Everyday actions keep mariners safe aboard NOAA hydrographic survey vessels

Collecting bathymetric data for our nation’s nautical charts requires skilled work on the water. Whether survey data is actively being collected or the ship is transiting to its next destination, NOAA crews perform a number of ancillary tasks as they operate NOAA hydrographic ships 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Atmospheric and ecological observations provide context for the crew so they can avoid dangerous situations, while also supporting NOAA environmental databases and records. Drills and training are necessary to keep people and property safe. Below are some of the actions the mariners take while they are aboard the vessel:

1. Emergency drills – The crew regularly practices fire, man overboard, and abandon ship scenarios. Each drill is taken very seriously. For example, smoke and fog machines add realism to the fire drills. Each crew member has an assigned role to carry out for each type of emergency, and someone takes notes about the effectiveness of the first responders, firefighters, medical group, and central communications team. Following the drill, the executive officer of the ship leads a debrief so that the crew can receive feedback and discuss areas of improvement.

Video: NOAA crew members rescue a mannequin during a man overboard drill.

2. Position – While in motion, it is vital to know where the ship is, what direction it is heading, and where it will be moving next. To accomplish this, the team on the bridge takes position measurements every 15 minutes near landmasses and 30 minutes further from land. There are three ways to determine the position of the ship – using the Global Positioning System (GPS), using radar, or triangulating the position using an alidade (compass) to collect the bearings of landmarks. The measurements serve as a check for the ship’s GPS reading. In addition, the crew attends regular navigational meetings where the navigation officer shows the intended ship path and discusses any points to note such as narrow passageways, heavy traffic areas, and upcoming weather forecasts.

3. Watches – There is always someone on watch when a ship is transiting or surveying. To supplement the information collected by radar, the lookout uses binoculars to detect debris, other ships, shallow areas, and marine wildlife. If necessary, the crew adjusts the course of the ship to avoid entangling equipment or harming the ship or wildlife. In addition, daily observations of marine mammals are reported to the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service.

A NOAA Corp officer watches for hazards to navigation on board NOAA Ship Fairweather.
A NOAA Corp officer watches for hazards to navigation on board NOAA Ship Fairweather.

4. Training – Training helps the crew keep their navigation and emergency response skills sharp. Medical persons in charge (MPICs) act as the medical first responders on the ship and receive training on CPR, giving shots, and medical emergency protocols. They also attend informational sessions on topics of interest such as diabetes and transmitted diseases.

Launch_Cropped
NOAA crew practice deploying a launch boat from NOAA Ship Fairweather.

The navigation team practices skills like docking and undocking the ship, maneuvering in tight spaces, and lowering and raising launch boats. These drills are important ways for junior NOAA Corps officers to gain operational skills. To help new officers learn the basics, the executive officer of NOAA Ship Fairweather designed a video game where a person can issue commands to teammates who control the bow thrusters, engines, and rudders of an imaginary ship. The game has several challenging levels where players can practice their communication skills while getting a sense of how the boat might respond while docking, turning, or moving in rough environmental conditions.

5. Environmental conditions – The crew keeps track of the air pressure to detect upcoming storm systems. They observe and record cloud type and cover, wave and swell height and direction, and temperature. These measurements are recorded every hour while the ship is moving and are reported to the NOAA National Weather Service every four hours.

The information and training the crew obtains are vital pieces of the research vessel’s operation. By collecting environmental data and honing their skills, the crew ensures they safely navigate U.S. waters and perform their mission.

 

Post-SANDY navigation response in full swing

NOAA’s navigation response teams and other survey assets are in the water (or soon will be) as they respond to SANDY’s destruction, checking for underwater debris and shoaling that may pose a risk to navigation. Tasked by the U.S. Coast Guard Captains of the Port, NOAA vessels can use multibeam echo sounders or side scan sonar, as conditions warrant, to search for the answers that speed resumption of shipping and other vessel movements.

As of noon today:

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson started out this morning for New York Harbor, where they will survey for obstructions in waterways, starting at daybreak tomorrow. Visual reconnaissance indicates debris and missing containers may pose a danger to shipping.

