A day in the life of Able Seaman apprentice – Alexander Oakley
Since starting his Able Seaman (AB) Apprenticeship with Serco in September 2018, Alex has carried out most of his training onboard the Serco fleet of Tugs in HMNB Portsmouth and spent time at sea on Serco’s Worldwide Support Vessel SD Victoria. Alex successfully gained his Efficient Deckhand (EDH) Certificate of Competence in November 2020. Now, Alex is logging additional sea time in order to complete his Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) Proficiency in Survival Craft and Rescue Boats (PSCRB) and task book in order to gain full Able Seaman certification from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Experience a typical day with Alex onboard the Serco fleet in HM Naval Base Portsmouth.
07:00: Arrive at the vessel. I put the kettle on and make a cup of tea for the crew. We sit down and discuss the programme for the day and commence a ‘toolbox talk’ – a safety talk given by the Master.
07:30: Commence vessel checks, put on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and collect the deck radio. It is my responsibility to assist the Able Seaman (AB) in ensuring safety on deck. This includes:
• Checking the condition of ropes - looking for wear and tear and making sure they are fit to work with
• Ensuring ropes that are not in use are coiled neatly and stowed away to minimise the risk of trips or falls
• Checking for any abnormalities of the ships’ winches - looking for any wear and tear or leakages.
08:00: Single up, let go and stow ship’s mooring lines in preparation to meet an inbound naval vessel at the Outer Spit Buoy (OSB). I work in tandem with the AB to prepare the ship’s towing lines for the job. One of us will pull the rope from the winch, and the other will flake them down neatly onto the deck.
By flaking the ropes onto the deck in a neat fashion, we minimise any risks of slips, trips or falls and give the towing rope a clear run when it’s heaved in by naval personnel.
08:30: Sail to meet inbound Royal Navy (RN) ship at Outer Spit Buoy (OSB). The master of our vessel will give a toolbox talk and discuss where we are to secure on the inbound vessel as per instructions of the Pilot. On completion of the toolbox talk and when we are within a safe distance of the vessel, the AB and I will be on deck standing ready to receive a heaving line from the RN personnel.
Once we receive their heaving line, we tie it to the tail of our towing line and the deckhands on the RN vessel will pull it onto their deck and secure our vessel to them.
In the interests of safety, we always maintain good communications with the bridge. for example: when our line is secured to the RN ship’s bollard, we tell the bridge. This is done using an internationally recognised hand signal or by radio. Hand signals are one of the many things I have learned since starting my apprenticeship and are extremely beneficial when working with foreign ships.
09:30: Sail back to berth. On completion of the job when the RN vessel is secured and alongside, the Pilot will release us. We will then sail back to berth. The AB and I stow the towing ropes on the winch drum, prepare our mooring lines and once alongside the dock, secure the ship.
10:00: Have a cup of tea and look through the ship’s monthly maintenance checklist from our planned maintenance system. Tasks on here can include:
• Checking fire alarms and fire call points work
• Checking the condition of fire suits and breathing apparatus
• Greasing winches, fire flaps, doors
• Checking integrity of weathertight doors
• Testing the onboard emergency fire pump.
Working on the checklist with the AB is extremely beneficial to my on the job learning as it coincides with my training record folder. I have a great opportunity here to gain signatures on completed tasks and further my progress.
12:30: Look through my training record folder and identify any outstanding tasks. These may include:
• Checking recorded sea-time is up to date
• Ensuring I have the signatures for tasks I am deemed proficient in
• Ensuring my weekly reflection log is up to date.
To compliment my training record folder, I also am working on a written portfolio that contains reports and write-ups of completed tasks.
13:00: Write a report on any tasks completed throughout the day. When I can, I like to write my reports at work as if I have any questions, the crew I work with is always happy to help me.
13:30: Toolbox talk, pass check and get underway in preparation for afternoon job - moving SD Oceanspray to HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH. On completion of the toolbox talk, the AB and I prepare for the afternoon move by preparing our towing ropes and flaking them down neatly again. The RN Police check our passes before any job involving the Aircraft Carriers.
14:00: Arrive at SD Oceanspray and commence 3 line lash up:
• Head line
• Stern line
We always work forward to aft when securing a 3 line lash up.
Once we are secured to the SD Oceanspray (or any vessel) we communicate this with the master and return inside. It is important to ensure all doors and portholes are shut to maintain watertight integrity of the tug in case of emergency. For the duration of the move, I will stand on the bridge and act as a lookout for the master; identifying and reporting any traffic within the Naval Base that could pose a potential hazard.
14:30: Let go lines and sail back to berth. On completion of the move and when SD Oceanspray is secure to HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, we heave in our towing ropes. When we let go of a three line lash up, we work aft to forward. The AB and I prepare our mooring lines on the way back to berth. At the end of the day, to make sure the tug is secure, we always double up and use two mooring lines each end. I assist the chief engineer with putting the vessel’s shore cable out.
Once the vessel is secure, the crew will discuss the programme for the following day and give the tug a tidy in preparation for the next day of work.
15:00: Crew ashore.