Thursday, February 4, 2016

Underway OOD Board

We had our first underway OOD qualification board for our first year Ensigns
this afternoon. ENS LR (aka, ANAV = Assistant Navigator) did a fabulous job.
Though not necessary, she quoted COLREGs ("Rules of the Road" for making
sure ships don't collide out at sea) nearly verbatim. She rattled off all
six movements of a ship. She laid down a mo-board (maneuvering board = a
plot of vectors to show how ships are moving in relation to each other)
while we peppered her with watch situations and questions. 

Qual boards are a rite of passage in the Coast Guard. Experienced
watchstanders grill the boardee with questions with a couple of purposes in
mind: first, to test the bounds of the boardee's knowledge. The standard
line is that the qualification earned is the minimum knowledge required to
safely stand the watch. Newly qualified individuals are exhorted to keep
learning their craft and increase their proficiency in all aspects of the
details. They start with the basics, and gain the nuances through hours upon
days upon weeks upon months upon years of experience of actually standing
the watch. 

Second, qual boards test the boardee's judgment. One of my favorite
questions is "would you rather be the give way or the stand on vessel? And
why?" I know what my answer is, and by the way the boardee answers, I gain
insights into how they think about driving the ship, maneuvering with other
vessels, and making decisions. I find out how they perceive the stated

Third, qual boards create stress in the boardee in a safe environment.
Boards are stressful, there's no doubt about it. You're sitting in front of
four to six people that have, collectively for ANAV today, nearly 32 (!!)
years of sea time, that know their shit, have seen and survived scenarios
you could never even dream of, are asking you difficult, technical and
nuanced questions and are listening closely to your questions, judging
everything you say. But it's safe. You can say stupid stuff in a board, and
not steam the ship into a hazardous situation. Unlike on the bridge on watch
where if, in a stressful situation, you say something stupid, you could run
the ship aground, hit another vessel or put your shipmates' lives at risk.
Some people freeze, some people babble, some people mumble, and some people
fake it. But stress is inevitable on watch. How the boardee deals with it is
something incredibly important for the CO to know.

If you're sitting for a board, you've already completed the Personnel
Qualification Standard (PQS, pronounced pee-que-ess) package, stood numerous
and varied watches, had a pre-board where the second year junior officers
put on a mock/trial board to give some sense of what a real board will be
like, and stood part of a busy watch with OPS so he can evaluate your actual
performance on watch. Do folks sometimes choke at the real board even after
all that? Sure. It happens. But they go back, stand a few more watches
maybe, study a bunch more, make more reports to the CO, whatever it is they
need to work on before going back in front of the board. Everyone sleeps
better at night when they're confident in the watchstanders' ability.

This qualification is a **huge** one for JOs. It is typically their first
major qual they earn after commissioning. For officers that pursue an afloat
career, it is the first of hopefully many OOD quals, one for each ship on
which they sail. I still have my first qual letter. And my second. And my
third. And my fourth. (I didn't give myself a qual letter on the two ships I
was CO on :)) While each one is only a piece of paper, they represent
success at a major effort to learn a new language, master technical and
unique skills, and understand the ship as a sum greater than its component

CO read a brief snippet from The Caine Mutiny soon after he congratulated
ANAV on earning her qualification this afternoon: 

"On this day Willie took a mighty leap upward in life. He stood the
noon-to-four watch as officer of the deck. Keefer was present to correct any
disastrous mistake, and Captain Quegg himself perched in his chair
throughout the watch, alternately dozing or blinking placidly in the
sunshine. Willie conducted a faultless watch. It was a simple matter of
staying on station in the screen while the convoy zigzagged. Whatever his
inner shakiness, he kept a bold front, and maneuvered the ship firmly. When
the watch was over he penciled in the log:
 12 to 4--Steaming as before.
   Willis Seward Keith
   Ensign, USNR
He had signed many logs for port watches, but this was different. He put an
extra flourish to his signature, and thrilled as though he were entering his
name in a historic document." (p 239-240, The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk,
Little, Brown and Company paperback version)

"Whatever his inner shakiness, he kept a bold front, and maneuvered the ship
firmly." Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. And that confidence earned today
with her first qual will be solidified and burnished through the crucible of
watches yet to come. 

Congrats, ANAV!

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer

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