Navigation Response Team 5 mobilized from Connecticut and got underway in New York at first light this morning, surveying Anchorage Channel. Their next priorities are the route up to the Manhattan cruise ship terminal, Sandy Hook Channel, and then the Global Marine Terminal.

NOAA Ship Ferdinand Hassler spent yesterday and today surveying deep draft ship channels in Chesapeake Channel and Thimble Shoal Channel, as 78 large vessels, including portions of the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, waited to transit through the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.

NOAA R/V Bay Hydro II is surveying in the Hampton Roads area yesterday and today, checking channels needed by coal shipments and aircraft carriers at Norfolk.

Navigation Response Team 2 is on its way from their regularly scheduled surveying off Florida’s coast, headed to help out in NY/NJ. Additionally, an operations manager is transporting mobile survey equipment to New York, as an additional survey resource on a vessel of opportunity.

NOAA R/V Potawaugh mobilized this morning to Lewes, Del., to survey for shoaling that may pose a risk to safe navigation for the Cape May – Lewes Ferry and other vessels. They started surveying, using their multibeam echo sounder, at 1 pm today.

Follow NOAA Office of Coast Survey on Twitter @nauticalcharts, for updates.  

Rapid Maritime Response 31Oct2012 - SANDY

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson finds two divers in Block Island Sound

NOAA hydrographic survey vessels are valuable assets for search and rescue operations, as experienced crews use their knowledge of tides and ocean currents to develop science-based search patterns. Last month, two divers found out just how valuable NOAA’s expertise can be. — DF

Report submitted by Ensign Brittany Anderson, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

On the morning of August 26, 2012, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson was conducting routine hydrographic survey operations south of Block Island. At 0904 hours, a distress call was made on the very high frequency (VHF) radio to the Coast Guard Station. The caller reported two divers lost in the water at Southwest Ledge, a popular recreational point off Block Island. The coordinates were a mere seconds north of the Thomas Jefferson.

A third diver was on a private boat with no VHF radio. He hailed the fishing boat Captain Ron, and that boat called the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Long Island Sound. The third diver continually returned to the water to search for the two missing divers.

At 0907, the Coast Guard reported via VHF that one of their vessels was on its way, but was 25 minutes out. Cmdr. Larry Krepp, commanding officer of the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, contacted the Coast Guard and informed them of our location and ability to assist in the search for the missing divers. Numerous additional lookouts were called to the bridge to search all points off the ship. At 0908 our ship stopped logging hydrographic survey data, and we retrieved our moving vessel profiler from the water. We calculated the current set and drift from Southwest Ledge and began search lines in the vicinity of the divers’ expected location.

Thomas Jefferson conducts search and rescue for two divers in Block Island Sound
The divers’ initial location is indicated at Southwest Ledge. The red arrows indicate Thomas Jefferson’s search lines, and the red circle shows where the divers were retrieved.

Ensign Brittany Anderson, Ensign Anthony Klemm, Ensign Andrew Clos, Lt. Cmdr. Denise Gruccio, and Cmdr. Lawrence Krepp kept a heavy lookout on all sides. Chief hydrographic survey technician Peter Lewit and physical scientist James Miller updated the expected location of the divers based on current set and drift calculations. Able seaman Tom Bascom was at the helm, steering the course to search for the individuals. At approximately 0930, the Coast Guard rescue vessel arrived on scene and made contact with the third diver. At 0952, Lt. Cmdr. Gruccio spotted the two divers broad off the port beam at a bearing of 282° PGC (per gyrocompass.) We reported the position and distance to the Coast Guard rescue boat on scene; they promptly followed our pointing and bearing to the divers. They safely retrieved the two divers at 0955.

After receiving word from the Coast Guard that the divers were safe and our services were no longer needed, we came about to our survey course. We continued our hydrographic survey operations, relieved and pleased that our training and hydrographic knowledge gave us the ability to find the divers quickly and safely.

USCG picks up the two divers
The U.S. Coast Guard picked up the two divers, after they were found by NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson. (Photo by ENS Brittany Anderson.)

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NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is one of the most technologically advanced hydrographic survey vessels in the world. Equipped with high-resolution seafloor echo sounders, the 208-ft. Thomas Jefferson and its 36-person crew maps the seafloor in support of Coast Survey’s nautical charting mission.

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson