Friday, September 25, 2015

Shiphandling 101

It occurred to me this morning that I have a set of very basic shiphandling guidelines that I fall back on when I'm driving the ship in tight spots, or coaching someone who is driving the ship. While this post is titled "Shiphandling 101," it's really more like Shiphandling 101 Prep -- very basic concepts.

First, stand in one place. Make it the right place, but stand in one place as you make your approach to the pier. I rely heavily on what impromptu terrestrial ranges tell me about my forward momentum and lateral movement, and the only way that those ranges won't lie to you is if you stay in one place. Terrestrial ranges are fixed things on land that change position relative to each other as the ship moves through the water. Two flag poles, light posts, windmills, windows or antennas on buildings, trees, whatever -- as long as they're offset distance from one another to show how things are changing for me, they work. You can move as you need to, but you have to reset the ranges each time you do. So for me, it's easier just to stay mostly in one place.

Second, use your command voice. Especially if you're staying in one place. You can't walk into the bridge to give commands to the lee helm for the throttles or the helmsman for the rudder. It's ok to turn your head towards them, but even taking a step towards them can change the effectiveness of those terrestrial ranges. There also tends to be a lot of noise and other commotion on the bridge. The Conning Officer's voice is the one that counts for maneuvering the ship, and since maneuvering the ship safely is everyone's goal onboard, the Conning Officer must be heard above anyone and everyone else. A command voice is not yelling for the sake of yelling; it's loud and articulate. Standard commands help. 

Third, drive the stern of the ship. The bow is easier to pay more attention to because that's what will likely hit something first as you approach the pier, but the stern has a lot more weight behind it and that's where the power is. Even as I write this, it's hard for me to say I use this one all the time. I think I picked it up when I was on my first 378' which had a bow prop. So if you could put the stern where you wanted it, the bow prop would move the bow where it needed to go. But it's stuck with me, I think because so many new shipdrivers forget about the stern and only drive the bow.

Fourth, at slow speeds, use a lot of rudder or don't bother. I think this is a holdover from being on 110's, where the rudder is a little bitty thing. It was either all the way over, or rudder amidship. Anything in between was just a waste of effort. That's still pretty much how I drive when I'm maneuvering at slow speeds. Right full, left full or rudder amidship. I roll my eyes a little when new Conning Officers use five or ten degrees of rudder when they're going less than five knots.

Not really fifth because it's not a guideline, but it's a technique I use to remind myself how to use both engines. I dance a little. When I twist my right hip forward, I know I need to use starboard ahead, port back to twist the ship to the left. When I twist my left hip forward, I know I need to use port ahead, starboard back to twist the ship to the right. Silly, but it works for me. And it reminds me I have a stern. Which is important, because when you twist your bow one way, the stern moves in the other direction -- the ship is a rigid thing that way. 

I know there are more and more nuanced concepts. Forces acting on ships, use of lines, making environmental factors work for you, using all your tools, communications with the foc'sle and fantail...those are the Shiphandling 101. But I still fall back to these fundamentals each time I conn the ship. And driving a ship -- that's damn fun stuff!

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer
USCGC DILIGENCE (WMEC 616)
**UNDERWAY**

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