Officers knowledge of engines


Gary Cooper

Member
Jun 5, 2003
76
0
156
This question brought me to a halt in the research I am currently engaged in, namely how much knowledge of a ship's engines is a deck officer likely to have? Obviously he must have some knowledge, probably a good working one, but how much were they required to know and how much was the province of the engineers's department?
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,614
693
483
Easley South Carolina
Probably not as much as you might think. Engineering is sufficiently different in the depth of knowladge required that engineering training was not only seperate from that required of deck officers, it was also a seperate career path. (In the merchent marine, it still is.) So seperate in fact that for a very long time, engineers had something akin to "second son" status on just about any ship civilian or military.

While a deck officer may have had a decent understanding of what could be done with the engines, you wouldn't want them running the show in the engine room.
 

Gary Cooper

Member
Jun 5, 2003
76
0
156
Thanks for the reply. I was curious as to whether it was a requirement for deck officers moving up the ladder of command to familiarise themselves with the various departments of a ship, especially such a vital one as the engineering department. I should imagine that a ship's captain would have to know more about the engines than more junior officers, if only to understand what his chief engineer was telling him in his daily report, but I guess this would come with time and experience.
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
5,342
60
308
Well, there was that old phrase dating back to the early days of steam, applied to engineering and deck officers - oil and water don't mix! Even more recently, I had a colleague whose grandfather was a deck officer on one of the Shackleton relief expeditions, and whose son (my colleague's father) was an engineer. Apparently there was tension!

On the other hand, James Moody wrote of getting along famously with the chief engineer on one of his ships (a Scotsman...of course!), and the two going on shoreside expeditions together.

Harold Lowe once depicted a four funneled vessel that looks suspiciously like an Olympic class ship with smoke coming out of all four funnels...of course, that was many years later, and it is a cartoon, but make of it what you will.
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
136
0
Everyone who graduates from the US Naval Academy, myself included, must take and pass courses in both Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Included in that was an introduction to the steam cycle, marine propulsion units, service systems, ship layout and construction, and ship stability and damage control.

Later, when I was going for my OOW (deck officer) qualifications, I had to have the engineer sign me off on an entire section relating to engineering. During my orals, I had to know the engineering section down to the smallest operating detail; for example, how to operate the jacking gear in event of a casualty.

That's what the modern US Navy requires of its officers. How does that pertain to officers in the British Merchant Marine in 1912? First of all, remember that Titanic's deck officers were all in the Royal Navy Reserve. The standards observed by today's US Navy were largely inherited from the RN.

But that doesn't really address the question, does it? The best way to do so would be to turn to the period Requirements For First Mates and Masters...the Board of Trade examinations that sailors had to take to get their certificates. In my June 1912 edition of Nicholls's Seamanship and Viva Voce Guide, there are sample questions which contain "all the prescribed subjects for each grade of the Board of Trade examinations from Second Mate to Master." Thumbing through the questions, I see that prospective candidates had to demonstrate understanding of thrust blocks, sluice valves, condensers, coal consumption rates, screw slip/pitch, and the like. Granted, they don't have to demonstrate the same level of proficiency in the engineering spaces as a full-on engineer, but the answers to the questions require background knowledge of the propulsion plant and service systems, just like my quals required.

Why do you ask? I have no idea if I answered your question adequately.

Parks
 

david wilson

Member
Feb 17, 2004
210
3
111
Michael,"while you wouldn't want a dk officer running the engine room"By the same token,you don't want a stoker's mate 2nd class plotting the course!!!
regards.
seven degrees west.
dw.
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
5,342
60
308
Interesting post, Parks. Moody was able to give a basic explanation of what went wrong with a prop shaft in a letter after one of his vessels broke down - obviously simplified for the recipient, but at least comprehensible.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,614
693
483
Easley South Carolina
>>By the same token,you don't want a stoker's mate 2nd class plotting the course!!!<<

Quite right, you wouldn't. It would be reasonable to expect that the deck officers at least have a decent working knowladge of how the plant works, but the same couldn't be said of the ratings. I've noticed that even up to the present day, there was a tendency among some of the deck ratings to look down on the guys in "The Hole." Mercifully, it's not even close to being as bad as it was in the 19th century. I tended to veiw it more as a friendly rivalry as opposed to the very real animosity that existed over a century ago.
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
136
0
Ing,

Evidently, the 1910s was still a time of transition. The majority of the 1912 edition of Nicholls's is devoted to sail, with only a few chapters speaking to the unique requirements of steamships. Whether it be sail or steam, though, it is evident from the BOT questions that First Mates and Masters had to have at least a basic understanding of how their ship operated. This is as it should be, and also explains the midshipman/apprenticeship portion of a young officer's sailing education, a tradition that carries through to today. As midshipmen at the Academy, we first went to sea as basic seamen. I had to first learn how to fake down a line -- among other things -- before I could put on gold braid.

I can imagine that young officers, like Moody, were taken by the new technology of steam propulsion and were eager to learn more about it than necessary. That's just a guess on my part, though.

Parks
 

Similar threads

Similar threads