may indicate scavenge fire
  • Check scavenge sludge funnels, - high temperatures as above
  • Continue along this vein until you reach the bottom plates, as you walk slowly by the main engine crankcase doors put the back of your hand against the doors checking for excess heat.

Handing Over the Watch

Outgoing Watchkeeper.

  • It is his responsibility to judge if the relieving engineer is in a fit state to take over the watch and capable of carrying out the duties; if not he has to inform to the chief engineer immediately.
  • He should have written any relevant information in the engine logbook and on the blackboard,spending a few minutes going through this with his relief. The Piper Alpha Disaster (North Sea Oil/Gas Platform)could have beeen diverted if a proper handover had been given to the onn-coming production engineer.

Formalities Involved in Accepting the Watch

Greet the watch keeping engineer at the control station or enter the control room and get a hand-over from him. This is a verbal update on anything out of the ordinary going on like “steam on deck” . This will be also be highlighted on the notice black-board to remind you to watch the boiler steam pressure. Maybe there is a tunnel bearing running a wee bit hot and you will have to keep an eye on it during the watch. Remember to pass these points over to your relief when he takes over from you if still relevant

There are also certain formalities to go through before accepting the watch;

  • Any standing orders and the special instruction of the Chief Engineer relating to the operation of the ship systems and the machinery that have to be carried out during the watch.
  • Nature of all work being performed on the machinery, in the engine room and in the system, personal involved and note any potential hazards.
  • Likelihood of bad weather, ice or shallow water as communicated from the bridge.

Once you are happy with the state of the engine and auxiliaries, you can formally take over the watch.