As I sat in the control room reading the latest The Yacht Report the lights flickered momentarily and the generator bogged down - once, twice, three times in as many seconds.
“Oh no – it’s happening again”, I thought, as the radio next to me crackled into life: “Hi…Piers we seem to have a problem with the windlass …”
The ‘problem’ was trying to drag 1,100 tonnes of yacht against wind and current, up to the anchor on an 11-Kw windlass whilst pressing the button like a space invaders game.
Of course, the breaker had popped as the straining electrics tried to cope with the unreasonable loads placed on them – sound familiar?
Windlasses, winches, davits, passerelles, boarding ladders etc – all engineers I know have had problems of some sort or another caused
by inappropriate finger-pushing with these, which cause breakers to pop, computers to go berserk, paintwork to be damaged and tempers to fray.
Most of this equipment is built very strongly and often has complicated built-in safety features (time out shutdowns, overload trips, power off brake applications, overload slip clutches etc).
Some deck machinery, as ‘essential equipment’, is also built to tightly controlled Class Society or MCA regulations to ensure it will function in an emergency.
Due to the nature of the forces and weights this equipment handles, it is often wired or plumbed into the vessel in a complex manner and therefore its operation can affect other systems in the vessel.
So why do so many problems occur with these pieces of equipment?
Experience (after much repair work!) has taught me it’s the same reason that I cannot back a guest-laden tender to a swim platform in a choppy sea – it’s because no one has explained to the operators (or their commanders) how to do it properly.
There is very rarely something intrinsically wrong with the equipment itself.
As engineers we generally know inside out, upside down, backwards and forward the basic principles of the equipment – so its correct operation is usually obvious to us – but the same is often not true for the person regularly using it.
Especially if he/she is a new deckhand simply handed the controls and told to push the buttons. It took me quite a while to realise this, being an engineer.
I found the most effective way of resolving the root problem was to give each operator (and their commanders!) a brief explanation (preferably accompanied by a short ‘deck equipment use’ manual) on the preferred method of operation – ideally accompanied by reasons why it should be used this way.
It is usually very interesting to note the lack of understanding of most crew on the limitations of the equipment – and once explained it becomes obvious to everyone why a small electric motor cannot drag a very large yacht against wind and current!
To write the manual and induct the crew (often including the captain!) take a little time – and can sometimes be met with a little resistance.
However, once done, deck equipment problems will all but disappear – and I can relax and read a copy of The Yacht Report whilst others haul anchor!